Patriots build on stadium’s year-round appeal
Thirteen years ago this week, Robert and Jonathan Kraft looked out over a mass of nearly 70,000 fans and ushered in a new era of football in New England. It was a crisp Thursday evening opening the NFL season, and the Patriots raised their first Super Bowl banner while also formally opening the privately financed, $325 million Gillette Stadium. The lighthouse-adorned venue was a startling new luxury for fans — far from the aluminum bleachers of the decrepit Foxboro Stadium — and it would change the fortunes of the franchise and the surrounding area.
This Thursday night, the Krafts will raise another Super Bowl banner — the team’s fourth — in the facility that has hosted more marquee NFL games over a decade-plus than any other stadium. And while fans may not feel the same awe they did when they walked into that new stadium on Sept. 9, 2002, they will see more than $30 million worth of enhancements the team developed with designer Populous over the offseason, including a field-level end zone club, a high-end hospitality pavilion that doubles as a venue for all fans, a wider pedestrian bridge that is one of the more popular features of the stadium, and a hip, loft-style fantasy den.
Sitting in the Champions conference room (featuring large photos from each Super Bowl title) in the team’s Foxborough offices, members of the Patriots executive team said each enhancement was designed to create shared, communal areas for a fan base that has bought every available seat since the venue opened but one that continually faces the challenges of New England winters.
“We thought about the fan experience at home, where people are together with friends and family, and we tried to make these areas to be like your living room on Sunday,” said Jennifer Ferron, the Patriots’ senior vice president of marketing and brand development. “It was meant to offer the comforts you’re used to and can expect in spending your day with us.”
Team officials walked SportsBusiness Journal through the new areas on a blue-sky New England August afternoon, as the facility prepped for two Kenny Chesney/Jason Aldean concerts.
The newest structure just inside the stadium entrance is the Cross Pavilion, a 20,000-square-foot building built over the past nine months. What was an outdoor space with picnic tables and tents is now a posh, open, two-level club that sits right in the middle of pregame activity.
“It was a picnic zone with grass that no one used,” said Jim Nolan, senior vice president of operations, finance and administration. “But we knew it was this unbelievable real estate inside the walls of the stadium.”
|Cross Pavilion is a 20,000-square-foot club just inside the gates of Gillette Stadium. It will serve as both a pregame high-end hospitality area as well as a haven for all ticketed fans during the game
Cross Insurance, a Maine-based company that has been a team sponsor for years, signed a 10-year deal to affix its name to the venue. As part of its deal, Cross can use the space four times a year outside of game days, and receives a number of memberships on game days.
The structure, with a spacious indoor floor plan and outside patio that combines to hold 1,000 visitors, will feature high-end pregame hospitality 2½ hours before game time. Yearlong memberships start at $6,000, which provides for one pregame hospitality pass along with one game ticket in the 100-level lower bowl. Guests will dine on sushi and lobster rolls and pick selections from carving stations, while being able to walk out of the pavilion to watch warmups in the stadium. But 30 minutes before game time, the facility is flipped and becomes a haven for any ticket holder looking to get food, drink or relief from the weather.
|Cross Pavilion’s patio can hold roughly 200 people. The two-floor club will also be marketed for use on non-game days (below).
“On game days, if it’s too cold or raining or snowing, people will be able to come right off the concourse — and get food,
Ferron agreed, adding “We have games in all kind of inclement conditions. This is a place where fans can gather and step away from the game, but be communal and have a shared experience.”
Officials also like what the pavilion provides as a year-round hospitality facility, with TVs lining the walls and split levels that allow for entertaining on multiple floors.
“It sets itself very well for presentations and smaller trade shows,” Nolan said. “You can do a dinner inside and cocktails on the terrace or have activities on the concourses looking over the field, or we could extend it onto the field. As creative as people can be on non-game days, we can execute.”
|The Optum Field Lounge was developed for season-ticket holders after recommendations from fan focus groups.
