For the first time in its 51-year history, Dodger stadium will be home to a soccer match, two in fact. And if you think seeing a soccer ball bounce around the stadium at Chavez Ravine this Saturday will be strange, wait until January when a puck will be slapped around a hockey rink.
On Thursday, a groundskeeper was leveling out the area in center field where the grass meets the warning track, lest Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo catch his cleats and trip. As soon as the sold-out Yankees vs Dodgers game ended Wednesday night, crews got to work, flattening the pitcher’s mound with jackhammers.
“It’s been a challenge, and quite fun actually,” said Eric Hansen, the Dodgers head groundskeeper, standing next to where home base usually lies.
One goal will be near the Dodgers dugout. The other will be in right field. The dirt between and around the bases is mostly all gone. It’s been filled in with sod – but it’s a much lighter shade than the rest of the field.
“It’s going to look different, because it’s straight Bermuda grass that we put in here and the darker green of the existing turf has a lot of rye grass in it, which is a darker green,” explained Hansen.
Doing these events here does seem to be all about the green – the cash that is – providing new exposure and marketing opportunities for all parties.
This weekend’s doubleheader is the second round of the 7-city, 8-team International Champions Cup. But L.A. already has a perfectly good soccer stadium: The 27,000 seat Stubhub Center in Carson, home to two MLS teams.
So why not play there – as the LA Galaxy and Real Madrid did last year? Galaxy President Chris Klein says he hopes to attract new fans.
“There’s always that possibility that the non-soccer fan is going to be interested just because the game is at Dodger stadium,” said Klein.
There’s also the benefit of making the games a big TV event. Saturday’s doubleheader will be shown on Fox Soccer and in the city's the teams call home. When Dodger Stadium hosts the Kings and Ducks in January, the game will be televised nationwide on NBC.
“It’s a good opportunity for the league to create big national television events,” said Kelly Cheeseman, the Chief Operating Officer of AEG sports, which owns the Kings. “That’s one of our goals, as a league, to grow our ratings.”
But with high reward comes high risk.
The Kings and the New York Rangers played a preseason game in the parking lot of Cesar’s Palace over two decades ago. But other than that, all the NHL’s outdoor games have been all played in northern cities in the winter.
If Cheeseman is worried about melting ice, he’s not telling us.
“If you were to look at the average temperature after 5 o’clock on a Saturday in January in Southern California, it’d probably be the most appealing atmosphere for a hockey game you could possibly play in,” said Cheeseman. “In fact, it’d probably be cooler outside than it would be at Staples Center.”
Of course, in Staples – where the Kings usually play - there’s no threat of rain. January is, after all, L.A.’s second wettest month.