Design for the Big Time

Latest Stadiums Mix History, Technology and Intimate Fan Experience

By Daniel P. Smith


atching the game is no longer enough.

Today's homes for professional sports and big-time college teams have dropped cookie-cutter expectations and reached for sharp, innovative features that bring fans closer to the game, embrace history and tradition, and inject 21st-century marvels into the design. From field suites and interactive spaces to skyline views, party decks and team museums, recent stadiums increasingly have moved the needle from a place to merely watch a game to a cozy space delivering an experience.

These are not your grandfather's—or even your father's—stadiums. The latest sports and entertainment venues to grace the American landscape are packed with flair and punch, style and substance.

TCF Bank Stadium
Location: Minneapolis
Home Team: University of Minnesota football
Opened: August 2009
Seating: 50,000, including 36 suites, 55 to 60 loge boxes, 1,150 outdoor club seats and 300 indoor club seats

Football returned to the University of Minnesota campus after a nearly 30-year hiatus when TCF Bank Stadium debuted last season. Upon opening, the stadium was registered to become the nation's first LEED Certified collegiate football stadium.

TCF Bank Stadium's brick facade perimeter wall with arched portals reflects the team's former home—the on-campus Memorial Stadium. The horseshoe-shaped bowl is oriented to the west, allowing fans to enjoy scenic views of the campus and downtown Minneapolis, while information about both the university and the state is showcased throughout the facility.

Year-round functionality drove the design. The open end zone features the "Tribal Nations Plaza," a gathering place to celebrate the state of Minnesota and the Golden Gophers' program throughout the year. A 25,000-square-foot stadium club, meanwhile, also is available for year-round use as is the walkway created by a 360-degree colonnade. "Collegiate football is game day; it's the traditions and the band, the cheerleaders and the school colors and the pride," said Scott Radecic, senior principal with Populous, a global design practice. "Our task was to collect all that emotion and design a building that could hold it all."

Target Field
Location: Minneapolis
Home Team: Minnesota Twins
Opened: April 2010
Seating: 40,000, including 60 suites

After 28 years in the sterile Metrodome, Target Field, spotted just north of downtown Minneapolis, represents the Twins first modern baseball home. Reflecting Minnesota's dynamic blend of urban sophistication and rugged outdoor vitality, the new $550 million ballpark's design uses materials drawn from the state's granite and limestone cliffs, incorporates Minnesota fir trees, and uses regional workers and resources.

Covering 1 million square feet, Target Field affords views of the Minneapolis skyline throughout the entire main grandstand. "Knotholes" along the side of the ballpark allow fans to peek in on the game's action from outside the park. A 101-foot-by-57-foot HD screen, among the largest in Major League Baseball, offers an undeniable 21st-century vibe.

While some have derided the decision to build an outdoor stadium in Minneapolis without a retractable roof to handle the area's volatile weather, many others have praised the stadium's embrace of baseball's natural setting. Though the city's northern cold will likely infiltrate some games, the design includes heated concessions, restrooms and lounge areas on each level, as well as an upper-deck canopy that provides added protection from the elements.

"Target Field is baseball's most urban ballpark, and we had to create the ballpark to make the city," said Earl Santee, senior principal and board member for Populous. "Target Field was the bridge builder—bridges that connect the ballpark to downtown and to the west side, and that's the only way we could make the site work…. It's that seamless connection between ballpark and city that made this project a success."

Yankee Stadium
Location: New York
Home Team: New York Yankees
Opened: April 2009
Seating: 52,325, including 56 luxury suites and 410 party suites

In replacing the original Yankee Stadium, a shrine to baseball lore, the pressure was on Kansas City-based Populous to create a facility that mixed the club's storied history with modern amenities.

To duplicate and even extend the charm of "The House That Ruth Built," the design of the new Yankee Stadium included trademark elements from the original 1923 ballpark, such as the limestone exterior, the manually operated auxiliary scoreboard, and the signature frieze that crowned the upper deck.

The stadium also integrates high-tech features, including: a distributed antenna system, which provides increased wireless reception; 1,400 video monitors placed throughout the stadium with the Yankees able to deliver exclusive content; a 59-foot-by-100-foot HD video board in center field; and luxury suites equipped with touch screens allowing fans to order anything from a hot dog to a Derek Jeter jersey.

After its opening in April 2009, the $1.5 billion stadium, which covers more than 1.4 million square feet, was commended for its spirited combination of old-world charm and modern-day flair.

"Yankee Stadium is a ballpark for the future with a soul of the past," Santee said. "Monument Park, the outfield bleachers, a new Great Hall—these are all special places where fans can gather and share the experience of what it means to be a Yankee fan."

