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Photo by:Houston Texans
Ten years ago, NFL teams in Detroit, Houston, New England and Seattle opened new stadiums. Consider the driving forces behind all four projects, and there are some connections.
Ford Field brought the Lions back to downtown Detroit. Reliant Stadium brought the NFL back to Houston. CenturyLink Field and Gillette Stadium both held the line on total suite numbers, decisions that have since paid off with on-field success leading to more premium-seat inventory and greater revenue.
Each of the stadiums has changed with the times, as the teams adjusted to market needs for seating and took steps to accommodate new technology.
In the pages that follow, SportsBusiness Journal looks back at the openings and evolution of these stadiums, and what is in store for them in the years ahead.
CenturyLink Field pioneered the premium field-level experience in the NFL, a trend adopted later at Cowboys Stadium, Lucas Oil Stadium and MetLife Stadium. It’s only one of the ways that the stadium has made noise in the NFL.
The Seahawks and architect Ellerbe Becket, now AECOM, took a huge risk with the field-level boxes, which the team calls Red Zone Suites, because the concept had never been done in the NFL, according to James Poulson, one of the facility’s designers. In addition, it was Ellerbe’s first NFL stadium project and others pointed to the company’s inexperience by questioning whether it made sense to build those suites, in the end zone no less, and charge six-figure fees for a less-than-optimal view of the action.
The field-level Red Zone Suites have since been adopted by three other NFL stadiums.
Photo by:Seattle Seahawks / Seattle Sounders FC
“It was all nice to be first, but would they be able to sell them?” Colliver said. “It was a different product brought to the marketplace, given that the Kingdome had very few suites and what it did have was very small.”
After a slow start marketing the product, the Seahawks eventually sold all 12 Red Zone Suites, Colliver said. Some players bought units for their families to use.
The new premium-seat product fit well with the team’s vision to develop a stadium to re-engage the fans in a region where King County residents had defeated a proposal to renovate the Kingdome under previous Seahawks owner Ken Behring.
As a result, Behring announced in 1996 that he would relocate the club to California. However, the NFL threatened him with heavy fines, forcing Behring to keep the team in the Pacific Northwest.
Under those circumstances, Allen stepped in and purchased an option to buy the team to ensure that the Seahawks would remain in Seattle. He bought full ownership in 1997 after local voters narrowly approved public financing to build a
“It was a contentious vote … but that facility kept the team in Seattle,” Colliver said.
The Seahawks took control of stadium design and were responsible for cost overruns. In one of the league’s smaller cities, they took a conservative approach, opening with 82 suites with the flexibility to add more skyboxes in the future.
The market responded, due in large part to the Seahawks’ advancing to the Super Bowl during the 2005 season, Colliver said. CenturyLink Field now has 112 suites, with space to build even more.
The Red Zone Suites are linked to the stadium’s other defining feature: Noise. They’re tucked beneath the Hawks Nest bleachers in the stadium’s north end, where 3,000 rabid Seahawks fans pound their feet on metal bench seats, wreaking havoc for opponents threatening to score at that end of the field.
After 10 years, the 67,000-seat stadium is recognized across the NFL as one of the loudest venues and typically ranks first in false starts for opponents’ offenses.
The stadium sits on a tight urban footprint at the site of the old Kingdome across the street from Safeco Field. In an outdoor building also designed for Major League Soccer, the upper deck juts out over the lower bowl, with the European-style roof canopy acting as a sound barrier.
Husky Stadium, where Allen attended college football games as a University of Washington student, influenced the Hawks Nest and the open views to the city’s downtown district, Poulson said.
Those elements also combine for a deafening roar on game days.
Over the past decade, the Seahawks have made $30 million in improvements in the facility, Colliver said. The Cadillac
The stadium is recognized across the NFL as one of the loudest venues.
Photo by:Getty Images
Most recently, the Seahawks installed two new Mitsubishi Electric video boards this year.
