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Volume 21 No. 1
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Decisions, decisions, decisions

When planning a new sports facility, ideas are plentiful. The trick is to pick elements that will go the furthest in improving the consumer experience. Here’s how some of those decisions are made.

■ The project: Site selection
The goal: Find the right location at the right price
The challenge: Land costs, traffic access, permitting

Real estate is all about finding the right location and sports facilities are no different. Architects work closely with teams to identify the best sites and sometimes the designers come up with a better idea.

Architects suggested building Livestrong Sporting Park on a site originally planned for an office building.
In Kansas City, Kan., OnGoal, the group that owns Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City, identified a site for a new stadium a few blocks away from where it was ultimately constructed. The site where the stadium sits now was originally targeted for an office building for a medical software firm tied to the club’s ownership.

However, stadium designer Populous suggested a “flip-flop,” moving the office project to the site where the club wanted to build the soccer facility and relocating the stadium project to the proposed office site. Populous explained that its preferred site, next to Kansas Speedway, was more accessible to cars and pedestrians, said Populous’ Jon Knight, a principal designer for Livestrong Sporting Park. Most importantly, the stadium could be the centerpiece of the Legends West development nestled between the speedway and a new casino project to the west, and major retailers to the east.

As for other factors involved in site selection, the cost of building foundation systems, relocation of utilities, demolition of existing structures and whether the seating bowl is elevated or below grade influence the decision, said Tom Paci, vice president and director of preconstruction for Turner Construction’s sports group.

■ The project: Seating
The goal: Optimize capacity
The challenge: Maximizing seat inventory without sacrificing comfort or proximity to the action

Choosing the right style of seats for a sports facility is a trade-off between creating an intimate seating bowl and the

The design of Consol Energy Center allowed for a larger seat while still keeping fans close to the action.
comfort of the chair itself, according to Tim Romani, president and CEO of Icon Venue Group, an owner’s representative.

The bigger the tread depth — the length measured from the back of the chair to the front — the less likely a building will have a tight seating bowl. The right size to optimize capacity in the seating bowl is to select a seat with a 33-inch tread, Romani said. More teams, however, are going with 35-inch treads, a more comfortable chair that ultimately reduces the number of rows in the bowl.

“You don’t want to have more than 28, 30 at the most, rows of seating,” Romani said. “You’d rather be down around 24 or 26 rows, but if you put in a 35-inch tread, you’re pushing how far that last row is going to be from the event floor itself.”

Consol Energy Center, the Penguins’ new arena in Pittsburgh and an Icon client, reached a happy medium. The NHL club wanted a larger, comfortable seat with more leg room and selected a 35-inch tread. The design of the arena bowl itself, with one primary suite level that pushes all fans closer to the ice, helped the Penguins make that decision without losing the sense of intimacy, Romani said.

The seat options for suites have improved dramatically in recent years and so has the cost to buy those high-end items. In general, the price for those seats has jumped from $250 each to as high as $800, Romani said.

Beyond fixed seating, dual-purpose arenas must make decisions on telescopic seats, the movable sections of the lower bowl that surround the court for basketball and retract underneath the end zones and sidelines for hockey. Irwin Seating Co. has 35 different chair types for telescopic seating, said Bill Waldo, the firm’s director of major projects.

■ The project: Concessions
The goal: Maximize revenue, offer diverse food and drink options
The challenge: Building adequate points of sale and offering new ways to improve the fan experience

Food service plays a pivotal role in the development of major league arenas and stadiums, and it is important to plan the right number of concession stands to maximize revenue.

A typical ratio is to have one point of sale for every 100 people in the lower bowl.
In general, those buildings at the highest level of sports are designed with one point of sale for every 100 people in the lower bowl, said food consultant Chris Bigelow. In the upper deck, where the crowds are historically not as dense as downstairs, the ratio is one to 125 or 150, not counting portable stands. In college stadiums where no beer is sold, the ratio may be as low as 1 to 250 people because the concession stands do a lower volume of business, Bigelow said.

Concourse design dictates where concessions are located. Open concourses call for permanent food stands to be built along the back wall of the building. Rule of thumb calls for 50 percent of concession stands to be designed with vents for fryers and grills, Bigelow said.

Beyond those basic formulas, to satisfy fans’ demand for tastier food and drink options and provide a new experience, food is taking over areas typically reserved for game operations.

