The history of teams and their stadiums is no longer relegated to dusty museum sections, smudged trophy cases or banners hanging from the rafters.
Teams and venues are finding unique ways to integrate their history into new construction and renovations and make it a key part of the fan experience, whether it’s extensive graphical treatments or a full-blown hall of fame.
“They just didn’t want a whole room full of things that would collect dust,” said Matt Taylor, director of sports and entertainment for the Rossetti architecture firm.
Taylor designed the Basketball Hall of History as part of a $50 million facelift completed this year at Michigan State’s basketball arena, the Breslin Student Events Center.
Taylor took a section of the court from Michigan State’s 2000 NCAA men’s basketball championship and hung it up in the hall. “Most people would never be able to get that close to the floor,” he said.
Janet Marie Smith, senior vice president of planning and development for the Los Angeles Dodgers, is the team’s point person on integrating history into renovations at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers have focused on entry-level plazas and creating displays and interactions where fans can take selfies to post on social media.
“We want to give our fans some ‘Instagram-able’ moments. Not all history needs to be sobering,” Smith said.
The Dodgers had everything from vintage signs to surfboards donated to the team that had been sitting in storage and maintenance areas. Those have been dusted off and put to use. “We brought them back out and hung them out like they were artwork,” Smith said.
The team also has displayed vintage equipment trunks that date back to its origins in Brooklyn, and has displayed scores of letters sent to Vin Scully to commemorate the sports broadcaster’s retirement in 2016.
The Detroit Red Wings have an old bench from Joe Louis Arena that fans can sit on at the new Little Caesars Arena. But that’s only one of roughly 1,000 items in the arena focused on the history of the Red Wings and NBA Pistons. There’s also a huge image of Gordie Howe and the original letters from the sign for Detroit Olympia, the Red Wings’ home from 1927 to 1979.
“We really wanted to weave the history, the heritage, and capture that through the fan experience,” said Marcel Parent, director of curation and content activation for the Red Wings and the arena.
Three employees at Little Caesars Arena work on history and heritage, and another two manage collections of photos and objects. “They supplied us with artifacts, pictures and documents that helped us put in place engaging storytelling,” Parent said. The Red Wings handled most of the work internally but hired outside firms to produce graphics and help put together exhibits.
As a creative way to convey their history, the Arizona Diamondbacks collected and displayed 550 baseballs signed by players, coaches and executives as part of a new exhibit at Chase Field to commemorate the team’s 20th anniversary. The D-backs exhibit is free, as are many of the new history efforts woven into sports buildings.
“The biggest challenge has been contacting those who we do not have autographs from and getting them to participate,” said Diamondbacks President and CEO Derrick Hall. “We have been collecting the autographed baseballs from former players in anticipation of this display since 2011.”
The MLB team handled the project internally with between five and 10 employees working on the efforts.
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For teams and venues, the nod to their history is not about a direct revenue play, even for those that have museums on site. Instead, the goal is to make stronger connections with fans and build brand affinity.
The bottom line is that vintage resonates, said Tracie Speca-Ventura, founder and CEO of Sports & the Arts, which has helped teams such as the New York Yankees and the Green Bay Packers weave their history into new buildings and improvements.
“People love the bygone era,” Speca-Ventura said. “They want to see that conveyed in the hats and the outfits. That’s what people are really drawn to.”
Speca-Ventura and her company’s creative director, Camille Speca, helped the Yankees comb through 30,000 historic images to consider for display at the new Yankee Stadium when it opened in 2009. The end result included 800 never-before-seen photos displayed.
Sports & the Arts helped the Packers find and display photographs and other graphics at Lambeau Field. Speca-Ventura has worked multiple times with the NFL team on heritage and history projects. “We always tell the teams — budget for day 2. You want to keep it fresh,” she said.
Teams would not disclose how much they spend on their history efforts or how much they pay outside consultants and curators. Speca-Ventura said it cuts across an expansive range. “It just depends on the venue. They can spend $1 million. They can spend $30 million,” she said.
But it’s not just the history of teams and players being incorporated into new facilities or in renovations.
Rossetti architects Jon Disbrow and Kelly Deines leveraged the history of Wisconsin into their design at the Titletown mixed-use development next to Lambeau Field and did the same with the $70 million concourse and club area upgrades at TD Garden in Boston.
At the latter, Deines worked Boston’s industrial and transportation past into designs along with digital and high-tech displays focusing on the Celtics and Bruins at an 8,000-square-foot food area run by Delaware North.
People love the bygone era. They want to see that conveyed in the hats and the outfits. That’s what people are really drawn to.
At the former, Disbrow incorporated Green Bay and Wisconsin’s manufacturing history and topography into designs at Titletown. A 20,000-square-foot brewery Rossetti designed at Titletown looks like a Rust Belt manufacturing or paper plant. The Packers were named after the Indian Packing Co., where team founder Curly Lambeau worked as a shipping clerk and got money to help buy uniforms.
“When we were working on implementing the plan, we wanted to make sure that was kind of memorialized but not in any Disney World kind of way,” Disbrow said. “That’s one way to think about the history and legacy of the place.”
The Packers have their own curator and historian and a 15,000-square-foot hall of fame. Tickets cost $15 per day and annual memberships run between $55 and $85. The team opened an exhibit earlier this year celebrating its 100th football season. A traveling interactive exhibit called Lambeau Live is making stops in Milwaukee, Madison, Oshkosh and Chippewa Falls this summer and into September. The exhibit documents the history of the team and the stadium. Packers alumni such as Lynn Dickey, Dorsey Levens, Andre Rison and team president and CEO Mark Murphy are making appearances as part of that effort. There is also a Packers-themed heritage trail walking tour in Green Bay outlining historic sites related to the team and the city.
The Kansas City Chiefs built their own 26,000-square-foot Hall of Honor at Arrowhead Stadium. It opened in 2010 and includes exhibits on the history of the AFL, the league the Chiefs played in before merging with the NFL in 1970. It is free to fans on game days and part of paid stadium tours.
The Raiders are looking at building a new team hall of fame at its planned headquarters in Henderson, Nev., when the team relocates to Las Vegas for the 2020 season.
It’s not just the hallowed franchise and stadiums going back in time. The D-backs debuted in 1998, but they have Phoenix’s only major pro sports title.
“We are no longer the baby of the league,” Hall said. “We have enjoyed several winning teams, as well as countless individual and team awards. We need to share those treasures, trophies and moments with our fans.”
The expansion Vegas Golden Knights are also planning a team museum after just one year in existence as part of improvements to the team’s practice facility in Summerlin. That facility, which is adjacent to a popular shopping and dining development, has become a hit with fans.
Said Knights CMO Brian Killingsworth: “The displays will document our history as we live through it, recognizing and honoring all the key milestones and achievements.”