Some future upgrades may cater to the stadium’s other tenant, the MLS’s Seattle Sounders FC, for whom Allen is one of the owners. The Sounders have been a tremendous success at the gate, drawing close to 40,000 spectators a game, and the organization needs to find a way to expand the team store to accommodate the 5-year-old club, said Peter McLoughlin, president of both franchises.
“The biggest change here is the introduction of the Sounders,” Colliver said. “That was one of the goals of the public stadium authority.”
As for the Red Zone Suites, they could morph into larger party suites by expanding into space behind the existing units.
“Now with the amenities people are adding to those suites in the newer facilities, they are a bit more advanced than ours,” Colliver said.
ORIGINAL COST: $430 MILLION
2002 2012 Luxury suites 82 112 Luxury suite seats 1,632 2,306 Club seats 7,700 8,200 Club lounges 2 6 General concessionaire Aramark Levy Restaurants Premium caterer Aramark Levy Restaurants Field-level dining (Sounders FC only) None 15 tables Permanent concession stands 38 46 Premium concessions 8 47 Beer portables 47 55 Vendors in seating area 125 165 Soda pouring rights Coca-Cola Coca-Cola Point-of-sale terminals 417 1,042 Recycle bins 75 400 Permanent novelty stands 14 15 Playing surface FieldTurf FieldTurf Revolution Parking spaces 3,100 2,800 Electric vehicle chargers 0 6 TV monitors 841 500
Notes: The number of TV monitors decreased because the stadium opened with a feature called “concession TV” but because of sun glare the concept was revised. The group plans to install new high-def monitors next year.
The legacy of Ford Field is linked to a 1920s-era department store building folded into the stadium design.
The old Hudson’s warehouse, a seven-story brick structure, contains most of the stadium’s 120-plus suites. Its influence extends to Chicago’s Soldier Field, where the Bears’ rebuilt stadium reopened one year after Ford Field with all 130 traditional suites built on the facility’s east side.
In Detroit, the vision of the Ford family, the Lions’ owner, was to develop an NFL stadium to reconnect with the city’s urban core after the club played 26 seasons at the Pontiac Silverdome in the Detroit suburbs.
To provide a strong connection, hometown architect Rossetti, the stadium’s designer, completed a study to use the warehouse as part of the stadium. It also made sense from a sustainability perspective, said Rossetti principal Jim Renne.
The old Hudson’s warehouse on one side of the stadium contains most of Ford Field’s suites.
Photo by:Detroit Lions
The warehouse filled that purpose, but the Lions were initially skeptical about the idea, he said. They preferred to develop a new building without having to worry about the potential costs for renovating the entire warehouse beyond the portion used for the 65,000-seat stadium.
“We actually started to design the stadium as a stand-alone,” Renne said. “Despite all the measures we went through to make it [a less costly] stadium, there was still a little bit more [the Lions] wanted to spend,” he said.
While the Lions were considering a larger spend, Rossetti went back to its study and showed the Lions that they could provide the amenities they wanted and still actually save $30 million to $35 million in construction costs by bringing the warehouse back into the design process.
The decision ultimately tied to the design, operations and funding for a $500 million project, said Lions President Tom Lewand.
“It really fulfilled the mandate we had from the Ford family, which was to build a unique stadium that embodies the city of Detroit,” Lewand said. “I think Ford Field did that when it opened and continues to do that today.”
Ten years later, more than 100,000 square feet, encompassing about one-third of the warehouse’s available space, is occupied by local companies leasing space from the Lions, Lewand said. Its tenants include one of the city’s major law
The recession decimated Michigan’s automotive industry four years ago, doing the Lions no favors in their efforts to fill the warehouse. The list of prospective deals that fell through included a hotel and a House of Blues targeted for the building’s top floor.
A nightclub concept remains on the drawing board, and there is talk of building a television studio in the warehouse, according to Matt Rossetti, a principal with Rossetti.
Lewand declined to elaborate. The Lions are “working on some things that are going to come down the line pretty shortly that will make that development more exciting” for the warehouse, Lewand said.