Cowboys Stadium and Livestrong Sporting Park both have event-level clubs where the home teams walk through the middle of those lounges to and from the field.

“Everybody is fighting for the same space [at event level] with all the functions that go into the building, whether it’s food service, maintenance, engineering and offices, so it’s a matter of prioritizing,” Bigelow said. “We make our case that we are a revenue producer.”

■ The project: Concourse design
The goal: Provide for smooth pedestrian flow
The challenge: Making concourse areas a greater revenue tool

There is no hard and fast rule for determining concourse width, but it is best not to go below a 35-foot span inside big

Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis branded concourse space for a variety of sponsors.
league facilities, said Aecom’s James Poulson. The exact width depends on the number of seats served by those walkways.

On the main level, the concourses are wider because, in general, there are more seats in the lower bowl. With fewer seats in the upper bowl, the concourses are narrower upstairs.

HKS, the designer for Cowboys Stadium and Lucas Oil Stadium, took a different approach to developing concourse dimensions, treating those large, often blank spaces as a series of separate rooms branded for the founding partners of the two NFL facilities. In Indianapolis, the corners are sponsor zones and the entire north end zone is dedicated to activation surrounding Lucas Oil, the stadium’s naming-rights holder. In Arlington, Texas, the three 15,000-square-foot platforms in each end zone at Cowboys Stadium are sponsor showrooms in addition to serving as concourse space and an area for standing-room-only ticket holders.

“How wide the concourse will be is not even on our radar screen except as a secondary goal,” said Bryan Trubey, principal and director of HKS Sports and Entertainment. “We think the other goals are of much higher importance and a higher priority. You want the concourse, if you design it correctly, to be a revenue tool.”

■ The project: Flooring
The goal: Provide an attractive finishing touch for the building
The challenge: Choosing products with up-front value but durability

Flooring is purely a budget-driven issue in sports facilities. The ultimate decision comes down to who is paying for it, designers said.

Wake Forest made flooring a showpiece in its Deacon Tower project in 2008.
Some teams spend a lot money for a terrazzo-poured floor to get a high-end finish on the main concourse. Other clubs prefer a more practical approach, opting for a less expensive option that is easier to clean and does not have to be replaced every five to seven years.

Some facility managers want the floor to look nice when the building is unoccupied so they may choose a terrazzo floor. Others don’t care, and their view is that when their venue is filled with people, nobody can see the floor anyway.

The price difference is substantial: a poured terrazzo floor can be $18 per square foot; terrazzo tile is $10 per square foot, said Tim Romani, president and CEO of Icon Venue Group.

“We put poured terrazzo in the main concourse at Sprint Center and terrazzo tile in the upper concourse, and I actually like the tile better and it’s a much better value, as well,” he said. “Terrazzo, if it’s kept right, can look like a really high-gloss stone flooring, but if it’s not kept well or if it takes some abuse with scratching and carts and telegraphing cracks through it, it really starts to look bad early and replacing it is really difficult to do well without being cost prohibitive.

“It certainly has its place, but I prefer a very nice stone tile product or something along those lines, which is easier to replace and still has the highest quality finish look, as well.”

■ The project: Technology
The goal: Provide audio, video and wireless systems that appeal to patrons and partners
The challenge: Selecting technical elements that can be linked and don’t break the bank

The key to using new technology in sports facilities today is to pick one company to tie all the systems together. Cisco’s

Video boards continue to get bigger and better.
StadiumVision, an Internet protocol television network, is one example.

“Before, we would try to have tech integrators involved to tie these systems together,” said Tim Romani, president and CEO of Icon Venue Group. “Now it’s standard operating procedure for all of these various low voltage systems to be on a converged network. We did that in Pittsburgh incredibly well, some with the advent of Cisco Systems, some with the advent of using technology better and with thought and planning behind it.”

Otherwise, the latest high-definition video boards that teams are installing both at new facilities and existing buildings are getting bigger and better, but once you get to a certain screen resolution, “improving beyond that is not recognizable to the human eye,” Romani said.

“They’re brighter, more environmentally friendly, they last longer, all of those things happen,” he said. “But once you go beyond that, you really just lose it; you’re spending money unnecessarily, in my opinion. It is always a balance to fitting the best video product for your particular environment but realizing when you just don’t need to go beyond that.”

Daktronics and Harris Corp. are two other companies that have IPTV systems installed in sports facilities. Harris, a company specializing in military IT systems, is a founding partner at Amway Center in Orlando.