Since it opened way back in 1923, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum has seen its fair share of both sporting and non-sporting events. This iconic facility is the home of the University of Southern California Trojans football team and is the soon-to-be temporary home of the newly relocated Los Angeles Rams of the NFL. In the past, the Coliseum hosted several other professional and collegiate athletic teams.
Countless historic events have taken place inside its venerable walls during nine decades of celebrated history — it’s the only facility in the world to play host to two Olympiads (X and XXIII), two Super Bowls (I and VII), one World Series (1959), a Papal Mass and visits by three U.S. presidents: John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
Fast-forward to the present day, and along with USC football, the Coliseum hosts movie, TV and commercial filmings, corporate events, dinner parties, galas, festivals, weddings, international soccer matches, high school football games, USC women’s soccer and lacrosse matches, and last summer, the Special Olympics World Summer Games.
Tasked with managing the turf for all of these events is Matt Hollan, sports turf and grounds manager. Hollan, an Iowa State graduate who has also worked for the Minnesota Twins, the University of Tennessee and the Double-A Tennessee Smokies, is at this point an expert when it comes to caring for the turf before, during and after non-sporting events.
“We all have our challenges; it’s so easy for us as turfgrass managers to have a negative [opinion] of some of the events we do,” Hollan explained during his presentation titled “Protecting Your Turf: Managing High Event Loads,” at January’s Sports Turf Managers Association Conference & Exhibition in San Diego. “But it comes down to these events being tremendous revenue sources. Having a positive attitude going into these events and seeing the greater scheme of things is important.”
Hollan and his full-time staff of two (along with 12 part-timers), manage 130,000 square feet of turfgrass. Because the Coliseum lacks permanent, fixed luxury suites/club areas, the field takes center stage when it comes to bidding — and hosting — special events. “If we’re trying to sell our facility to clients, it comes down to the field,” Hollan said.
Because of its proximity to Hollywood, the Coliseum is a prime, desired location for shooting by movie and TV crews.
“[The film crews] think because they’re on an athletic field, and that they see 22 giant guys beating on each other every Saturday, they can do whatever … drive golf carts on the field, have kids play on it … when in reality when we’re hosting this many events, we have to set strict guidelines to make sure each client has the field conditions they want. Everyone wants gameday-quality conditions.”
When preparing for any non-sporting events, Hollan works with the clients or outside groups in all aspects, like protecting the Coliseum’s irrigation system by providing an irrigation map to make sure nothing gets put into the field where it shouldn’t be. He also has a rule that nobody wears cleats unless it’s absolutely necessary ( for example, when a commercial or scene featuring athletes playing football might be filmed).
During his presentation at the STMA Conference & Exhibition, Hollan also stressed the importance of communicating potential risks to clients, before they happen. “You don’t want any surprises in the end,” Hollan explained. “You don’t want to get into a battle of ‘Did they damage this?’ or ‘Does it really cost that much to fix?’ You have to have a recovery plan for the field in place before the event.
“For example, if we have to build a production road to get a large lift on the field, I’ll want to aerate that area afterwards. So I let clients know beforehand, there will be aeration costs.”
Hollan protects the Coliseum turf during events by utilizing field protection, such as the Enkamat Plus from Covermaster. “We never lay a piece of plywood without some kind of geotextile under it,” Hollan said. “We want to make sure nothing touches the grass more than it needs to. We map out how events will take place: ‘How are they going to load in all that heavy equipment? How can we deviate the traffic so we’re not wearing out one certain part of the field?’”
Part of successfully managing special events is handling the staff. Hollan explained that keeping morale high is absolutely crucial. “We’ve got a hard-working crew,” he said. “If you can find appreciation with the end product, that certainly helps. We’re putting in a tremendous amount of hours [for these events], you have to value the end product. We have a grill and barbecue out often — anything we can do to boost team morale.”