For football, the Lions have made some adjustments to Ford Field’s suites and clubs that mirror the evolution of premium-seat trends across sports. The mix is heavier toward single-game suite sales than it was 10 years ago, Lewand said.
Lewand refused to discuss suite pricing. A CSL International study in September 2011 of all NFL venues listed an average annual fee of $96,000 for Ford Field’s 129 current skyboxes. Of the stadium’s 7,500 club seats, the average fee is about $1,500 a season, the study reported.
Last season, single-game suites sold for $3,000 to $12,000 a game, with seating for groups of 12 to 50 people, according to the Lions’ website.
“We have changed our seating mix over time and changed our pricing model over the years,” Lewand said. “We are constantly looking at ways to refine those offerings and present new experiences.”
Since it opened, Ford Field has become one of the NFL’s most versatile facilities. It has played host to the Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Four and Frozen Four, and several major concerts over the past decade.
The NCAA’s decision to change the Final Four setup and put the court at midfield to expand seating from 40,000 to 70,000 was based on 2003’s successful “Basketbowl” at Ford Field between Michigan State and Kentucky. It was the first time the new layout was tested for college hoops.
This year brought the Professional Bull Riders to Ford Field, the stadium’s first rodeo. Its latest special event on the field was Sunday’s Coach’s Kickoff, with a Lions practice, an autograph session and a concert with country artist Randy Houser.
For the future, the Lions are looking at expanding wireless access throughout the stadium as that technology continues to develop.
“It’s about making sure that our fans are getting the things that they are used to when they are consuming events, whether it is sports or other kinds of entertainment,” Lewand said. “They are experiencing those in different ways than they have in the past.”
ORIGINAL COST: $500 MILLION
2002 2012 Luxury suites 132 129 Luxury suite seats 2,300 2,240 Club seats 8,700 7,500 General concessionaire Levy Restaurants Levy Restaurants Premium caterer Levy Restaurants Levy Restaurants Concessions points-of-sale (permanent) 56 59 Concessions points-of-sale (portable) 39 51 Soda pouring rights Pepsi Pepsi Playing surface: FieldTurf FieldTurf Parking spaces N/A 1,200-space Ford Parking Deck TV monitors 897 Undergoing upgrade to HD flat-screens
Note: Ford Motor Co. announced a 40-year, $40 million naming-rights deal in October 1996. The nearly six years of exposure the company received before the stadium opened, and thus before the contract officially began, remains the longest such ramp-up in naming-rights history.
The New England Patriots — on their own dime — smartly developed a 68,756-seat stadium that’s held up nicely over the past 10 years without their having to make dramatic changes to the seating bowl.
All seats at Gillette Stadium are angled toward the 50-yard line, and open concourses keep fans connected to the game. The setup is a complete reversal from old Foxboro Stadium, the Patriots’ former home, whose site Gillette now occupies.
At Foxboro Stadium, “the concourses were so confined … you had no idea where you were,” said Jim Nolan, the team’s senior vice president of finance, administration and operations.
The Kraft family, owner of the Patriots, privately funded the $325 million stadium construction project, while the state paid $72 million toward the infrastructure. That made it critical for the team to hit the right numbers for premium seats without wasting money on inventory they could not sell.
Gillette Stadium is now flanked by Patriot Place, a mix of retail, restaurants and theaters built to create year-round activity.
Photo by:New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium opened with 80 suites, a modest number compared with Detroit’s Ford Field and Houston’s Reliant Stadium, two buildings that opened the same year with more than 130 skyboxes. Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field opened a year later with 172 suites. The Patriots’ suites start at $175,000 a year tied to long-term deals, team officials said.
The Boston market could have supported more suites at the time Gillette Stadium opened, but the Patriots thought they could reach the same revenue projections with fewer skyboxes, said Dennis Wellner, a senior principal with Populous who worked on the project.
As a result, the Patriots were able to double square footage in the suites relative to what teams in other NFL markets were doing, said Wellner, a designer of 15 NFL stadiums. In addition, Gillette Stadium’s clubs were 30 percent larger when compared with those of other stadiums.