“The one constant we kept hearing — if there was one thing fans wanted — was field access,” Ferron said. “But season-ticket holders really don’t have access to that, so we started talking about what are the concepts we could give them.”
The team focused on 2,000 removable seats in the south end zone, designed to allow for concert staging, and took them out to create
|A 9-by-32-foot high-def screen in the Optum Field Lounge
Optum, a leading health services company and division of Minneapolis-based UnitedHealth Group, has been a team sponsor for years. It expanded its relationship in signing a 10-year deal for the club’s naming rights and receives a field-level suite as part of its deal.
Inside the climate-controlled venue is a stunning 9-by-32-foot high-definition LED media wall that offers an assault on the visual senses. There are four-top tables, group seating and traditional concession offerings, and while there is no wait service, two bars inside offer full liquor service, and the patio has bars as well. Fans can come and go from their regular seats to the club and can access the facility three hours before the game and remain for one hour afterward.
|Span with a plan: One “pinch point” for fan traffic was on the popular lighthouse and bridge walkway, which was greatly expanded and will serve as a gathering area looking over the north end zone.
The team capped memberships at 800 — all of which have been sold — but could add more. “We’re not trying to cram people in there. The exterior space needs to be a comfortable experience,” Ferron said.
On non-game days, the lounge will be available for functions including dinner
|Beverage stations and table tops are now on the bridge.
The team also has worked to improve one of the most recognizable visual elements of Gillette Stadium: the lighthouse and bridge on the north side of the building.
“The bridge is an incredibly popular area, but it got so crowded that it turned into a terrible pinch point,” Nolan said. “Because of its traffic flow, people couldn’t hang out and gather on the bridge.”
|The renovated Hall of Fame serves as a meeting plaza for fans.
Over the last four months, the team expanded the bridge from roughly 1,500 square feet to more than 9,000 square feet — resulting in a wide, open walkway with tables and beverage stands, complete with open alcove right behind the goalpost, offering some of the best views of the stadium.
“It’s a great photograph opportunity, as it’s the place in the stadium where you feel like a king,” Nolan said. “It went from an area that was strictly utilitarian and underservicing to being
|Bars and standing tables overlook the south end zone.
New team partner CarMax signed a seven-year deal to become the main sponsor of the space and will activate with signage.
Team officials also hope they have found a solution for an underused space on the main concourse that sits under a pedestrian overpass. “No matter what we put into that space, it was not a gathering space,” Nolan said. “The fans just never utilized it.”
Borrowing a concept from MLS venues, the team used roll-up glass garage doors to allow for both an open-air and closed environment. Then it redesigned the 7,000-square-foot space into a fantasy zone, with more than 40 TVs lining the walls. DraftKings came on board to sponsor the space in a 10-year deal — one of three spaces it has in NFL venues this year.
|The DraftKings Fantasy Sports Zone sits off the concourse and features more than 40 TVs and roll-up garage doors. Draft beer is featured, of course.
“Once we had DraftKings, we knew this was going to be place where people were going to want to hang out,” Ferron said.
The space has an industrial, loft-like feel with open ceilings, and it can hold more than 400 fans with the doors shut and hundreds more with open doors and tables on the concourse. It features
“When the doors are open, you’re right on the concourse; you really feel part of the action,” Nolan said. “Around here, we are hardy, so those doors will be open more than closed. But when the doors are closed, it creates a great indoor environment.”
It’s been a challenging offseason for the Patriots, but as they prepare to welcome their die-hards to celebrate their fourth Super Bowl banner Thursday, team officials believe they have re-energized the 13-year-old venue. With these projects nearly in the rearview mirror, they are mum on what’s next. Whatever comes, it will focus on further establishing Gillette Stadium and adjacent Patriot Place as a year-round destination sitting a little more than 20 miles south of Boston.
“Every couple of years there has been a fairly large reinvestment in this location,” Ferron said. “That’s been the vision of the Krafts, building it into a year-round destination.”
And one can’t question the vision of the past 13 years in Foxborough.