Feature Article - May 2019
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Engage Your Fans & Players

New Innovations in Sports Facility Design

By Dave Ramont

Mandato feels their new Event Center will definitely help recruit athletes. "It's the best building in the conference with respect to being on campus and with all of the amenities offered inside. I believe this gives us a true advantage in volleyball and basketball."

How might designs or technologies benefit venue staff?

Wi-Fi, sensors, Bluetooth and mobile apps can help venues gather crowd-sourced data for real-time insights to track concession stand inventory, crowd flow, foot traffic and restroom cleanliness, according to Roy, enabling staff to fix problems quickly before fan experience is impacted. "Real-time data solutions can monitor the flow of people in and out of specific areas including parking lots, concession stands and venue entrances and exits, as well as the cleanliness of seating areas."

She said these insights can make a big difference during events by allowing staff to address areas in a timely manner. "Even more, this information can be used to make more informed decisions for the future."

Einhorn agrees that collecting purchasing data can help on different levels, whether it's tracking concession stand inventory or sending coupons to fans for purchases they're most likely to make, encouraging them to upgrade or purchase more. "Both of these opportunities help enhance fan experience and maximize revenue for the facility owner."

When it comes to seating, Einhorn said the old model was to locate suites up higher to maximize sight lines and give the feeling of exclusivity, but now they're seeing more luxury seats shifted lower as fans want to be closer to the action and feel more a part of the crowd. Clients also want more flexible suite spaces. "You can leverage these as individual spaces, or combine two or three of them at once to hold larger groups. This allows them to sell the spaces in different ways for different events and adapt to revenue opportunities."

Another trend Einhorn is seeing is better utilizing TVs and screens in club and suite areas. "Owners and teams can now customize advertisements for the specific audiences in each club and/or suite. This allows them to sell all new types and levels of advertising packages."

Sustainability continues to be a driver in facility designs, with many venues striving to achieve some level of LEED status. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is North America's first LEED Platinum professional sports stadium.

A 600,000-square-foot cistern helps recapture and reuse rainwater, helping protect the neighborhood from flooding and providing water to irrigate trees throughout the city, and the site uses more than 4,000 solar panels.

Adopting technologies that reduce energy use and eliminate waste can save money long-term, according to Roy. "When making upgrades to an arena, organizations should ensure there is a network infrastructure in place to accommodate future technologies to further maximize fan experience and building performance."

In fact, many older stadiums are renovating and updating—not just seating or support areas but building systems and technologies too. Roy mentioned Quicken Loans Arena—home of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers—as an example of a venue retrofitting to stay up-to-date with current technology. "This includes implementing smart, connected and sustainable building solutions and technologies, such as HVAC equipment and fire systems."

When it comes to lighting, Roy said many venues are turning to connected lighting systems, which provide value beyond illumination. "Connecting lighting with other building systems and digital assets allows for interaction between the systems to help improve operations."

According to Einhorn, most modern facilities are relying on LED lights as they're much more efficient and can be powered up in a short time. "These give them new levels of flexibility to change the atmosphere for different events or times of day. This has tremendous impact on fan experience as facility operators now have the ability to completely darken the venue and then bring it back to the required illumination for play instantaneously."

With so many entities having a stake in sports facilities both big and small, do design firms engage potential audiences in the planning stages?

Einhorn said definitely, and in more varied ways. "For example, as we designed the University of Southern Indiana's new 4,300-seat arena, we used virtual reality to help athletes, coaches, fans and donors experience the building. They were able to share feedback, ask questions and even shoot virtual free throws. Leveraging this technology enhances communication and strengthens the design process."

Designers have a lot of people to please and factors to consider—safety, support, sustainability, connectivity, efficiency and entertainment. But when it all comes together, everybody is happy. Back at the Super Bowl, Appleman recounted what a great experience it was to see everything working in tandem. "For me, that was sort of a first person 'Hey! That's exactly how this is supposed to work!'"