An Inside Look at Outdoor Sports
By Richard Zowie
When it comes to outdoor sports stadiums, hardly a day goes by without news of a team moving into a new stadium while another team is working on designs and financing to get a new stadium. For some fans, such as those of the New York Yankees, a new stadium can be a bittersweet experience as they say goodbye to a place that holds unforgettable memories for a newer home. For other fans, leaving an old stadium and moving into new digs to watch their team can be summarized in two words: good riddance.
New stadiums represent a constantly evolving sports trend where teams offer facilities with state-of-the-art features and brief glimpses into the future. These facilities offer two basic things: aesthetic appeal and countless amenities designed to make sports fans quickly fall in love with their team's new "crib." These often translate into better views, improved scoreboards, more luxury suites and, in short, a trip to a ballgame guaranteed to bring them back again and again.
University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
In 2009, the Minnesota Golden Gophers will depart the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome after more than 25 years and will begin play in TCF Bank Stadium. The move will, no doubt, give the Gophers some elbow room as they'd shared the Metrodome with the Golden Gophers baseball team, the NFL's Minnesota Vikings and MLB's Minnesota Twins.
With their new home on campus instead of a two-mile drive west across the Mississippi River, the Gophers hope to add to their college football success that includes six national championships (including three straight in the mid-1930s and two years in a row in the 1940s), 18 Big Ten Championships and a Heisman Trophy winner (Bruce Smith in 1941).
After all those years inside the Metrodome, those who like football outside will get their wish as the stadium, designed by HOK Sport (since renamed Populous), features an open-air horseshoe design. With a seating capacity of 50,000, it can be expanded to seat up to 80,000.
According to the University of Minnesota Web site, TCF Bank Stadium is part of a 75-acre expansion of the Minneapolis campus; up to 10 new academic buildings will be built by 2015. Travel will also be more convenient as the proposed Central Corridor light rail will run near the stadium with a Stadium Village station. The stadium is on the northeast side of campus.
The $288.5 million stadium also features seats designed for a collegiate look and feel and 97 percent sustainability with almost 9,000 tons of steel in the structure coming from recycled steel.
Phil Esten, the University of Minnesota's associate athletics director, said they asked HOK to provide a more intimate feel than what the Metrodome has. Where the Metrodome seats 63,500 for football, the new stadium has 50,000.
"It'll sound like 100,000 because of how intimate it feels," Esten explained, noting the stands are about 15 feet closer to the field. "When you stand in the stadium you feel like you're much closer than you were in the Metrodome."
A desire to expand is something Marty Miller, a project architect with RDG Planning and Design, has noticed among the different clients he's worked with. Some clients want as many seats at the 50-yard-line as possible while some like expansion since it gives them future options.
"In the last couple of projects they've been especially interested in the ability to expand," Miller explained. "They didn't think they had all the money they wanted for seating but wanted to expand. It's about making sure there's a certain amount of space available in case the need comes out."
Esten added that a smaller stadium also fits the university's needs and is designed to generate more excitement over Golden Gopher games.
"We thought [more seats] drove demand for season tickets down and that a smaller stadium would increase demand," he said.
While there are fewer seats, that doesn't necessarily mean fewer seating options. Each seat faces toward the 40-yard line while the corner seats face the middle of the field. In other words, there's not a bad seat in the stadium.
But even Minnesota fans who head to the concourse to buy something to eat and drink will be pleasantly surprised to see it's still open to the field of play, allowing them to still see the game while getting refreshments.
TCF Bank Stadium also features a new scoreboard that's a significant improvement over what they've had before. The system features one main board, an auxiliary and two ribbon boards. The main board, 110 feet wide by 48 feet tall, is the second-largest in college football, Esten said. It's all digital with a new HD 16 technology that's one of the highest resolutions on the market.
The main board is about seven times larger than the one in the Metrodome, while the auxiliary board is about three times larger. Even those who are nearly at 180-degree angles can still see the picture on the board.
"It's very clear, and you won't believe until you see it," Esten said, adding that they visited a South Dakota company to view the scoreboard before buying it. "It's very important for the fan experience and for student athletes."
Moving into an outdoor stadium, consideration of neighbors is, no doubt, a big factor when it comes to stadium lights. TCF Bank Stadium will feature low-spill lights designed to minimize leakage and be sensitive to the residential neighborhood near the stadium.
