Catching Up with LMU alum Sam Lagana ’85, LA Rams public address announcer

Instantly, the voice you hear resonates throughout the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on a perfect Sunday afternoon.  The deep, booming, and confident voice projects a variety of feelings – excitement, enthusiasm, passion – in perfect clarity that culminates in the deafening roar of the crowd and an instant surge of adrenaline and emotions.   That roar belongs to none other than LMU alum Sam Lagana ‘85.  I caught up with Sam, who was in between NFL preseason games, just before the official start to the Rams’ 2017 season, its second in their return to Los Angeles after more than 20 years in St. Louis.

 

 

Listen in on Lagana’s audition tape that landed him the job with the Rams

What’s it like being the public address announcer for the Los Angeles Rams?

It’s an amazing experience to walk into the booth and see an empty Coliseum.  Then about two hours before kick-off, the gates open and people start to flood in.  You can feel the pulse of the city start to beat.  By the time there’s 90,000 fans in the stadium, you realize they are all unified for one common cause to enjoy the goodness of life together through Rams football.  Knowing that I officially welcome them and the response they give back is overwhelming.

How did you get the job and is it different from other announcing jobs you’ve had in the past?

On May 11, 2016, I was fortunate to receive an email from a person whom I had not met before, Rams Broadcast Network producer Chris Slepokura, suggesting that I submit a recording if I was interested in becoming the Rams’ public address announcer.  At first, I wasn’t sure the email was real.  I thought it was a joke and that I was getting punked from one of my friends, which had happened in the past.  After verifying that the email was indeed real, I asked my wife, Eileen, if I could rent a studio at her office to do the recording.  Unfortunately, the studio was booked and unavailable until later the following week.  After informing the Rams that my recording would be delayed, Chris asked that I simply record something on my phone and send it in.  So I tried to record a few lines in my office and it didn’t sound good.  I tried it in the bathroom, thinking the sound would bounce off the tiles better, sort of like when you’re singing in the shower.  That didn’t sound good either.  I then tried a corridor between the bathroom and hallway just outside of my office at Pepperdine, and the acoustics were decent and I ended up recording it there.  It didn’t take very long and I quickly sent it off.  Two months later, after going out to dinner with some friends and while waiting for my car from the valet, I received an email that said, “We’d like you to be the stadium voice of the Los Angeles Rams.”

By far, this position is different from any announcing job I’ve had in the past.  The sense of responsibility feels different and is much greater.  In my past jobs, I didn’t feel the weight as this job carries.  When I’m in the press box at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which is one of the most iconic sports stadiums in the world, I see the diversity of the great city of Los Angeles.   I feel a high level of responsibility in trying to help ensure that fans have a good time and that they are informed.  There may be many in attendance that do not know much about the Rams after being away for more than two decades, so I try to create an understanding of who’s who and what’s what.

How did you come up with, “The time has come for every man, woman, and child to rise with the Rams!”

The Rams suggested a few basic, contextual ideas to record like, “Goff to Gurley for the Touchdown!”  I decided to kick it up a bit.  I figured if the opportunity was indeed real, I had one chance and I was going to take full advantage of it.  In every experience I’ve had in announcing, I learned that people are there to have a good time.  One thing in common is the excitement at the beginning of any game.  Most people don’t know what to do with that energy, but getting fans up on their feet at the beginning of a game seemed like the best way to go.  I learned that very early in my career, and I’ve always used that.  So I try to encourage the crowd to be a participant in the game, to be a part of the experience.  While I was at home thinking about how I could accomplish that, I asked myself what could be a significant battle cry?  What would fans want to be a part of?  I want to be part of something that is rising — a winner as it ascends.  We use that battle cry twice a game – at the beginning of the game and immediately following halftime.

How much preparation is involved for such a high profile job in the NFL?

At this time, the Rams play nine home games a season including exhibitions.  My involvement for each game lasts about four hours.  This amounts to roughly a 40 hour experience per season.  Preparation the week of the game for each four hour stint is about three hours in the evenings prior to each game and three hours on game day.  The time required for preparation involves a lot of reading.  However, the good thing is that I’m a sports fan and I enjoy reading about sports.  It seems natural for me and does not feel like work.

What is the impact of having football back in Los Angeles?

It’s bringing the city together in a unique way.  The NFL brings families together and it is making it a generational experience such that people feel united and bonded.  It’s interesting because Los Angeles has not had a professional football team for such a long time.  As a result, many sports fans have gravitated to other professional franchises including those in other parts of the country.  We now have a chance to win back fans and bring them back to the Rams.

