College Football: What is Good for the Fans is Good for the Student-Athletes
As an architect and designer of collegiate and NFL stadia as well as both collegiate and professional training facilities, I spend a lot of time talking about the fan experience, site decisions and programmatic decisions. However, some may be surprised to know I also spend a significant amount of time discussing how to entice recruits and free agents through design of both training and performance facilities. The simple answer is that a beautiful building is inspiring and serves as the foundation for a great experience for student-athletes and fans alike. But, as we all know, the answer is more complex.
Forbes contributor Alicia Jessop touches on this in her article titled “The Surprising Factors Driving College Football Recruits’ College Decision.” A recent survey conducted by Galain identified the most important factors to football recruits when selecting a university to attend. While academic reputation was ranked most important, the study also found campus facilities are crucial to recruits’ decisions. Their opinion of a team’s playing facilities ranked as the 4th most important factor (of 15 factors), while campus housing and team facilities ranked 6th and 8th.
So it should come as no surprise then that the increasing number of renovations and new builds of college football stadiums is staggering. Between 2009 and 2014, 51 of the 120 FBS schools, or 43 percent, undertook football stadium projects. In 2012 alone, according to Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal, universities spent $495 million on new/renovated football venues.
But, as the Forbes article points out, there are real benefits in the recruiting race for schools that invest in their athletic facilities. Each institution has its own strategy shaping their decisions and venue designs should reflect that strategy. These new or renovated facilities provide an opportunity for college football programs to tell their stories and develop clear identities that can drive recruits – and fans – to their campuses. 17-18 year old recruits are drawn to the idea of the student-athlete experience… from envisioning the stadium in which they will play to the space they will train within.
A state-of-the-art training center has become just as important in creating a well-rounded educational and development experience for student athletes. Two Populous-designed football training centers – at Boise State and the University of Arkansas – will open in September as examples of creating more than just a space to train. Both facilities offer dining, study spaces and lounges for players, creating an inspirational and efficient environment. Furthermore, they both feature designs that are reflective of the teams’ identities. At Boise State, we see a bold, industrial design, consistent with the image the athletic department’s brand. At Arkansas, the design pays tribute to the team’s history and features clean lines, expanses of glass and bright graphics with punches of their signature red. You have no doubt you are in the Razorback Nation.
While training facilities are key to a student athletes’ daily life, the game day stadium experience is crucial. Playing in a famed venue or facility that offers the most impressive technology and environment (which can mean something different for each recruit) can be enticing. But what is often overlooked is that creating a great athlete experience and creating a great fan experience can be one in the same. I’m a believer that what is good for the fan is good for the student-athlete. If we can create a fan experience that helps fill a stadium and generates an energized crowd with a feeling of intimacy and a feeling of exclusivity, the student-athletes benefit. It becomes a special, memory making place that inspires players and creates a home field advantage, infusing positive momentum during critical periods of the game. It becomes a revered place of competition that the best student-athletes want to be part of and the university can more successfully draw upon to land top recruits.