Another interesting feature in the new stadium is the goalposts, which will be collapsible and have a hinge on the base to minimize problems and potential injuries for overzealous fans—such as when Minnesota won a game to earn a Rose Bowl berth or when it defeats noteworthy Big Ten opponents like Michigan.
"Now, we can collapse the goalposts and not worry about people climbing them," Esten said.
Unfortunately, Golden Gopher fans eager to tear down the goal posts to celebrate winning back the Brown Jug from Michigan will have to wait: Minnesota's not scheduled to play the Wolverines in the 2009 NCAA season. Instead, they'll open TCF Bank Stadium on Sept. 12 against the Air Force Academy. Their first Big Ten opponent in the new stadium will be Wisconsin on Oct. 3.
University of Akron
Located about 40 miles south of Cleveland, Akron is home to the University of Akron and the Akron Zips. From 1940 to 2008, the football team played at the Rubber Bowl, but the age of the facility and its cost led Akron officials to decide to build a new stadium.
According to data from the college's Web site, it was estimated to cost about $66 million to renovate the Rubber Bowl to bring it up to code and up to ADA regulations. Conversely, the total cost of building a new stadium was about $61.6 million—representing a savings of more than $4 million.
The Akron Zips closed out the Rubber Bowl on Nov. 13, 2008, by losing to the Buffalo Bulls 43-40 in quadruple overtime. They will open InfoCision Stadium/ Summa Field on Sept. 12, 2009, against Baltimore-based Morgan State University.
The new stadium features seating for 30,000 fans along with 15 private suites, a club level that seats 486, 38 four-person loge boxes and an end zone grass berm seating area. The stadium also will have 300 seat locations for those with physical disabilities. The stadium also can be used for high school sports, marching band activities and summer athletic camps.
What's more, like the University of Minnesota's new stadium, the new InfoCision Stadium/Summa Field will be on campus (the Rubber Bowl is about thee miles from Akron's campus). With Akron having 10,000 parking spots on campus, this means those parking on campus will have a five to 15-minute walk to the stadium.
Officials believe an on-campus stadium will enhance the college experience for students by making it easier for them to attend games and other events and also encourage alumni involvement. They also believe InfoCision will give the university enhanced recruitment and help them better retain students along with enticing big-name, non-conference football opponents to northeastern Ohio.
Paul Hammond, associate athletics director for facilities at the University of Akron, said the new stadium gives the college versatility when it comes to hosting games. It makes it easier for them to bid to host high school football playoff games. The goal posts and hashmarks for high school and college games are different, and with what they have now, they can make adjustments. Besides having safety hinges like what Minnesota has, InfoCision's goalposts are adjustable for both levels of football: They can be widened to 23 feet, 4 inches for high school games and narrowed to 18 feet, 6 inches for college games. Hammond estimated it takes about 20 minutes to adjust the goalposts and hashmarks.
This versatility desire is one Miller sees a lot. Stadiums want the width change so they can host both levels of sporting events, he said.
The new stadium's seating provides a good view whether you're in the general seating or the club level or loge boxes.
"The sightlines are good, and we measured very close from section to section," Hammond said. "This eliminates having to look over someone's head (to see the field). It looks very tight and from the field, it may seem very intimidating."
The lights used at Akron feature three different levels of illumination. The lowest is for cleaning or maintenance, the next is for practices, intramurals or other basic activities, and the highest is for games on television. The idea, Hammond said, is to conserve energy by using only what's needed. These lights can be activated by computer, a timer or a cell phone.
"We don't know all the details completely yet, but we're still learning," Hammond said. "At the Rubber Bowl, you turned the switch on and hoped they fired up. That's why we're moving out."
Believe it or not, Miller added, some lighting systems can even be managed via the Internet. Online, you can see the settings and change as needed.
InfoCision Stadium's new scoreboard is a 22-by-39-foot video board with about 20 millimeters of space between each LED board.
"The smaller the number [between boards], the clearer the image," Hammond said. "The older ones are 23 to 25. These provide better color and sharp entertainment. We had nothing like this at the Rubber Bowl, just a basic scoreboard very limited on capability and power."