“Building enough space for their premium patrons was important,” Wellner said. “Those decisions carried them well, and today they do not have excess product. There is no clamor for redoing seating done originally.”
Soon after Gillette Stadium opened, the Patriots discovered a need to develop a premium group product to sell for single games and corporate meetings. For the 2003 season, the team built two 100-person super suites that sell for $50,000 to $75,000 a game. Around that same time, the Patriots added nine more suites, giving them a total of 89 skyboxes.
Last year, the team extended its naming-rights deal with Gillette to 2032 and signed an agreement with Putnam Investments to brand the club level as part of a redesign to give the area a fresh look and more space. The revamp
To further illustrate how large the gap was between the Patriots’ old and new facilities, Gillette Stadium’s two end zone video boards cost $6 million to install in 2002, a sum greater than the cost to build the entire Foxboro Stadium in 1971, Nolan said.
“We were told those boards would be a 20-year asset but we found ourselves eight years later saying they weren’t state of the art,” Nolan said. “We went out and installed two new Daktronics boards [in 2010], one of which has the largest footprint for an outdoor NFL stadium.”
The recent technology enhancements extend to wireless upgrades, with three distributed antenna systems improving coverage for AT&T, Sprint and Verizon customers. This year, Gillette Stadium is one of five NFL facilities testing stadiumwide Wi-Fi access. The Patriots signed a deal with Enterasys, a New England tech firm, to equip the stadium for the pilot program. The same company wired Lucas Oil Stadium for the 2012 Super Bowl, Nolan said.
Putman Investments signed a deal last year to brand the stadium’s club area.
Photo by:New England Patriots
Changes at the stadium site have not been restricted to the venue itself. A side benefit of owning the stadium and the 700 acres surrounding it has been the development of Patriot Place, a project that made its debut five years ago.
The Krafts invested $350 million to develop the shops, restaurants and theaters to supplement the game-day experience and create year-round activity in Foxboro, which is about 30 miles south of Boston. Patriot Place’s newest addition, Trader Joe’s, opens in early September.
Recalling the bid to send the Pats to Connecticut
Gillette Stadium almost was the one that got away.
In November 1998, Connecticut Gov. John Rowland and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft signed a deal that called for the team to relocate to a proposed 68,000-seat stadium in downtown Hartford and become a partner in the $1 billion redevelopment of that city’s Adriaen’s Landing section.
To woo the Patriots, Rowland committed the state to spend $375 million for site acquisition and stadium construction. The Patriots were to retain all of the revenue generated at the stadium, and the state guaranteed Kraft the sale of at least $13 million a year in premium seating and millions in stadium improvements during the 30-year lease, according to published reports.
In exchange, Kraft was to provide $75 million in private investment on the site, including $50 million to build a hotel, $20 million for a sports and entertainment pavilion, and $5 million for a fitness center.
The stadium faced several hurdles that likely would have delayed construction. So, after securing $150 million through the NFL’s G3 loan program, and $72 million in infrastructure guarantees from the state of Massachusetts for a new stadium in Foxboro, Kraft scuttled the relocation and built Gillette Stadium.
— David Broughton
ORIGINAL COST: $397 MILLION
2002 2012 Luxury suites 80 89 Luxury suite seats 2,000 2,300 Club seats 6,000 6,000 Club lounges 2 2 General concessionaire In-house In-house Premium caterer In-house In-house Concessions points-of-sale 350+ 500+ Permanent novelty stands 15 15 Team store (square feet) 7,200 16,000 Soda pouring rights Pepsi Pepsi Parking spaces 14,400 16,000 Video screens 2 Daktronics HD LED Added 2 Daktronics LED ribbon boards Size of video screens 48 feet x 27 feet 41.5 feet x 164 feet and 45 feet x 100 feet TV monitors 1,000+ 2,000+ Playing surface Natural grass FieldTurf Mixed-use development (square feet) None Patriot Place (1 million+) Hall of fame building (square feet) None Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon (36,000)
Note: Every preseason, regular-season and postseason game at Gillette Stadium has sold out, extending a streak that stands at 193 consecutive games, dating to 1994 when Robert Kraft bought the club.
