SBJ/August 6-12, 2012/In Depth

Ford Field one of NFL’s most versatile stadiums

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
“One of the things that Bill Ford Jr. was really captivated by was our ability to paint this picture for him when he was able to stand on the 50-yard line, that he would be able to know he was in downtown Detroit,” Renne said.

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
firms.

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.”

FORD FIELD
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.

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