My title

Would you pay more for peace and quiet at the ballpark?

Would you pay more for peace
and quiet at the ballpark?

Cowboys stadium redefined "big" in the category of scoreboards, and rivals' efforts to go even bigger continue today.

Cowboys stadium redefined "big" in the category of scoreboards, and rivals' efforts to go even bigger continue today.

by ROB McMANAMY | Sep 24, 2015

Anyone who has been to a professional sporting event in the last decade or so is aware of the sensory overload fans now experience from all forms of in-your-face marketing, loud bursts that overwhelm every break in the action. God forbid friends, families or new acquaintances should ever be able to talk to each other between innings, halves or periods!

"Duck! Here comes another polyester projectile from the tee-shirt cannon!"

Well, now, according to an expert panel of sports construction architects, engineers and builders recently assembled in Chicago, fans may soon be able to get a break. They'll just have to pay for it.

"Some owners have speculated about it, prompting us to ask, 'Are there people who would pay more to be marketing-free?'" said Micheal Day, LEED AP, vice president and senior project manager with design giant HOK. Based in Kansas City, Day is an 11-year veteran of sports specialists 360 Architecture, which was acquired by HOK late last year. Among the many projects he has participated in is the ongoing work for the NFL Falcons' new $1.4-billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium. "So, yes, we are actually nearing the point where fans may be given the opportunity to pay more not to be harassed," he said.

Such were the revelations imparted earlier this month at an all-star panel (see the flyer below) put on by the Chicago chapter of the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). Moderated by Andy Holub, senior project manager with Turner Construction, the group included Day; architect Anthony Montalto, AIA, vice president and Midwest design director for Dallas-based HKS Inc.Gary Storm, P.E., a senior principal with structural engineer Thornton Tomasetti; and Michael Harms, project executive with Denver-based ICON Venue Group. Their topic?

"The cathedrals of the 21st Century," said Holub, in kicking off the discussion. 

Paying the bills: Set to open in 2017, Atlanta's new football stadium last month sold naming rights to Mercedes-Benz.

Paying the bills: Set to open in 2017, Atlanta's new football stadium last month sold naming rights to Mercedes-Benz.

Heavy hitters (from left): Tony Montalto of HKS; Gary Storm, Thornton-Tomasetti; Michael Day, HOK; Michael Harms, ICON; and moderator Andy Holub, Turner. (Photo @jjenifer5)

Heavy hitters (from left): Tony Montalto of HKS; Gary Storm, Thornton-Tomasetti; Michael Day, HOK; Michael Harms, ICON; and moderator Andy Holub, Turner. (Photo @jjenifer5)

Indeed, more than a few owners may confuse themselves with a deity, but their whims and desires are fueling a market and fan-supported industry that  shows no signs of regaining fiscal sanity any time soon. "All owners want to have something that has never been done before," said Storm. 

In Dallas a decade ago, that meant suspending a massive, high-definition scoreboard as long as the football field, itself, from the roof of the NFL Cowboys' new mega stadium, designed by HKS. Among the owners, that apparently set off a competition to see who could have the biggest and best scoreboard.

"In Miami, we're pleased to see the arms race end for scoreboards," noted HOK's Day, whose firm is designing the NFL Dolphins' new home. "The owner there said they don't need to have the biggest scoreboard. They just want it better than other teams."

In another glimpse of sanity, he noted that the ownership of the NFL Falcons also has insisted that ticket prices remain the same for the average fan there. Indeed, that stands as a radical idea in a time of sky-rocketing player salaries and out-of-this-world amenities for luxury corporate suites.

capturing hearts, minds, credit cards

Another retro trend appears to be teams moving back into urban areas with new stadiums, instead of fleeing to the suburbs. "Teams now want these facilities to be part of the dense fabric of their city," said ICON's Harms. "I remember how when Coors Field in Denver opened, that really brought the surrounding community alive at night."

A stadium or arena "can be more powerful than just a sports venue," said Day. "Cities like having these sports facilities in dense areas now, where other venues like restaurants, shops and hotels can all feed off each other."

Since the group all seemed to favor the idea of keeping stadiums downtown to be closer to their communities and fan base, I asked how the current crop of billion-dollar stadiums can possibly stay accessible to the common fan. Or have ticket prices already jumped the shark? 

In the NFL, at least, you can't blame the architect. "In their contract with the league, the only revenue that team owners have to share is what they get for general admission seats," noted Montalto. As a consequence, "they have been reducing the number of those seats, and charging more for the added amenities of the luxury suites."

So don't look for the big spending to subside any time soon.

We recognize now in sports design that we are competing with other technologies... (trying) to persuade people to come out of their ‘man-cave’ to the actual game.
— Micheal Day, HOK

"We recognize now in sport s design that we are competing with so many other technologies," explained Day. "We have to persuade people to come out of their 'man-cave' to the actual game."

At a baseball game for instance, that may mean entertaining "20-somethings who buy a ticket, but who don't watch a single pitch," added Harms.

Invariably, it is the tech bells and whistles that can make all the difference to the owner.

"The Internet of Things (IoT) is at the forefront of our design now," noted Day. "The way that these buildings interact with you is amazing. Suites welcome you back personally, connecting to the phone in your pocket and recognizing you individually."

Minority Report meets Any Given Sunday.

Of course, none of this is news to BuiltWorlds' sponsor Zebra Technologies, a Big Data partner of the NFL. As the league's "Official On-Field Player-Tracking Provider", Zebra's "real-time, player-tracking system" collects the data that the league says it needs to improve the way fans, teams and networks watch, coach, play and analyze the game today. 

"Technology has taken us to a different place now," conceded Thornton Tomasetti's Storm. "These sports projects are so complicated and they require so much collaboration and teamwork to be successful."

Sometimes, history plays a major role in driving that teamwork, too.

In Chicago, for instance, ICON is working as program manager on the four-year, $575-million expansion and renovation of beloved Wrigley Field, home of the MLB Cubs. Pepper Construction and VOA Associates respectively form the building and design team. Targeting 2018 for its completion, Wrigley's landmark rehab poses its own unique challenges. "It's really been an eye-opening experience for us," he told the SMPS audience. "It's particularly challenging because we're working within the existing building's footprint. So, we are essentially trying to shoehorn a modern building into the same, 100-year-old space."

Shoehorn? Hmm... what's the upgrade for that technology?

For more on the Wrigley project, stay tuned to BuiltWorlds, hopefully for a related special presentation next spring. For more on the event and SMPS, see below or click here

Google+ Google+