SBJ/Oct. 14-20, 2013/Facilities

Polishing a jewel: Husky Stadium

Husky Stadium, a classic from another era occupying one of sports’ most picturesque settings, freshens up

All Husky Stadium photos by: KAREN DUCEY


Three years ago, before renovations at Husky Stadium, concession stands were outside the building, exposed to the weather. And this being Seattle, “weather” means considerable helpings of rain.

But early in the Arizona-Washington football game late last month, when a mini-typhoon blew in and disrupted hearty fans accustomed to a kinder, gentler downpour, the renovated stadium provided them space to duck the high winds, dry off a bit and slurp down some Ivar’s clam chowder before returning to their seats.

“We would normally be soaking wet on the old concourse getting popcorn out there,” said Chip Lydum, the University of Washington’s associate athletic director of operations and capital projects. “Now, it’s under cover.”

ABOVE: The Touchdown Terrace supports 20 patio suites at field level in the east end zone.
BELOW: Dawg Bites stands are open on all sides, a design encouraging interaction.
Moving everything inside and making “the stadium itself the edge of the experience,” Lydum said, was a key piece of the $280 million project to improve the 93-year-old stadium, where capacity stands at 70,138.

Once, stadium staff took tickets in the parking lot, whose perimeter had been surrounded by barbed wire and chain-link fencing. Some welcome mat. Now the fencing is gone, liberating a stadium perched in one of the most beautiful settings in sports, on Lake Washington with views to the Cascade and Olympic mountains.

Fans walk right up to the stadium doors and get their tickets scanned for their seats, now much closer to the field after the running track was removed. The retrofit ratchets up the crowd’s roar at what was already one of college football’s loudest stadiums.

At the west end, students pass through their own exclusive gate marked by the statue of a husky dog. They have their own concession stands, Dawg Bites, adorned with photos they submitted of themselves. Students can approach the stands from all four sides, the function of a design encouraging social interaction.

The 7,210 bench seats in the Dawg Pack, their section in the lower bowl of the west end, face HuskyVision, the high-def video board stretching more than 100 feet wide.

Those amenities were added after UW students and school officials reached a compromise over the relocation of student seating, Lydum said.

“Students used to sit at midfield, but to pay for the stadium, they were moved to the end zone to [market] the 50-yard line,” he said. “It wasn’t easily done because they are passionate about their experience. But there was good dialogue with our department and the administration.”

Other college stadiums recognize their student fan base, but UW went the extra mile to meet their needs in the west end, said Brad Schrock, a senior principal with 360 Architecture, Husky Stadium’s architect.

“The kids own it,” Schrock said.

The first 41 patio suites, built along the sidelines, were the first new premium seats to sell out.
The stadium’s theme revolves around the legacy of Washington football displayed on the concourse walls. The 16 greatest moments in Husky football history are celebrated through images framed in native pine. Visitors are reminded of UW’s tradition of producing top quarterbacks such as Sonny Sixkiller and Warren Moon. The look and feel is reminiscent of TCF Bank Stadium, the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ 4-year-old facility, which honors its football greats with concourse banners. Washington used that stadium as one model for upgrading Husky Stadium.
Club Husky supports most of the stadium’s new premium seating.

“I think we struck the right balance between the traditional University of Washington spirit and modern amenities the fans demand,” Athletic Director Scott Woodward said.

The school’s goal was to brand the stadium appropriately with the right amount of corporate and philanthropic resources without going over the top, Lydum said.

“The culture in Seattle is different than the rest of the country,” he said. “We settled on a term called Northwest sensibility. It’s not Las Vegas.”

To Lydum’s point, branded pillars tastefully showcase corporate partners such as Coke Zero and UW Medicine, whose orthopedic unit leases space from the university to operate a new 30,000-square-foot medical clinic beneath the stadium. The clinic is open to the public five days a week.

The natural wood finishes extend to above the seating bowl entrances, highlighted by the block “W.” The seating bowl itself has a clean look with no fixed signs. It comes alive on game days through digital ads on the main video screen, corner boards and LED ribbon boards.

Scoreboard maker Daktronics and technology firm Harris Corp. teamed to produce an IPTV system connected to the stadium’s 700-plus television monitors that has the flexibility to show commercials, change menu prices and update game statistics in the press box.

“It was a massive part of this project,” Lydum said. “Coming in, we underestimated the technology investment in every way, financially and as far as performance. It was much more robust than we thought. We felt we better get there … just to be relevant and modern.”

The subtle branding extends to the new premium seats on the stadium’s south side, which was torn down and rebuilt. Lexus sponsors Club Husky, the lounge supporting 2,500 club seats, 27 suites and 41 patio suites, Washington’s version of loge boxes.

The Lexus sponsorship, a five-year agreement, is valued at about $400,000 annually, a deal that covers football inventory in addition to the club lounge, said Jen Cohen, senior associate
athletic director in charge of development.

Toyota has branding in the Touchdown Terrace, the lounge supporting 20 patio suites at field level behind the stadium’s east end zone. The same is true for Cobalt Mortgage on the suite level. Miller Lite and Seattle-based Redhook have signs above Club Husky bars.

IMG College, the school’s multimedia rights holder, brokered the agreements.

The name Husky Stadium stays intact. An attempt to sell naming rights to the field fell through after school officials could not reach an agreement with a company to pay $1.5 million a year. The school could still sell those rights,
but at this time it is not actively marketing them, Cohen said.

Twenty-two of the 27 new suites are sold for three- and five-year contracts, she said. The suites are priced at $60,000 annually, plus the cost of tickets and food and drink. The five remaining suites are sold for individual games. All suites have 18 seats and room for six guests.

The club seats and patio suites on the south side and the east end zone are sold out with waiting lists, she said. Club seats are tied to annual donations of $1,500 to $1,950 a seat depending on location. Season tickets, priced at $499, are a separate fee.

The patio suites — with circular tables, four chairs and a small television — are outdoors and have roof cover. The cost is $10,000 to $15,000 a year on top of season tickets. They are Husky Stadium’s version of loge boxes at Minnesota and Oregon State’s Reser Stadium, Lydum said.

The 41 patio suites were the first new premium seats to go to market and first to sell out, leading to Washington’s decision to add more patio suites at field level in the east end. The 20 additional units, which have their own dedicated lounge, hit the market in February and sold out in six weeks, Cohen said.

The field-level premium seats call to mind the Red Zone Suites at CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks and the NFL stadium that introduced the concept when it opened in 2002.

Elsewhere, patio suites are part of new stadiums 360 is designing for the San Jose Earthquakes and Atlanta Falcons, Schrock said. “It’s the idea that when you’re in a suite you’re not really watching the game,” he said. “These are loungy and they’ve really become popular.”

All told, the renovation, built by Turner Construction, has pushed Husky Stadium, a facility built in the same era as Fenway Park and Wrigley Field  to a higher level.

“This is a mindblower … we’re almost in another stratosphere,” Lydum said.

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