Citi Field
Location: New York
Home Team: New York Mets
Opened: April 2009
Seating: 42,000, including 54 suites

With the opening of Citi Field for the 2009 baseball season, the Mets, long the second team in a two-team town, once again battled the Yankees for headlines. Citi Field, however, earned plenty of its own acclaim.

A blend of modern-day comforts and historic charm, including the Mets' legendary Home Run Apple, the Queens-based Citi Field mixes brick, limestone, granite and cast stone to create a dramatic design. The stadium's main entry is highlighted by the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, a space reminiscent of historic Ebbets Field, the beloved former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Most notably, the stadium brings new life to game day for fans and players alike. Contoured seating brings spectators closer to the action with nearly half of the stadium's 42,000 seats (15,000 less than the Mets' former Shea Stadium home) in the lower concourse. The Fan Fest family entertainment area, an outfield picnic area, multiple party decks and an interactive Mets museum all invite family-friendly entertainment. Citi Field also hosts five clubs and restaurants.

"Citi Field is a direct reflection of Mets fans," said Ben Barnert, senior principal with Populous. "It's a warm ballpark, an intimate ballpark full of references to what makes New York such a grand city that creates an energy that will draw Mets fans back time and again."

Cowboys Stadium
Location: Arlington, Texas
Home Team: Dallas Cowboys
Opened: June 2009
Seating: 80,000 for football with potential to hold more than 100,000; includes 300 suites, 48 at field level

For the design of the new Cowboys Stadium, arguably the most anticipated and hyped stadium in years, Dallas-based HKS Inc. combined modern, progressive architecture alongside elements of the old Texas Stadium's heritage, such as the shape of the roof's opening and the Ring of Honor.

The $1.1 billion Cowboys Stadium hosts a range of innovative design features, including: a 660,800-square-foot retractable roof supported by two monumental metallic arches; the world's largest retractable end zone doors; an 86-foot-high canted glass exterior wall; a pair of end zone plazas that serve as year-round gathering spaces; and sideline field suites. The highlight of Cowboys Stadium, however, is the much-discussed center-hung, four-sided HD video board, which covers 160 feet and extends between the two 20-yard lines.

Covering 73 acres and 3 million square feet, the expansiveness of the stadium is countered by a fan-friendly viewing environment. From the HD video board and open end zone viewing platforms to suites that are closer to the field than any other NFL venue, the new Cowboys Stadium was designed with the fan in mind.

"The Cowboys are one of the most recognized sports brands in the world, and the challenge was to replicate that popularity," said Mark Williams, principal with HKS. "We worked to understand the DNA of the Cowboys and to create a unique venue that replicated the Cowboys spirit, which has been an innovative team of firsts."

New Meadowlands Stadium
Location: East Rutherford, N.J.
Home Teams: New York Giants, New York Jets
Opening: April 2010
Seating: 82,500

When plans for a new football stadium in Manhattan for the Jets faltered, the franchise and its architect, Kansas City-based 360 Architecture, paired with its New York competitor, the Giants and Philadelphia's EwingCole, to build a modern stadium for the city's two NFL teams—a challenging venture in that the design had to appease two distinct ownership groups and fan bases.

The New Meadowlands Stadium claims a "neutral" design that can easily adapt to each team's needs and identity. The stadium pioneers the "cornerstone" concept, in which the four corners of the stadium have been sold to sponsors who have been given the leeway to create environments and experiences aligned with their own image and business objectives.

Above all, however, the design focused on creating a fan-centric facility, a reality accomplished with clear and direct sightlines, a tight seating bowl to foster an intense and intimate connection with the on-field action, and an array of premium seating options. The stadium also features state-of-the-art technology highlighted by four 128-foot-by-30-foot LED corner scoreboards.

"Above all, this stadium had to be about football—the Giants and the Jets and the creation of an intimidating venue," said George Heinlein, senior principal with 360 Architecture. "Hosting two NFL teams, the building had to have a neutral color scheme and exterior design so that the teams could customize the stadium on game days."

Louisville Arena
Location: Louisville, Ky.
Home Team: University of Louisville basketball
Opening: November 2010
Seating: 22,000 (basketball) and 16,000 (hockey), including 72 suites and four party suites

The Louisville Arena Authority sought a flexible, dynamic and contemporary facility to serve as the home court of the University of Louisville's basketball team as well as to preserve the ability to host to a plethora of other athletic and entertainment events. The development of the 7.5-acre downtown site characterizes Louisville's continued urban renaissance.

The Louisville Arena stands as an ode to sturdy design and contemporary flair. Limestone panels clad the lower portion of the exterior walls, a tactile connection to the carved bridge pylons flanking the entry to the Clark Memorial Bridge, while a more contemporary materiality of glass curtainwall and taut aluminum skin lightens the appearance. A dramatic wing-like roof caps the composition, contributing to Louisville's emerging skyline.

