• by Kevin Murphy

USA: New Design Trends for Sports Arenas

Attending sporting events regardless of the sport being played has always been a favourite past time for Americans. As a result construction of stadiums over the years has been designed to accommodate large numbers of attendees but today sports leagues are confronted with dwindling ticket buyers and many empty seats. Reasons typically given are the kneeling by National Football League players in protest to urban problems and for other major sports teams the cost of going to watch a match. Others have just found other ways to spend their money and time or refuse to attend for poorly performing teams. Between the years of 2001 to 2015 almost $12 billion of public money has been spent for stadium.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium Atlanta, Georgia US

The National Football League (NFL) had its average fan attendance in 2018 of 67,100 which is the lowest number since 2011. A report by Forbes speculates that for some fans of sporting events particularly the NFL have grown weary of sitting in freezing cold temperatures in open-air stadiums and opting for the comfort of home to watch a game on a big screen TV. Perhaps so. New indoor stadiums and arenas when they are first opened for a new season typically bring in more ticket buying attendees...but will they keep coming back.

For Major League Baseball attendance has been down for four straight years. Teams in the cities of Baltimore, Cincinnati, Minnesota and Tampa Bay had record low turnouts by fans for 2018. Kansas City saw attendance for its team the Royals have its lowest attendance since 2011 and the same for the Toronto Blue Jays and the San Francisco Giants since 2010 in a review by sports television channel ESPN.

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN earlier this year that while-day-of-game sales of tickets are up 6% that:

”Given the explosion of entertainment alternatives and the growth of the secondary market, it is not surprising that season-ticket sales can be challenging.”

“The clubs are responding to this challenge with creative and effective approaches. For example, sales of subscription tickets are double what they were a year ago. And the Twins recently had a $5 flash sale that produced crowds of over 30,000 in three of four games, and the largest single game attendance since 2016."

So what the professional sports teams doing to get the sporting public to return for events?

New trends in stadium design are becoming popular especially for the owners of the major teams. First is to help make the attendance easier with as Real Estate Project Management (REPM) reporting :

“Enhancements like better Wi-Fi access and improved parking and transportation options are being implemented into sports stadium design to draw the fans into the stadiums.”

Better seating arrangements other than just removing seats with an obstructed view :

“The new generation of fans are looking for unique seating and viewing options. Owners are opting to reduce seating capacity in order to install a variety of suites and club seating and spaces. Standing room is also a popular option in newer stadiums, and some older stadiums are renovating to add standing room areas.”

Other issues include lighting to enhance the the attendance of the sporting event:

“Lighting offers an opportunity to enhance the fan experience and also to save money for owners. Newer LED systems are much more efficient and easy to customise, as compared to traditional lighting. LED systems can be choreographed to music to create a multidimensional experience.”

Increased availability for state of the art Wi-Fi and DAS for fans to use gadgets like smartphones:

“This is not only to enhance the fan experience, but to encourage fans to post about their experience on social media, increasing the visibility of the stadium and the experience.”

There is also change in how large and the amount of capacity for new stadiums now being considered for construction and modifications of current stadiums.

Since 1989 major league baseball clubs except for the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays has built a new stadium or has done major renovations to an existing structure.

USA Today reports that the Tampa Bay Rays has reduced the amount of seats available for ticket sales to 25,000 at their Tropicana Field. The Atlanta Braves baseball team relocated from downtown Atlanta’s Turner Field with 53,000 seats which was originally constructed when the city hosted the 1996 Olympic Games are now playing at SunTrust Field outside the city that has the capacity for 41,000. The Texas Rangers will be moving to a new stadium in 2020, Globe Life Field, with 40,000 seats versus the current 49,000 seat facility. Because the Atlanta Braves and the Texas Rangers were reliant on public funding by the local tax payers the new stadiums are designed to be mixed-use developments for better revenue generation.

One city Cleveland, Ohio, hit hard by the great recession of 2009 and as a result of a declining population with less fans attending the Indians baseball games at the 43,000 seat Jacobs Field got busy making changes. By 2015 USA Today reports:

“After surveying its fans and season-ticket holders, unused suites were converted into a two-story indoor-outdoor family area with baseball-related activities. The right field corner was turned into a “social space,” with a large outdoor bar and gathering area. The right-center field area opens up to the city around it.” The stadium reduced its seat capacity from 43,000 to 34,000.

Alex King, the Indians’ senior vice president of brand and marketing says:

It’s incumbent on us to create an environment in ballparks to give people compelling reasons to make that trip.”

“There are no barriers for fans to engage in our game in a living room.”

“In the ‘90s, it was creating intimacy, it was the architecture. I think those changes were fantastic. And now, how do we make those micro changes – the social changes, the experience. That’s the regular work the industry needs to do to make sure that experience is compelling enough to come out.”

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