Seven years before Cowboys Stadium took center stage in the NFL, the Houston Texans opened one of the league’s most sophisticated buildings.
Reliant Stadium became the first NFL facility featuring a retractable roof and a portable field. It served as the model for University of Phoenix Stadium, the home of the Arizona Cardinals, which opened in 2006 with both features. Since then, the Indianapolis Colts and Dallas Cowboys have also built stadiums with movable roofs.
The expansion Texans and the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, their co-tenant, struck a partnership to develop a multipurpose venue to suit both parties. The result: a $450 million project heavy on engineering technology to accommodate football, rodeo and other special events.
The stadium’s retractable roof and portable field cater to football and Houston’s giant rodeo.
Photo by:Getty Images
As it turned out, however, the Texans discovered that their season-ticket holders preferred a climate-controlled environment, so for most NFL games, the roof remains closed, Rootes said.
The portable field system consists of hundreds of 8-foot-long sod trays that can be removed for other events. When the Texans are not playing, the trays are stored and maintained in a parking lot adjacent to the Astrodome.
“You take the grass out and it becomes a concrete floor and the rodeo builds from that,” Rootes said. “It was an important development that allowed us all to get what we wanted.”
In 2002, six years after the old Houston Oilers left town for Tennessee, a sold-out Reliant Stadium opened with 166 suites and 8,536 club seats. Every Texans game since then has sold out.
About 50 midfield suites are marketed for both Texans games and the rodeo. Those “combo” suites average $300,000 a year with long-term commitments, said John Schriever, the team’s vice president of ticketing and event management. The rest of the suites are sold individually between the two groups, and the same is true for most club seats.
Over the past decade, the stadium has gone through $30 million in upgrades, financed through a fund reserved for capital improvements. For football alone, the facility now has 186 permanent skyboxes to meet a Texas-size appetite for pro football.
One premium-seat addition completed five years ago proves how hot the NFL is in Houston. In 2007, the Texans found
The field system consists of hundreds of sod trays that can be removed for other events.
Photo by:Houston Texans
The Chairmans Club and Directors Club, two end zone retrofits in the upper deck, converted $35 seats into all-inclusive ticket packages priced at $140 a game. The 500-seat Chairmans Club, tied to a $1,000 permanent seat license, debuts this season in the south end. About three-quarters of the stadium’s 71,500 seats are tied to PSLs.
The Texans also developed their version of the arena industry’s theater box concept, building groups of four premium seats in the end zone of the lower level that are marketed to season-ticket holders.
“We never want to find ourselves in a position where we’re so far behind we can’t catch up,” Rootes said. “You see that happening often with buildings. They fall into disrepair and then you’re in a bit of a death spiral. We have always tried to
As for projects on the drawing board, the Texans are in talks with Verizon, a founding partner of the team and the stadium, to expand Wi-Fi throughout the stadium. In addition, the Texans plan to replace Reliant’s original video boards with two new screens in 2013 and are taking bids for that project.
While Reliant Stadium was built with the NFL and rodeo in mind, the Texans formed Lone Star Sports and Entertainment to promote international soccer matches and college football games at the stadium.
The sold-out U.S.-Mexico soccer match in 2003 proved to be a watershed event for the venue and the market, building momentum for the stadium to book more high-profile soccer events. Three years later, the old MLS San Jose Earthquakes relocated to Houston.
“It became clear that Houston was a great soccer market, so the Dynamo was launched and this year they opened BBVA Compass Stadium,” Rootes said. “We like to think that with our success in promoting soccer we had a hand with a new sports entity in Houston that we are proud of.”
