Feature Article - May 2019
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Engage Your Fans & Players

New Innovations in Sports Facility Design

By Dave Ramont

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Event Center officially opened on Feb. 3, 2018, as the UMBC men's basketball team hosted Vermont before a capacity crowd. The new facility—a CannonDesign project—is home to the UMBC Retrievers men's and women's basketball teams and women's volleyball team. The venue is designed as one of the premier mid-major NCAA Division 1 facilities in the country. The center has seating capacity for 5,000 in its stadium bowl and an additional 1,000 on the floor, and is also used for commencement, concerts and public speaker events, and is equipped with concessions, catering, hospitality, team store, administrative and coaches offices and security and guest services amenities. Situated on the third floor, the Retriever Room is a 2,100-square-foot multifunctional space serving as a VIP area for games, providing great views of events held at the stadium. It's also available to rent for banquets, meetings and other events.

"It feels like we've arrived for college basketball and volleyball," said Thomas Mandato, associate athletic director, internal operations at UMBC. "The building by far surpasses all expectations and is top of the line in the America East Conference."

Mandato said that the old Retriever Activities Center (RAC) was beat up and worn down, and the new Center gives credibility to UMBC and the events taking place. "Sight lines are great, it's intimate and the acoustics are very good."

Mandato added that at last season's final two home games, attendance was close to 2,500. "If we saw more than 1,000 in the RAC, it was a solid figure."

Technology has been upgraded at the new venue as well, according to Mandato. "It's a true arena with ribbon/video boards, lighting and sound. The video board alone is fantastic for both fans and players. The teams really appreciate all the board can provide, from marketing to general info, stats, awards, etc. The possibilities for interconnectivity are great." He added that the TVs in support areas are also being utilized well, and those areas have been upgraded with more room, better finishes and better amenities.

Einhorn said that designing multipurpose spaces helps maximize their long-term return on investment and value. And while they designed the UMBC Event Center mainly for sporting events, they equipped the building to host other events as well. "As a result, UMBC has a remarkably versatile building that will benefit their campus and community for decades. Moreover, it helps them engage diverse members of their community and alumni network continuously."

As with many facilities these days, an outside company now manages the Event Center.

"Our Notre Dame project is really unique in that they folded together student life, academics, athletics and premium seating into one project," said Appleman. "They created so many spaces and opportunities within the building for hospitality or conferences that they actually created their own management company called Venue Notre Dame that manages the facility. So they're constantly hosting events within that building—small, medium and large ones."

For example, Appleman mentioned a recent Garth Brooks concert there, or the annual viewing of the movie Rudy from the field. "So there's all these different events that schools are tapping into that are unique to the culture of the school itself that are for the fans, but also beyond that to bigger events that can host anybody that's interested."

What are some ways that facility designs are benefiting athletes, both on and off the field or court?

Einhorn points out that the same desire fans have for technology and connectivity is shared by players. "We're now seeing locker rooms designed with individual iPads or monitors in each locker. This appeals to athletes and also empowers coaching staff to push out training plans and other key information to keep student-athletes on track."

Roy explained how venues are implementing technologies that focus on athlete comfort. "For instance, smart HVAC systems keep players' lockers ventilated as well as help keep an optimal temperature in the arena, which can impact player performance."

She mentioned how varying levels of restricted access are imposed for players, storage, medical and public areas. "For NBA players and certain members of the Milwaukee Bucks staff, for example, biometric iris recognition and fingerprint scanners grant access to defined locations."

At UMBC, Mandato said the new locker rooms are bigger, modern and in excellent condition. "The practice court is a game-changer for us. The ability for one team to be in the main bowl and one team to be in the practice gym simultaneously gives us a huge advantage when it comes to scheduling."

Appleman discussed the difficulties student-athletes face in terms of balancing time commitments with athletics and academics. "So anything we can do as design professionals that makes their day easier, more efficient and more convenient only benefits the collegiate experience those kids have. It's about teaching kids, and about getting them stronger and faster and if they get injured rehabilitating them. Coaches and administrators spend a lot of hours there too, and they need to have a building that promotes wellness for them in their lives. So that all folds into the flow of the facility."

Having a modern facility is also a great asset when it comes to attracting prospective athletes, and Appleman said that presenting a top-notch, one-of-a-kind venue to a 17-year old can make a very compelling recruiting tool, particularly if the student is already interested in the school. "They know they want to be there and the building reinforces that."