Bruce Springsteen gets up close and personal with the L.A. Memorial Sports Arena crowd. (Photo by Dean Zulich)

Nostalgia, sweat, tears and cheers soaked the Los Angeles Sports Arena as its historic run as a sports and entertainment venue ended March 19 with the last of three Bruce Springsteen shows.

It hit the four-hour mark, said Brian Murphy, Goldenvoice/AEG Live, who co-promoted the date with Nederlander Concerts. Each of the three nights, Springsteen stretched the time until finally, though he always closes with “Shout,” he did eight more minutes of one of his hits. It was a long goodbye.

17,000-plus packed the arena each of three nights of the run. (Photo by Dean Zulich)

The arena will be demolished to make way for a 22,000-seat soccer stadium, said Anastasia Johnson, who books the arena and the neighboring L.A. Memorial Coliseum for the University of Southern California. Though this was the last concert, the Sports Arena is booked through the end of May with rehearsals and film shoots. In fact, the Dixie Chicks are rehearsing there now.

Since its heyday as the biggest arena in town, followed by its battle for shows with the L.A. Forum and its loss of teams to Staples Center, the arena led a storied life. Without it, those two arenas and the Hollywood Bowl will be seeing more shows in the future.

During these last years, since it was sold to USC, it has been home to innumerable rehearsals, Johnson said, citing Paul McCartney, Katy Perry, the Foo Fighters and Muse among them. It’s rare to find an available space big enough to build a giant set — an arena or stadium show — with the prerequisite high ceilings and sound and light options. Some rehearsals have run as long as 40 days, some just five. She had no idea what the options would be now for tours wanting to rehearse in L.A., though sound stages abound.

“Everyone has a Sports Arena story,” Johnson said, noting social media has exploded with them. She was amazed at how many people bought tickets for all three of Springsteen’s shows. It was one long party.

As to the aftermath for the Sports Arena staff, she said all will continue working at the coliseum next door, which will be undergoing a major renovation of its own, estimated to be in the $270-million range, in the next few years. The new soccer stadium is slated to open in 2018 or 2019.

Brian Murphy, Goldenvoice, is honored for bringing all three shows to the L.A. Memorial Sports Arena. From left are Anastasia Johnson, booker for USC; Murphy; Joe Furin, GM of the arena; and Sherry Caldwell, director of the box office. 

Nederlander’s Alex Hodges has a boatload of Sports Arena memories. He recalls seeing Springsteen at the Sports Arena in 1984, when he moved to Los Angeles. Nothing compared, however, to the power of Bruce’s last performance there and his connection with the audience. He even body-surfed into the crowd.

Hodges recalled booking Rod Stewart at the Sports Arena in 1994 for a Friday and Sunday, because USC basketball was scheduled for Saturday. Fans try to anticipate what a headliner is going to do, Hodges said, and he knew fans were weighing their options, waiting for a better seat when Saturday went on sale. Hodges saw what was happening and instituted a Friday-and-Sunday-only campaign to get the message out that there would not be a Saturday show. Both sold out. “It was a very cool moment.”

Nederlander had an exclusive at the Pacific Amphitheatre, Costa Mesa, Calif., at the time and Hodges remembers going to Peter Luukko, manager of the arena at the time for SMG, to book a show. “Peter said, ‘Alex, what are you doing here, you have a venue,’” Hodges remembered. He convinced Luukko he was not competition and he got in.

Jerry West played basketball at the sports arena, Hodges said. “In my mind’s eye I can see the magic of this basketball player on the court.”

Brian Murphy agreed the Sports Arena has been the home of legends and has always been Springsteen’s L.A. home. Saturday was his 34th show at L.A. Sports Arena. It was the home to U2, Pink Floyd, Billy Joel, “a lot of major artists in the late 70s, early 80s,” Murphy recalled.

And it was a refuge to headliners who did not want to play the Fabulous Forum in the 80s because of the Senate Terrace seats. That was two sections of seats on either side of the stage that were sold via private seat licenses. That money was retained by the Forum.

In truth, though it looked like a financial risk, that wasn’t the issue, Murphy said, because the Forum reduced a lot of other expenses to make the artist and promoter whole. The deal was not that different financially; it was the ambiance that mattered.

Bruce Springsteen would not play anywhere his fans could not be up close and personal. He wanted his fans sitting close to the stage.

Bruce Springsteen loves to be surrounded by his true fans. (Photo by Dean Zulich)

Besides its lack of suites and intimate seating (“It felt like everyone was standing on top of you,” Murphy said.), the chance to graduate from the Sports Arena to the 90,000-seat coliseum next door was a goal Murphy saw accomplished by Pink Floyd and U2 and Springsteen who took “Born in the USA” from five shows in the arena to four shows at the coliseum the following year.

Murphy even recalls the Sports Arena as being “the end of Ticketron,” vividly recalling those four coliseum shows were mandated to be split between Ticketmaster and Ticketron, with the caveat that if either sold out, the other had to share the inventory so that there were always tickets available on both sites. At the end of the one-day on sale, 350,000 tickets to four shows had sold – three through Ticketmaster and one through Ticketron. Ticketron was using a voucher system, so that buyers had to take the voucher to the box office to get their ticket. Ticketmaster was issuing tickets. Ticketron was no more after that exercise, Murphy said.

This run, Springsteen sold 17,000-plus tickets each night for three nights, and the gross was “spectacular.”

It was a fitting end to a legendary concert venue and a hard fought booking, since Live Nation, in particular, was trying to get the show for the Forum. Murphy actually included the Forum in his offer, but in his heart, he knew it would be the Sports Arena.

The road crew got into the spirit, per tradition, saying goodbye with gaffer tape. 

“Bruce had a 36-year love affair with the Sports Arena. I knew if I could get the money even, he would choose the Sports Arena.”

And boy, did he ever bring down the house.

Interviewed for this story: Brian Murphy, (818) 766-1254; Alex Hodges, (323) 468-1730; Anastasia Johnson, (213) 765-6357