This upcoming NFL season, the Dallas Cowboys will begin playing at their new stadium in Arlington, Texas, after having played at Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas, since 1971. The move means Dallas will go from playing in Irving, a Dallas suburb to Arlington, a suburb of metroplex neighbor Fort Worth.
Texas Stadium was famous for its rectangular hole in the roof, a unique feature that tended to bring one glaring disadvantage for some fans: In the preseason and in September, fans exposed to the sunlight through the opening in the roof received the brunt of the infamous Texas heat.
The new facility, tentatively named Dallas Cowboys Stadium and without a corporate sponsorship deal as of the writing of this article, will have a capacity of 80,000 seats, but will be expandable for up to 100,000. That expansion, no doubt, will be used when the Cowboys' new home hosts Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6, 2011.
"We'll have large end zone platforms," said Cowboys director of corporate communications Brett Daniels. "This will include standing room areas at three different levels, which is unique. It changes the way people watch the game."
It will also have one thing the old stadium didn't have: a retractable roof.
The retractable roof will almost certainly come in handy to protect the playing field from the rain and from the occasional ice and snow storms in Dallas. Chances are, Dallas won't have a repeat of the infamous Thanksgiving Day 1993 game against the Miami Dolphins. On that snowy day, an errant touching of the ball (caused in part by a slip on the icy surface) after a blocked field goal turned a 14-13 Dallas win into a 16-14 Miami win.
Besides being a state-of-the-art new home for America's Team, the new stadium looks to set other milestones, as well.
While the Cowboys' colors are blue and silver, the stadium has a green look. That's because the Cowboys also plan on the stadium being the first sports stadium to gain recognition from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Environmental Performance Track Program. Specifically, this means the Cowboys have worked closely with architect HKS Sports & Entertainment Group and others during the design, construction and operational initiative process to reduce the facility's carbon footprint.
"The challenge lies in capturing performance and cost savings, ensuring initiatives are effective, and always raising the bar," said Jack Hill, the Cowboys Stadium general manager. "The EPA's NEPT program gives us a framework to get it done. The Cowboys want to go beyond all the 'green' hype to set goals, deliver on those goals, and be accountable to our fans and public."
This means reducing energy consumption, recycling solid waste (which, in turn, eases strain on local landfills) and conserving water.
"We explored various opportunities," said Daniels. "From a green standpoint, we saw this and it made sense since we're not just about building [the new stadium] but sustaining it and meeting criteria. We just want to be environmentally conscious in construction and operations. Anything we can do as an organization to help in a positive way by doing things the right way."
Daniels noted it was critical to begin the green process at the design stage. This allowed them to use the latest technology, building materials and best practices in the construction and stadium business. By doing this, it made for a much smoother process.
"You continue to do what you can, not just for today, and improve upon it and educate staff and fans in doing things in an environmentally-friendly way," Daniels added.
The fans are bound to notice the stadium's "greenness" right away, especially during night games. Daniels said the new lights operate on motion sensors and about half can turn off if not needed.
Besides being green-friendly, the new stadium's other features are sure to be groundbreaking. The scoreboard, at 160 feet by 72 feet, is the largest in the world, Daniels said.
It'll also be the first center-hung scoreboard in the NFL, hovering 90 feet over the field.
Daniels added there's no threat in the scoreboard getting hit by a punt.
"We tested it with a punter," he explained. "[Punters] normally aim at sidelines instead of right down the middle (where the scoreboard will be)."
The Cowboys' new stadium saw its first action June 6 for a George Strait concert.
Football isn't the only outdoor sport where stadiums are being renovated or being built anew. The same goes true for soccer. Sometimes the process is twofold: to improve a soccer team's prior home while offering amenities designed to not only make for a better playing and watching experience, but also to try to help soccer gain a stronger following in America. Widely considered the world's most powerful sport, soccer is now trying to build a fan base to achieve the popularity traditional American sports like football, baseball and basketball now have.
University of Denver
The University of Denver is located about 10 miles south of downtown Denver. Both the men's and women's soccer programs use Pioneer Field. Starting in January 2009 and scheduled for completion this October, renovations are under way to improve Pioneer Field and make it an even better place to play and watch soccer than before. The renovations, no doubt, will have big shoes to fill as the field was honored in 2003 as the state of Colorado's "Field of the Year" by Colorado Sports Turf Management.
