Feature Article - May 2017
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If You Build It…

Up-to-Date Sports Facilities Aim to Bring Back Crowds

By Dave Ramont

A Stadium With a View

Many feel that UW's Husky Stadium sits in the most beautiful setting in college football. Built in 1920 on the shores of Lake Washington, it features stunning views of the Cascade and Olympic Mountains. Fans can even arrive by boat—up to 140 boats can dock less than 100 yards from the stadium. But the stadium was suffering from age, with cracked concrete and exposed rebar.

HOK worked on the renovation project, with Bechtold and Appleman explaining that, "The narrative for Husky Stadium was that you had an aging building that was an iconic building, and we needed to preserve that iconic nature of it while also ushering it into the modern era."

They also needed to figure out a way to infuse much-needed premium seating. "So it was as much a revenue project as it was a deferred maintenance project in a lot of respects."

The first step was removing the worn-out track that surrounded the field. "Fans are definitely closer to the action," said Daniel Erickson, assistant athletic director of events and facilities at the university. "Fans in the front row are now 29 feet closer to the field. Fifty-six thousand of our 71,000 seats are new, and 65,000 have a back-support feature. The floor treads in non-premium areas are 32 inches, giving excellent leg room."

Premium seating includes six suites and 60 club seats on the field level, and 30 suites, 2,500 club seats and 30 loge boxes on a dedicated club level. Bechtold and Appleman related how premium offerings used to be pretty simplistic; you had club seats and suites, and the rest of the seating was mostly the same. Or you paid a little more to be on the 50-yard line or at mid-court.

But now, for example, somebody who couldn't necessarily afford a suite could kick in to be part of a loge box. "Now there's an emphasis on the donor base, and understanding the types of products that really reach the majority of that donor base from top to bottom; distributing a premium experience almost entirely across the patronage to some degree."

Erickson confirmed this, adding, "Our premium seating offerings have been extremely popular, selling out well in advance of the 2013 stadium re-opening and generating a substantial waiting list, particularly for Club Husky."

The building's iconic metal roofs were preserved, as were the upper-deck bleachers—though they were rejuvenated with new paint and new speakers. Lobby space and restrooms have been upgraded, and Husky Stadium now boasts 447 bathrooms, including suites. High-resolution video boards have been installed, and there are more than 700 flat-screen televisions in the stadium, including 42-inch TVs in the concourses and 55-inch TVs in the luxury suites. "We've invested in Wi-Fi enhancements," Erickson said, "and continue to explore ways to increase the technological innovations within and around the stadium."

Erickson also said that concessions and souvenir sales are steady revenue-generators, and they've certainly evolved through the years. Fatovic explained that people are looking for more of a restaurant vibe, wanting to see their food being prepared, with the grills up front. "They don't want it pre-packaged, and they want more choices. Menu boards are mostly electronic, so they can easily change menus or pricing for an event. People want the game on a TV by the concession stand, and when you go into hospitality areas, they want coffee stations and different specialty foods. Food service is becoming a big deal in venues." Fatovic added that jerseys and other souvenirs are also becoming higher quality.

Bechtold and Appleman said that a lot more thought is given to what the local brands are, since that's tied in to the whole game day experience of visiting that particular university or city. "Concourses aren't concourses in the same vein anymore. It's got a lot of different feels and a much more upscale approach, so it's heightening the fan game-day experience beyond what it used to be. You can still get your hotdog and popcorn, but you have a lot of other varieties to choose from in a modern facility."

More Flexibility

Another thing facilities strive for is flexibility—creating multiple uses for their venue. Features like retractable seating and portable floors can help achieve this goal. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Retriever Event Center is a CannonDesign project, slated to open early next year. The 172,000-square-foot facility will host UMBC NCAA games for men's and women's basketball, and women's volleyball. It will also provide space for events such as concerts, banquets, speakers' series and commencement. There are 5,000 seats in the bowl and around 1,000 on the floor, with spectator amenities including concessions, catering and hospitality. "UMBC Arena is more than an arena; it's the athletic department, sports medicine, academic services, strength and conditioning. The multipurpose nature of the venue is important for student life," Fatovic said.

Event days are important to many facilities now, according to Bechtold and Appleman—how many and what type of events a facility can accommodate—since these event days equal revenue. "So that's something that is often asked of us now: How can we build in flexibility and utilize the space in multiple manners?"

They point to their Notre Dame Campus Crossroads project as an example, which featured enhancements to Notre Dame Stadium, including adding video and ribbon boards; replacing wooden benches with vinyl-clad bench seats; improving the Wi-Fi network and existing sound system; and renovating restrooms, concessions, lighting and signage. "The student ballroom is also the club space for the premium seating, so that space has a life outside the seven home football games."

Back in Seattle, Erickson said Husky Stadium and its premium areas are available to rent. "We host numerous private events such as auctions, luncheons and galas. We also annually host UW commencement, Beat the Bridge (an annual road race), a four-game high school football jamboree, and a company picnic for a local tech company, to name a few. The new stadium has given us tremendous resources, and we're committed to making them available to the public."

Additionally, part of the renovation included a new Football Operations Center with locker rooms, meeting rooms, training rooms, and coaching and administrative offices. Plus, a retail component and the University of Washington Sports Medicine Center are open to the public, promoting year-round activity within the stadium.