 

Prior to becoming the Rams’ announcer, you were the longtime “Jaws of the Beach” (public address announcer and spokesman for the Association of Volleyball Professionals, aka AVP).  How much fun was that?

For me, the AVP was an incredible first experience in professional sports.  It was essentially a start-up organization.  Making the AVP ebb and flow with big corporate partners, ascending into television, and taking a very parochial, California beach brand and expanding it to the nation was very exciting.  When you look at it, we took what was essentially a California summer sport and infused it into the American culture.  I remember going to Disneyland and looking at all the people wearing summer beach clothes splashed with volleyball logos.  You could see we were having an impact, and that the sport was becoming more than just a game on the beach.

A fun part of the job was tinkering with the game and trying to figure out how to improve the fan experience.  I remember testing the use of time clocks to make the game more presentable to a larger audience and working with some of the most brilliant minds in the marketing industry.  The largest tour stops were Clearwater Beach (Florida), Boulder (Colorado), Santa Cruz (California), and South Bay beaches in California.  Midwest and East Coast locations like Chicago (Illinois) and Belmar Beach (New Jersey) also had huge attendance and media exposure.   It’s incredible to me that more than 30 years later, people still post videos of those events and other championship games on Facebook and YouTube.  You begin to realize how important those moments were to people.

 The AVP was once a tremendous volleyball tour.  Can it ever return to be as successful again, especially with the recent birth and growth of sand volleyball in the high schools and colleges?

The evolution has already begun.  I think the dark days of the AVP allowed for market disrupters and launches in other areas including the Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB), which currently dominates the professional beach volleyball tour.  The AVP can make a return but it will require sustained involvement of corporate sponsors and television.  There will never be a shortage of players; however, money and television exposure are needed in order for the AVP tour to grow.

The movement to beach volleyball as a women’s college sport owes much to Nina Matthies (current Pepperdine beach volleyball coach), who was one of the preeminent players on the Women’s Professional Volleyball Association tour before its merger with the AVP. Nina and a few other women were instrumental in getting collegiate beach volleyball set and moving down the right path.  This in turn, presses down into the high schools since college scholarships are making their way to beach volleyball.  And because of players like Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings, you see increased interest in beach volleyball.  It’s exciting to see these things, and I believe the sport will continue to grow.

 How did you get your start in professional sports after leaving LMU?

Jeanie Buss (President of the LA Lakers) is a childhood friend and while we were entering college her father, Dr. Jerry Buss, acquired the Los Angeles Lakers and California Sports.  Her dad extended her the opportunity to manage some minor league sports properties and she knew that I was announcing sports events.  As her involvement and responsibilities in her father’s sports business grew, she would extend some of the announcing opportunities to me.

My alignment in the AVP came from when I worked in the LMU athletic department as an undergraduate when Kevin Cleary was volleyball coach.  Kevin was involved in starting up the AVP and was one of its key founding members.  He was aware of my experience in promotions, public relations, and marketing for the LMU athletic department as a student.  Cleary and others put in a recommendation for me to be involved with the promotions and marketing process for the AVP, which enabled me to announce beach events on the tour.

 You’ve been involved with the John R. Wooden Award for quite some time.  How did that come about?

The Los Angeles Athletic Club, which runs the John R. Wooden Award, is owned by the Los Angeles Athletic Club Organization (LAACO).  LAACO also owns the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey and used to own The Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades.  I worked as a lifeguard at the yacht club while at LMU.  The general manager of the yacht club at the time was Steve Hathaway, who is now the president of LAACO Clubs Operations.  When I was working in the athletics department at CSU-Dominguez Hills, Steve called me and asked if I would join the LA Athletic Club as its Director of Athletics.  I accepted the position and began working with fellow LMU alum Chris Harrer ‘85, who directed LAAC Marketing and Membership, and I assumed management of the John R. Wooden Award along with the Athletic Department operations.  I felt I could help grow that brand and utilize my experience in television production and synergizing multiple parts of the LAAC.  Eventually, I became executive director overseeing sports marketing, athletics, and the John R. Wooden Award.

 What are your thoughts of the Olympics coming back to Los Angeles in 2028?  Would you like to have an active role?

