Super Bowl shuffle: Stadiums of the future will feature interactive and civic spaces

Now that Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos have won Super Bowl 50 in Levi’s Stadium, we wanted to take a moment to consider what the stadium that hosts Super Bowl 100 might look like.  

To say that the differences between Sunday’s Super Bowl and the first Super Bowl played 49 years ago were dramatic is clearly understated.

The 200-foot-by-48-foot 13HD LED video board high above the action was a stark contrast to Super Bowl I’s electronic scoreboard at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The halftime show featuring Coldplay, Beyoncé and Bruno Mars obviously had a ridiculously higher production value than trumpeter Al Hirt performing with marching bands from the University of Arizona and Grambling College. And Sunday’s four-hour game was so much longer than the first Super Bowl thanks to countless commercial breaks and instant replays. 

Otherwise, most fans at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. essentially observed the “Big Game” the same way their parents and grandparents might have in 1967: from a static seat.

But that paradigm between a seated spectator and the playing field is shifting. And that shift will only become more dramatic during the course of the next 50 Super Bowls as new innovations begin to challenge the way we spectate sports. So in the afterglow of historic Super Bowl 50, we are exploring what the “fan experience” might look like in the stadiums of the future.

Get up out of your seat

Sports Illustrated and Wired magazines recently collaborated on a story about the future of stadiums and it offered terrific news for anyone who has ever been relegated to the nosebleed seats.

The world’s largest sports architecture firm, Populous, told SI and Wired that the stadiums of the future could have smaller lower bowls of about 30,000 seats, which would allow the upper decks to be reserved for more innovative and interactive purposes. Imagine parking your car in a garage that is constructed next to the stadium so you could tailgate with a view of the game like in the rendering below. Or what if you could dock your boat up against the stadium but still have a great view of the action on the field.

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Imagine pulling your car right up to the edge of the stadium so you could tailgate with a view of the game. (Courtesy of Populous)

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Drones fly overhead in this rendering of a futuristic NFL stadium while boats pull right up to the top of the lower bowl. (Courtesy of Populous)

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Matt Rossetti has designed and redesigned major sporting venues across the nation, including the retractable roof for the U.S. Open and updated amenities at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. (Courtesy of ROSSETTI)

Similarly, renowned sports architect Matt Rossetti (pictured left) told us that upper bowls as we know them could be replaced by “interactive viewing” areas. The president and chief architect of serious fun (yes, you read that right) at the Detroit-based international firm, ROSSETTI, said the traditional upper deck has the least ROI.

“It’s the cheapest seat in the house but costs the most to build,” he said.

Rossetti has been working on a patent-protected prototype for an NHL arena that he, unfortunately, couldn’t disclose but will officially be unveiled later this quarter.    

“We are redesigning the entire concept of a seating bowl that revolves around the way millennials, and the next generation, engage with each other and with entertainment,” he told us. “It would be a more interactive space as opposed to being stuck in a fixed seat.”

Rossetti said the space would share some similarities to the new Chase Bridges at Madison Square Garden that allow fans to mingle high above the action while engaging with friends and smartphones during the game. The 233-by-22 footbridges feature a row of counters and bar stools but also have two rows of seats with a high-glass wall to protect fans from falling. At approximately $150 a ticket, the bridge gives fans the feel of being in a private luxury suite at a fraction of the cost. An interactive space like this provides a more sports bar-like experience that could even feature shops and restaurants.

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The Chase Bridges at Madison Square Garden give fans an interactive experience that doesn’t confine them to their seats.

We believe the stadiums of tomorrow will actually be designed with these interactive areas in mind from the start so that every vantage point in the stadium is a good one. And while the Chase Bridges represent a small designated area, these new interactive spaces will include large swaths of the stadium, if not an entire bowl. Similar to the concourses of modern baseball stadiums, fans will roam around the ballpark without ever taking their eye off the action on the field.

Remote stadiums 

SI and Wired also wrote about the notion that fans of the future might attend games at facilities that don’t actually have a live playing field in them at all.

Populous, which just announced plans to open a New York office, described a concept for so-called “remote live sites.” Populous says these sites would use technology to fully immerse fans into a stadium atmosphere, only at an offsite location separate from the actual stadium where the game is being played. Holographs would display the game in front of a large group of fans at NFL-branded facilities in the United States and abroad.

“Massive screens and ribbon boards would relay the sights and sounds of the in-stadium experience,” the SI/Wired story said. “But don’t think of these as glorified sports bars.”

Sure there would be bars and lounges. But in addition to watching the game through holographic technology, fans could use virtual-reality to feel like they were inside the game as it’s being played. Imagine lining up next to a 300-pound lineman or peeking into the Denver Bronco’s huddle. 

These facilities could also have stations where fans could predict what play a team might run next. 

These “remote live sites” are the perfect way to offer a shared-experience to fans who don’t want to pay high ticket prices, wait in line for a beer and fight traffic to get to the actual stadium.

Slaying the white elephant 

The stadiums of tomorrow will be transformable structures that will replace the concrete white elephants of today that mostly go unused when the home team isn’t playing in them. The public will be able to enjoy these new facilities 365 days a year. The venue could literally expand to accommodate thousands of fans on Sundays and shrink when there isn’t a game scheduled. Part of the stadium could be built on wheels and contract into itself like bleachers when the game ends. Chunks of the building could be moved aside to make space for a public square or park. Imagine having a picnic in the exact location you watched a game from a few days earlier.

Stadiums will also need to be more versatile because they will become even more integrated with downtown city centers. Instead of sprawling out in the suburbs, the stadiums of tomorrow will have smaller footprints and dual purposes. For example, a 70,000-seat NFL stadium that is only used for eight regular-season homes games each season could suddenly convert into a 30,000-seat basketball and hockey arena. Populous also predicts that buildings will be built into the side of the stadium so office space can double as luxury suites. Train or subway stations could also be meshed into the venue itself.

Stadiums of the future will surely anchor walkable neighborhoods with restaurants, bars, clubs and meeting areas that are open all week long, similar to the Edmonton ICE District (pictured below) that Rossetti helped design.

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The Edmonton ICE District will not only be home to the NHL’s Oilers, but it will also be a vibrant, world-class destination. (Courtesy of ROSSETTI)

Both Populous and ROSSETTI agree that one major impetus for these versatile stadiums will be tax payers losing an appetite for public stadium subsidies. If teams want to enjoy billions of dollars worth of public funding they will have to produce more than just a sporting venue. They will have to truly engage the community with tangible benefits. In the future, Rossetti said, stadiums will feature swing spaces to house schools, latchkey programs, daycare centers, libraries and satellite police stations.

“Stadiums will be knitted together with neighborhoods as opposed to the stand-alone entities that they currently are,” Rossetti said. “I’m convinced it will be all meshed into one really cool complex.”

There’s no doubt that everything from the pedestrian to spectator experience is going to be significantly different for the fan of the future. But whatever’s in store for tomorrow’s stadiums, it’s clear we will have more opportunities than to simply spectate from the bleachers.

This post was written by Suffolk Construction’s Content Writer Justin Rice. If you have questions, Justin can be reached at jrice@suffolk.com or follow him on Twitter at @JustinAlanRice.

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