Aaron Williams has lived in Inglewood for 22 years. He watched SoFi Stadium being built, dodged game-day traffic, cheered the home teams. But the father of seven wouldn’t dream of dropping the kind of cash it takes to buy a ticket to the Super Bowl.
That won’t stop him from being inside the $5-billion arena watching the Los Angeles Rams take on the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
The 50-year-old will be standing behind the bar, working a 16-hour shift, pouring drinks for those lucky enough to score a ticket to the event.
“You know how everyone is having a party at their house? I’m actually working the big party. It’s just the ultimate feeling,” Williams said. “We’re all excited for the Super Bowl to be here. I’m twice as excited to work it.”
Williams is one of thousands of workers who will descend on the stadium Sunday, some in the pre-dawn hours, to work as bartenders, dishwashers, janitors, servers and cooks. Unlike the more than 70,000 fans expected to attend, they’ll catch a peek at the game during their shifts or while on break.
Collectively, they’re the engine that keeps the stadium running.
As part of its development agreement, SoFi pledged to hire local workers, according to Inglewood city officials. More than 1,200 Inglewood residents helped build the stadium; SoFi staff did not release the number of Inglewood residents currently employed there.
Much of the workforce is Black and Latino, two groups that were especially hard hit during the pandemic. Williams, who is Black, knows all about pandemic hardship. He lost several jobs after the sports world shut down on March 11, 2020 — the day after his youngest son was born.
Just the simple pleasure of working, let alone at the biggest sporting event in the country, is a welcome opportunity. He was grateful, too, that SoFi had recognized their union.
Williams has been a part of the Unite Here Local 11 union for 32 years, but this is the first time he’s been involved in his own neighborhood.
“This job is my best investment,” Williams said. “I’ll be able to make great decisions and put my children in a position to where they won’t have to work as hard for their money as I did.”
Over the years, and at different venues, Williams has worked as a bartender at the Grammy Awards, the Golden Globes and Lakers championship games, to name a few.
At SoFi, Williams pours drinks inside the luxury suites. He won’t find out which suite he’ll be working in until after he gets to the stadium at 5 a.m. Sunday.
Super Bowl LVI luxury suites can cost between $1 million and $2.4 million each, according to the booking website Suite Experience Group. On Friday, nearing game day, the Perch Suite at SoFi was listed at $208,313 — a bargain by comparison.
What does that kind of money get you? The Perch Suite is climate-controlled with a VIP entrance and in-suite service. Others, like the Patio Suite, tout their private bathrooms. The Stage Suite has a foosball table. Then there’s the field cabana, so close to the action that a football could seemingly hit you.
“Imagine being paid to cheerlead and then give them a drink too,” Williams said. “You’re there, you’re pumping them up, you’re the main part of the party. If you’re not part of the party, the party won’t function.”
As of Friday, on StubHub, the cheapest tickets were going for nearly $3,500 per seat. In the lower VIP section, three tickets ran a whopping $42,405.
Williams doesn’t personally know anyone who bought a Super Bowl ticket.
Asked if he would have, he laughed.
“I would accept a ticket to see it.”
Danaea Kelly, an Inglewood native, plans to arrive at the stadium by 4:30 a.m. on game day.
A concession worker, Kelly won’t know where she’ll be stationed until she clocks in. At other events, she’s worked the cash register, restocked cups and grabbed drinks for customers to keep the lines moving.
Kelly catches glimpses of games while on break during the second quarter. But when it’s halftime, she’s back on her feet. When she gets home at the end of the day, her mom and dad, a sanitation clerk and a retired veteran, have Kelly recount what happened during her shift.
“With Super Bowl, it’s definitely big,” she said. “They cannot wait to hear all my crazy experiences.”
The 21-year-old has worked at SoFi since October 2020, juggling weekend events and a weekday job in child care. She hopes to save enough money to buy a car and move out of her parents’ Inglewood home.
That feels close at hand, she said, after the Unite Here Local 11 union — which represents more than 30,000 professional hospitality workers employed in hotels, airports and stadiums — reached a tentative agreement with SoFi management Thursday night on a union contract.
On Friday morning, outside the union office in Inglewood, workers held signs that read “Black Jobs” and “Local Hiring.” One woman wore a shirt that read “One job should be enough,” and others wore Super Bowl LVI and Rams hats.
They were there to celebrate union recognition.
“Stadium jobs at SoFi are a model of how the tourism industry can and must lift up the economy,” said Kurt Petersen, co-president of the union, which has around 3,000 SoFi workers in its bargaining unit. “Because when hospitality workers thrive, so does Los Angeles.”
Through the contract, along with wage increases, workers would get free family health insurance, a pension and a free legal service plan.
Chris Smith, a leader in the union, said he is proud to work as a suite attendant at SoFi. Having a union job, he said, “would help me have a fair wage, pay my bills and enable me to buy a house someday.”
“Not enough African American workers have opportunities to get good-paying jobs in Los Angeles,” he said. “SoFi and the union that we have secured provides us opportunities that I and people like me are looking for — doing work we love, while making enough money to live and support our families.”
Among the workers who turned out Friday to celebrate was Stephanie Moses, who started as a VIP suite attendant at SoFi in August.
“You want to be in a union, you want to be able to provide for your family,” she said. “This is going to be a huge benefit for my family and generations to come.”
The 51-year-old will be working inside the stadium on Sunday. She doesn’t hesitate to say that she wouldn’t have gotten in otherwise.
“It would be too expensive,” she said. “And that’s the truth.”
While Williams is working, his family will be hosting their yearly Super Bowl party, which he normally cooks for. He’ll miss being with his family, he said, but he’ll “be there in spirit.”
And how does his family feel about him working the Super Bowl?
“They’re jealous,” he said, cracking up laughing. “They’re extremely jealous.”
As game day neared, the bartender knew he’d face a packed day of work. First the pre-party, then the actual game and finally the after-party.
Inside the suite, he’ll make sidecars, martinis and cosmopolitans and grab beers for attendees. But the star of the show, he predicted, will be tequila. Don Julio 1942, to be exact.
“It’s shots when they score,” Williams said. “They want the best of the best.”