It’s exciting what Casey Wasserman and Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti have done.  Casey has managed the process in an incredible way, bringing in former athletes to serve as ambassadors of the Olympic experience.   It’s going to be great for Los Angeles.  Functionally, we have all the necessary facilities to do this, and we can do it well.  I think the dream of hosting the Olympics in 2024 was right.  I also believe the negotiation to host in 2028 will benefit the people of Los Angeles better because instead of waiting for the conclusion of the 2024 games, the money will come in on the front end to help kids in sports so that is a great opportunity.

2028 is 11 years away.  It would be wonderful for me to have some sort of role at the 2028 Olympics whether it’s game day activities or perhaps announcing the Opening Ceremonies.  In my dream of dreams, maybe that role would be welcoming the world to Los Angeles.

 In 1984, LMU hosted Olympic Weightlifting and Pepperdine hosted Olympic Water Polo.  Is there a role for both schools to be involved again in 2028?

Each school will have some role in the 2028 Olympics, but it will probably be more focused on training and hosting housing experiences instead of competition.  The reason I say that is because the Olympic Committee is focusing on conducting the sports competitions in “pods”.  The plan is to have centrally located pods, whereby events would take place in groups.  The downtown, Staples Center and the Los Angeles Convention Center would serve as a pod.  UCLA would be another pod; USC and the LA Memorial Coliseum would serve as a separate pod and CSU-Dominguez Hills and the StubHub Center would be another.  Non-pod sports such as beach volleyball, mountain biking, and rowing would be held at site-specific areas in Southern California.

 

How did you end up at Pepperdine University and what is your current role?

Pepperdine Director of Athletics John Watson reached out to me 16 years ago to serve in an external role for development, and work with external parties focusing on community, corporate, alumni, and parent fundraising.

When I initially arrived, I was fortunate to be part of a tight and small staff.  We have grown over the past 16 years to serve students more effectively with a larger team.  Through the years, I have focused and narrowed my responsibilities to advancement and now handle major gift giving for intercollegiate athletics and serve many segments of the university, helping Pepperdine become a better and more solid place that benefits its students.  Providing opportunities for engagement with business leaders and our community, alumni and friends wherever they may be is another way I serve. As an example, I recently moderated an event with Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr to discuss leadership with our business and alumni network in the Bay Area. We spend a lot of time exposing people to the brand and quality of our mission.  Establishing a solid culture is one of the constant things we do.  We want our friends to be involved and engaged, and feel like they are part of something special.

 Do you find it difficult to work as a Wave while still having strong roots as a Lion?  And before you answer that, remember we know where you live.

No.  (laughs)  I had a wonderful experience at LMU.  I’m still grateful for the friends I have, the people I was exposed to, and the people who were a part of my upbringing at LMU.  In 16 years at Pepperdine, many wonderful relationships have been born and have grown as well.  In any case, I love seeing students who decide to attend LMU and Pepperdine having a good academic experience.  On a daily basis at Pepperdine, I have a chance to impact other young people and influence them.  I enjoy referring students to LMU when it will serve them well.  There is a right fit for everyone.  As with our own children, they have places they want to go and things they want to do.  Our mission is to give our students great opportunities.

 What do you remember about your time at LMU, and what moments stand out for you?

There are many great experiences as an undergraduate that provided me with good memories.  I was involved in a number of organizations including Campus Ministry, residence hall programs, fraternities, and of course, I was very involved in athletics.  One thing that stands out is that we put in a sand volleyball court between Tenderich and Hannon Apartments (which has since been filled in and topped with an outdoor basketball hoop).  That was fun.  I not sure we received the proper authorization from the school to do that, but we got it done and started something that was kind of fun.  Think about how silly we were.  We didn’t want to leave campus and drive the two miles to play at the beach, but were willing to create our own sand court on campus.  I remember Fr. Tom Higgins, S.J., who would sit and watch us play.

Sunday evenings in Sacred Heart Chapel remind me how fortunate I was to be involved with Campus Ministry.  I have fond memories of Fr. Jim Erps, S.J., who helped me with my presentations as lecturer.  I also had nice relationships with Fr. Merrifield and Fr. Loughran (both former LMU presidents) as well.  Fred Kiesner was one of my favorite professors in business classes, and David Marple was a good sociology professor who enlightened me.  Fr. Ted Erlandson challenged us to learn more about the value of faith.  I really had a great LMU experience.

 

Do you get back to the LMU campus much and what are your impressions?

I get back for most WCC conference matchups between Pepperdine and LMU.  While there, I try to drop by and see friends every once in a while.  I also try to get to the alumni barbecue every year.