ORIGINAL COST: $450 MILLION
2002 2012 Luxury suites 166 186 Luxury suite seats 2,976 3,577 Club seats 8,536 8,536 Club lounges 2 4 General concessionaire Aramark Aramark Premium caterer Aramark Aramark Concessions points-of-sale 600 600 Soda pouring rights Coca-Cola Coca-Cola Permanent novelty stands 27 27 Team store 1 1 Parking spaces 26,000 26,000 TV monitors 1,600 1,551
Note: In addition to the Go Texan Store, the team has four club-level stores, 10 in-line retail stands, and 10 portable kiosks.
“When you drive into this town and you look at [the Seahawks’ stadium and Safeco Field] and the skyline and the Space Needle, [it’s] phenomenal. ... I think it’s the nicest facility.”
— Al Michaels, during an October 2002 visit by “Monday Night Football”
Photo by:Getty Images
“We wanted something that was really unique to the Pacific Northwest and fit our culture, and help the downtown corridor.”
— Former Seahawks President Bob Whitsitt (September 2002)
“Wow. No bad seats in an open air stadium with killer views and well-stocked provisions. … Food stands throughout the stadium are adorned with Washington scenic vistas almost as stunning as the views from the spacious concourse.”
— Seattle Times (July 2002)
Working out the kinks: Despite the lure of the new stadium, the Seahawks still were short of a sellout at the opener. Improved on-field performance, however, soon made the Seahawks a hot ticket.
“It’s just so distinctive, with the building on the one side into the warehouse and Adams Street being maintained up there, all of the light coming in and the configuration of the stands. It really is quite an extraordinary stadium.”
— Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, during a visit to the stadium in October 2002
Fox game announcer Joe Buck called Ford Field “a world-class facility. … The problem, according to the Fords — and I think any fan here in Detroit — is how we get the team in here to be worthy of the architecture and all that’s gone into making this stadium what it is.”
— Joe Buck during the “Fox NFL Sunday” studio show, which broadcast from Ford Field in September 2002
“This stadium makes you feel like you’re a part of everything. What it has is a personality.”
— Lions Chairman William Clay Ford (August 2002)
Working out the kinks: At the inaugural game, fans complained about dusty seats, condensation dripping from the air conditioning and frigid temperatures. By the following game, those problems had been worked out.
“The upper deck of CMGI Field should have windows to jump from.”
— Michael Gee of the Boston Herald (August 2002). Gee had written about the many troubled companies, such as Enron, TWA and Adelphia, that had naming-rights deals. Original Patriots naming-rights partner CMGI, whose stock had once reached a high of $160 a share, cratered at 50 cents a share. Gillette would step in to replace CMGI.
Photo by:Getty Images
“We have a real NFL stadium now. This is the fans’ reward: They have championship players to root for, and they don’t have to sit on benches to watch them.”
— Patriots owner Robert Kraft (August 2002)
“The size of the $325[M] stadium was what struck many. … Many fans came in, looked around at the wider concourses (70 feet, twice as wide as the old ones), the chairback seats, the 350 concession sites (up from 117), the 44 restrooms (up from 22) and the cup holders on the back of every seat, and gave their approval.”
— Providence Journal (August 2002)
Working out the kinks: Traffic at the first game left some fans steaming, as the drive down Route 1 was brutal. Also, fans attending the Oct. 13 Packers-Patriots game complained of long waits to use the men’s restrooms. By the next game, the team had converted two women’s restrooms into men’s restrooms and installed 150 portable toilets.
“I don’t care how many sports facilities you’ve seen, anywhere in the world. If you walk out to the middle of Reliant Stadium and look up, your mouth is going to drop open.”
— Mac McCoy, project manager for design consultant HOK (September 2002)
“The stadium figures to remain a welcome refuge, a haven of comfort and hope for better days ahead [for the expansion team].”
— Houston Chronicle (August 2002)
“Before I got the Texans, the only autograph anyone wanted from me was when I signed their checks.”
— Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, who was frequently approached at the stadium’s opening and asked for his autograph (August 2002)
Working out the kinks: Access roads couldn’t handle the traffic, leading to gridlock. About a quarter of the stadium’s fans weren’t on hand for the opening kickoff, as some waited in traffic for two hours.
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