The project at Pioneer will cost more than $16 million. The idea is to make both the men's and women's teams more competitive in soccer while improving the amenities.
For starters, according to DU Associate Athletic Director Stu Halsall, the soccer goals are World Cup-quality and will be anchored into the ground. The prior goals were not. The new system also has what Halsall described as "sleeves" that go underground. Once the soccer season's over, the goals will then be unanchored and stored.
Previously, the soccer field had portable bleachers. Now, there will be a seating capacity of 1,771 plus standing room only for 144. The central premium seating section will contain seat backs.
"There won't be a bad seat," Halsall said. "All seats have great viewing."
Pioneer Field's lights will represent a drastic improvement over the previous field in a very noticeable way: The Pioneers' prior home didn't have any lights. With no lights for soccer, the Pioneers were limited to daytime games. This posed problems as the days grew shorter in the fall.
"Having lights gives us the ability to be flexible with match times and when we can play," Halsall said. "It helps us in scheduling opponents."
Keeping in mind the limited site plan and the nearby neighborhoods, the field has what Halsall described as a "targeted" lighting system.
"This addresses playing factors, spectator factors and the surrounding neighborhood," he said.
These days, stadiums are designed to not only provide for great playing and viewing, but also to have a nice look. Pioneer Stadium, which will open in late August, has a copper and sandstone finish and is designed to match nearby buildings.
It's attached to a sports and wellness complex on campus.
Halsall, who's from England, feels soccer will grow in popularity as more and more youths begin playing it. This will drive attendance.
"Part of it is the maturity of soccer in the U.S.," said Halsall. "In other countries the history of soccer dates back, but it's still a new sport (as far as being played at the professional level) in America."
New York Red Bulls
The New York Red Bulls are a professional soccer team in Major League Soccer, a league that's trying to get soccer to thrive in America. Currently, the Red Bulls play in Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., but will soon move to Red Bull Arena, a new stadium located in Harrison about nine miles southwest of their current, temporary home.
The 25,189-seat Red Bull Arena features many upgrades from Giants Stadium (which, until about 2010, serves as the home stadium for the NFL's New York Giants and Jets), according to the team Web site. The seats are closer to the action on the field, putting first-row spectators 21 feet from the touchline. The arena, in short, is designed to have a look more conducive with soccer facilities worldwide. It will be compliant to the World-Cup governing league of FIFA (the French acronym for International Federation of Football Association).
Andrew McGowan, Red Bulls vice president of communications, described the new stadium's layout as an oval configuration with seats closer to the playing field and just seven yards from the sidelines and nine yards from the end zones. The stadium features an upper and lower bowl with more seating in the east side of the stadium's upper level.
"The seating layout at Red Bull Arena puts the fans up close to the action," McGowan said. "Any of the seats will be fantastic for soccer. There are no obstructed seat locations."
The stadium roof features translucent polycarbonate and aluminum, and all the seats are covered from inclement weather.
The arena also will feature 30 luxury suites (20 in the lower level and 10 in the upper level with each suite having a capacity for 12 seats).
On each end of the stadium there will be a video board, including one that's a 360-degree wraparound message board. There will also be in-stadium displays of more than 300 video flat-screen panels along with field-level LED signage in both end zones and on the opposite player bench.
Red Bull Arena should be ready for soccer in 2010, and for the Red Bulls, perhaps not a moment too soon. While Giants Stadium has 80,000 seats, it's more of a football stadium.
"It is not a stadium conducive to soccer," McGowan explained.
In 2008, Princeton University opened Roberts Stadium, its new soccer facility. There, the Tigers hope to continue the success they've had in soccer as the women's team appeared in six straight NCAA tournaments from 1999 to 2004 and won four of five Ivy League titles from 2000 to 2004. The men's team has won six Ivy League Championships and has had 13 players achieve All-America status.
Roberts Stadium and its playing field, Myslik Field, are named after two men: Thomas S. Roberts, who graduated from Princeton in 1985 and is the former record-holding goalkeeper on the men's soccer team; and Robert Hauter Myslik, a 1990 Princeton graduate, a soccer player, teacher and former assistant Tigers soccer coach who died in 2003.