The LMU campus is huge and so much different today.  When I was a young boy, my father worked at nearby Hughes Aircraft.  On his way to work, he would drop me off at LMU as if it was a playground.  When he dropped me off, he would tell me to meet him at the original entrance to campus on Loyola Boulevard and 80th Street, set a pick up time later in the day, and remind me not to be late.  Even as a kid, you really couldn’t screw that up because anyone could clearly see the clock tower at Sacred Chapel from anywhere on campus, including the main entrance.  People forget that cellphones did not exist back then.

So for me, LMU was a place to run around and get lost.  I was very familiar with the original 99-acre campus.  I remember when the Hilton Business School building went up as well as the new “Big House” for the Jesuits.  LMU has done a phenomenal job of expanding the campus since I graduated in 1985.  The campus has a much bigger feel today — from the new Library and dorms on the west side of campus to taking over Raytheon’s former corporate headquarters.  Those areas were just wild grassland when we were in school.  It’s interesting to me now that the main entrance to LMU is off Lincoln Blvd. as opposed to the intersection where my dad dropped me off for the day while he was at work.

How does the West Coast Conference fit in and compare with other institutions and athletic conferences around the country?

I think the WCC is probably the most dominant non-football conference in the NCAA.  When you look at the relevance of the schools that make up the WCC and how it spans the west from the Canadian border to the Mexican border and from the Pacific Ocean to the foothills of the Rockies, it’s impressive how competitive these schools are in different sports and the footprints of success that these schools have had.  Gonzaga basketball today and for the last 27 years has experienced immeasurable success in its core sport.  That success has resulted in the growth of its other sports programs.  USF had its day with two back-to-back national basketball championships.  Santa Clara has a rich history with an Orange Bowl football championship.  Both LMU and Pepperdine enjoyed significance in their respective basketball programs in the past and with other sports.  But when you dip into the Olympic sports, you start to see extraordinary accomplishments in volleyball, soccer, cross country, track, baseball, softball, tennis, and golf.  Only then do you realize that fundamentally, the WCC has incredibly talented and successful student-athletes and coaches.  WCC schools dominate the Olympic sports.  You see it when the rankings come out each year.  WCC schools are at the top of the list after eliminating schools with NCAA  Division 1 football.  The WCC can compete and win against schools in traditional power conferences such as the Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-12, and SEC.  That relevance is awesome.

 

Back in the saddle – visiting 88.9 KXLU

From Andy Hui:  I am not alone in saying that Sam is one of the greatest and most interesting guys you will ever meet.  He knows practically everyone associated in the sports profession.  While his lofty stature would make him an instant celebrity, his most endearing attribute is how humble and down to earth he is on a daily basis.  He can be comfortable and engaging with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company in fundraising efforts as he is interacting with the usher in a packed NFL stadium. 

About Sam Lagana:   Lagana has been and continues to be a major player in Los Angeles’ collegiate and professional sports scene for close to 35 years.  In addition to his current role as Associate Vice Chancellor at Pepperdine University, Lagana has handled a myriad of duties including Director of Athletics at California State University – Dominguez Hills while Associate AD, Assistant Director of Athletics at California State University – Northridge, National Director of Sports at the Josephson Institute of Ethics, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Athletic Club including the John R. Wooden Award, Director of Promotions & Public Relations and Spokesman for the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP), public address announcer for the Los Angeles Avengers (Arena Football League), and numerous philanthropic and community service organizations including the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and serving as President of non-profit Westcoast Sports Associates.

In addition to being the stadium voice of the Los Angeles Rams, Lagana has served as an announcer, host, and emcee at numerous high-profile sporting events including Davis Cup tennis, collegiate sports, National Football League Challenge events, Harlem Globetrotters, The John R. Wooden Award, Roy Firestone Award, The National Pep Arts Championships, Canine Sports Series, and concerts held at The Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, California.

As a student at LMU, Lagana was involved in Campus Ministry, Sigma Pi Fraternity, Inter-Fraternity Council, Athletics, Students in Free Enterprise, KXLU 88.9 FM, and served as a Head Orientation Leader for the College of Liberal Arts. 

Lagana is presently on the Advisory Board  for the prestigious Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission (www.lasec.net), and recently earned a Presidential Key Executive Master of Business Administration degree from Pepperdine University’s George L. Graziadio School of Business and Management in 2017.  He and his wife, Eileen (Devlin- LMU ‘87), have been married more than 25 years and have two daughters, Cambria (22) and Cienna (19).  

 

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