SBJ/February 20-26, 2012/Facilities

Center board could get St. Louis back in game for Final Four

Don Muret
The proposal to build a new center-hung video board at the Edward Jones Dome to meet the St. Louis Rams’ needs also could boost the stadium’s attempt to land its second NCAA Final Four.

In early February, the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission released a $124 million plan to upgrade the 17-year-old stadium to accommodate the Rams, its NFL tenant. The club’s 30-year lease with the commission requires the public entity to keep the stadium among the top 25 percent of NFL facilities through 2025, the final year of the agreement.

A rendering shows a center-hung scoreboard stretching 96 feet at Edward Jones Dome.
Image by: POPULOUS
Those standards, subject to interpretation given that there are no league benchmarks to use as official measurements, are tied to an escape clause that allows the Rams to relocate to another market if the stadium does not maintain its “top tier” status compared with amenities at newer NFL stadiums.

As a result, the dome has gone through tens of millions of dollars in improvements since it opened in 1995.
Hanging a board over midfield is a key piece of the most recent list of renovations that the commission has proposed for the next three years. Populous, the dome’s original architect, came up with an initial plan to install a board measuring 96 feet wide and 27 feet tall.

Those dimensions are less than half the size of the monstrous Mitsubishi board at Cowboys Stadium, the first NFL facility to showcase a center-hung unit. But considering the dome’s age and the challenges of a retrofit, it would be ideal for both football and basketball at the 66,965-seat stadium, said Jon Knight, Populous’ senior project designer.

The center-hung board could go larger pending final design, said Nick Langella, the dome’s senior vice president and general manager. “We came up with what we thought was an appropriate size to enhance the fans’ experience,” he said.
The dome last played host to the Final Four in 2005, the year North Carolina beat Illinois for the men’s title. That year, the commission bought a used center-hung board from US Airways Center for the Final Four, Langella said.

Center-hung boards have been required for several years at Final Four stadiums, even before 2009, the year the NCAA switched to a center-floor setup, said NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson. The NCAA provides one if necessary, Christianson said.

The St. Louis commission continues to submit bids for the Final Four, although sites are locked in through 2016 for New Orleans; Atlanta; Arlington, Texas (home of Cowboys Stadium); Indianapolis; and Houston. The dome will be host to this year’s NCAA Midwest Regional, March 23 and 25. The court will be set up at one end of the building for that event rather than the center of the floor.

“More than likely [a center-hung board] will help with our pursuit of the Final Four and other prestigious NCAA events,” Langella said.

It also could mean the removal of the two Daktronics end-zone screens installed in 2009, which would free up space to develop sponsored, premium club spaces, providing the Rams with a new revenue opportunity. The idea is not part of the current proposal, Knight said. The end-zone boards were part of $30 million in stadium renovations.

The Rams have until March 1 to accept or reject the commission’s proposal, and until May 1 to come up with its own plan for stadium upgrades. The issue would go to arbitration if the two parties can’t agree on a plan by June 15.

Without an agreement in place, the Rams would be free to relocate after March 1, 2015, according to the lease terms.

ON THE ROCKS: The Colorado Rockies are expanding the Camarena Loft at Coors Field from 63 to 95 seats for the 2012 season.

The loft, named for a high-end tequila maker, sits midlevel above the bullpen sign in right-center field, supported by a sit-down bar and drink rails. Those single-game seats are tied to stored-value tickets priced at $40 in April and May and $60 the rest of the season.

For all games, the tickets contain $20 in value to spend on concessions. The loft has been a “huge hit,” with double-digit growth in food and drink sales since it opened last year, said Greg Feasel, the Rockies’ executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.

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