The new stadium came about through an $8.4 million fundraising effort by alumni and friends of Princeton soccer. It is on the campus' south side. A three-sided stadium, Roberts features a natural-grass playing field and an adjacent practice field (Plummer Field) with an artificial surface. It also features a 3,000-seat capacity.
The goals are European-style goals modified with an additional net atop the goal post to act as a ball stopper. This is designed to prevent people from being hit by an errant ball.
The game field features a sand-based, vertically drained, bluegrass sod field from Tuckahoe Sod Farm in Hammonton, N.J. The irrigation system is also computer-monitored.
"We use an advanced water management system to monitor the temperature, humidity, solar radiation and soil temperature, and from the data, we can calculate how much water the field should get instead of just running on a timed sprinkler," said Princeton's Associate Director of Athletics Jeff Graydon.
What's more, the playing and practice fields are both equipped with drainage systems designed to retain a 100-year storm—specifically, 8.3 inches of rain in 24 hours—before letting any water run off into a nearby lake.
"If it's a light rain, it plugs into the soil and down into the groundwater," Graydon added.
The field lighting for both the game and practice fields is diagonal, with the lights forming an X shape as they illuminate the field. This layout, as opposed to perpendicular sideline illumination, is specific for soccer.
The lighting has internal glare control and night visors that give off very little glare or spill light. The fixtures are also more efficient per watt. Graydon said it's impressive because of how well it illuminates the field while not wasting power.
"We're very sensitive to light pollution," he said. "We've been very satisfied with it."
Work on Roberts Stadium began in April 2007 and was completed in August 2008.
Across the street from the old Yankee Stadium is the new Yankee Stadium, and according to reports, it's a model ballpark. It blends cutting-edge features with a nod to tradition, but impressively, it also is a model of accessibility. And that's good news, because the old stadium was not so friendly to those with disabilities.
The new stadium features 506 wheelchair spaces with 530 companion seats, which are sold together so the wheelchair user can sit with family and friends. The stadium also features accessible suites with wheelchair seating and accessible restrooms.
For those who are hearing-impaired, the stadium features closed-captioning on video boards, as well as assistive listening devices found throughout the stadium.
In addition to better accessibility, the new stadium is greener as well, with lighting fixtures designed to consume less energy and reduce spill light onto adjacent properties. Control systems and building automation systems also help reduce use of power for the lights, as well as ventilation systems.
The savings don't stop there, though. The stadium also features plumbing fixtures that are projected to save 3.1 million gallons of water, reducing the stadium's water consumption by 22 percent.
It all adds up to a friendlier stadium for the Yankees' most ardent fans.
Northwest Arkansas Naturals
Designed by HOK Sports Architects and built by Crossland Construction, the new Arvest Stadium—home to the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, a minor league club affiliated with the Kansas City Royals—represents a grand slam.
The fully modern ballpark features plenty of glass and no exposed steel. Fans will appreciate the tensile fabric structures, designed to provide much-needed shade while adding an impressive aesthetic appeal to the ballpark.
The customized structures can be found in the entrance and exit areas, and are attached to the sky boxes that wrap around the entire stadium.
Spanning 65 acres, Diamond Nation is the nation's premier baseball and softball tournament and training facility, and it recently began installing six new synthetic turf fields.
Of the new fields, four are 90-foot fields at about 107,000 square feet and two are 50-foot to 70-foot fields, at approximately 45,000 square feet. The new fields join a seventh existing synthetic turf field at the facility.
Each of the 90-foot fields is designed to be converted into two Little League-sized fields, each with its own backstop, dugouts and bullpens, giving the complex more flexibility. Up to 12 games will be able to take place at the same time.
Diamond Nation will be home to the Jack Cust Baseball Academy as well as the Jennie Finch Softball Academy, and the synthetic fields are specifically designed for the particularities of both sports. They feature a slight reduction in fiber pile height and a modest increase in the weight of sand in the rubber and sand infill to deliver consistent ball bounce and roll.
Jack Cust, of the Oakland A's and founder of the Jack Cust Baseball Academy called the facility the "start of a new era of baseball." He added, "Serious athletes looking to take their game to the next level now have a state-of-the-art facility, delivering a playing experience like no other."
In a nod to another trend that has been sweeping the nation, the fields are also environmentally friendly, made from recycled materials and eliminating the need for watering, mowing and the use of chemicals and fertilizers to keep the field in playing condition.
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