The waterfront project also features a number of sustainable elements, including: preservation of green space; use of existing infrastructure, utilities and roads; high-efficiency mechanical systems; and the use of low-emitting and renewable materials.

"Louisville Arena was designed as a centerpiece of downtown Louisville's renaissance," said Brad Clark, senior designer with Populous. "Its exterior represents movement and motion, much like a Cardinal in flight. The arena's roof is a sweeping form, and an expansive glass feature symbolizes the falls of Ohio. Inside, the building honors the Kentucky heritage of bluegrass, bourbon and basketball."

Consol Energy Center
Location: Pittsburgh
Home Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
Opening: August 2010
Seating: 18,374 for hockey, including 65 suites, four party suites and 1,962 club seats

The new Pittsburgh Penguins arena uses exterior materials distinct to the Pennsylvania region yet consciously different from those of the adjacent Epiphany Church, an iconic piece of the Steel City's landscape.

Dramatic architecture is central to the design. A glazed circulation spine creates a striking architectural element that celebrates movement while simultaneously injecting a vivid marker into the night skyline. From inside, the spine affords guests dramatic views of the adjacent church and downtown skyline.

The Consol Energy Center, which will open as the first LEED-Certified NHL arena, claims a flexible seating bowl that will allow it to accommodate a wide range of sports and entertainment events. In addition, the arena will include two restaurants and a 3,400-square-foot team store.

Of additional note, plans remain in the works for the new arena's outdoor plaza to continue the team's tradition of showing playoff and other special games on a big screen outdoors, yet another opportunity for the stadium to boost the economic viability of the local area and respect the Penguins' history.

"Consol Energy Center is shaped by its site," said Rick Martin, managing senior principal for Populous. "We worked with the significant grade change of the site to create a remarkable glazed circulation spine that gives the building movement from the outside and offers spectacular views to downtown from within."

Hot and Cold in Big-Time Stadium Design

Interactive fan zones
LEED Certification
Profit areas for year-round traffic
Loge boxes, field-level boxes and party decks
Ample restrooms
Team retail stores
Wide concourses
Outdoor stadiums with skyline or waterway views
Retro design elements with modern-day amenities
In-stadium sports bars
Transparency and the public process
HD video boards
Integrated sponsorship
Variety of seating at diverse price points
Intimate viewing experience


In-suite bathrooms
Fixed ad panels

Amway Center
Location: Orlando, Fla.
Home Team: Orlando Magic
Opening: October 2010
Seating: 18,000, including 1,400 club seats, 58 suites, 60 loge boxes and four bunker suites

Looking to bring a counterpoint to the "Disney-fication" of Orlando, the Amway Center sits on an 8-acre site adjacent to the downtown Orlando Business District and looks to spark the city's revitalization.

A mix of metal and glass exterior materials will provide a distinctly modern look, while a 120-foot glass tower, which will host a Tower Club and observation deck, will welcome guests to Orlando's downtown with a wide range of colors. The Amway Center also will capitalize on Florida's moderate climate, boasting a variety of indoor-outdoor spaces. Upon entering the main lobby, for instance, guests will be able to venture outside and overlook the downtown area via a spacious balcony.

At 800,000 square feet, the multipurpose arena, which is also slated to host arena football, lacrosse, ice skating, hockey and concerts, features an array of premium and general seating options, a restaurant, a sports bar with outdoor terrace, a courtside club, a fan zone and an interactive kids area. The Amway Center seeks to be the first NBA arena to gain LEED certification.

"We took a hard and long look at the essence of Orlando before coming up with a design that we believe reflects the best and most distinctive aspects of this community," Clark said. "And just as importantly, the building will set a new standard in sustainable design as one of the greenest professional sports facilities in the country."

TD Ameritrade Park
Location: Omaha, Neb.
Home Team: NCAA Men's College World Series
Opening: April 2011
Seating: 24,000, including 26 luxury suites and 1,000 club seats

The new home of the College World Series, TD Ameritrade Park sits in the heart of downtown Omaha. The ballpark blends the traditions of college baseball and Omaha alongside more modern features.

Offering a more intimate fan experience, with fans sitting closer to the playing field than they did at the former Rosenblatt Stadium, TD Ameritrade Park will claim an open, 360-degree walkaround concourse, an expansive Fanfest area, and a retail area with views into the bullpen and onto the field.

The park, which also will play home to Creighton University's baseball team, is slated to host the NCAA Men's College World Series through 2035.

"Getting to Omaha is such a thrill for collegiate baseball players and fans, and that drove us to create an image of success," said designer Martin DiNitto. "The ballpark's modern expression, coupled with a ballpark experience bar none, will continue to make Omaha a memorable destination."

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