Designing a Haven for College Football Fans: Baylor and Beyond
Summer is winding down, and with the end of one of my favorite seasons comes the beginning of my next favorite season, college football season. You won’t find that season indicated on most calendars but, for many college grads, it is a staple on their personal calendars. As a longtime college football fan, it is also a great time of year to be a Populous architect. It isn’t very often that your career can coincide with your favorite sport.
This season is especially exciting as we watch numerous college football stadiums we’ve designed begin to take shape. While they may not be completed yet, they carry with them their own sense of hope, as each are promising additions to their campuses that depict the tradition, identity and culture of their schools. At University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Texas A&M and the University of Missouri, renovations or new stadiums are underway. At Baylor University, a project I’ve been involved with since 2011, their new on-campus stadium is coming to life on the Brazos River. Baylor’s story- from the earliest exploration of the stadium to what we see now rising up on campus- is a great lesson in the power smart design and strategic site selection can have in making for an impactful experience. Here’s how we’ve done it:
- Enhancing the Experience
The fan experience at McLane Stadium has been a driving force behind decisions made about the stadium design. Perhaps most notably, the university will enhance the game-day experience by creating one of the most unique tailgating experiences in college football. Collaboratively, we realized the site allowed for new experiential opportunities. Located on the Brazos River, just adjacent to I-35, a highway that guarantees nearly 45 million people will pass by the site each year, the stadium serves as a metaphorical and literal front door to Baylor’s campus. This also lends itself to tailgating by boat. With floating docks, boat slips and electrical hook ups planned into the design, the site is sure to attract fans who want a non-traditional tailgating experience.
- Developing Connectivity
While experiential elements, like unique tailgating, can propel the in-stadium experience, connectivity to both the campus and the city can propel the entire game-day experience, even outside the stadium’s walls. While the stadium is on campus, it has to be reached by crossing a pedestrian bridge over the Brazos. Therefore, the architecture had to connect back to campus while also bridging Baylor with downtown Waco, approximately 1 mile away. A football stadium on a site like that at Baylor provides opportunity to spur development on campus and off, including an $180 million riverfront development that is currently under discussion with retail, dining, condos and high-end offices. In addition, the river walk will be extended and, with any luck, fans won’t just be exploring Baylor’s campus, they’ll be exploring the city the Bears call home.
- Building a Brand
Finally, a stadium and its site should offer an opportunity for a university to enhance and develop its brand. Baylor is a program that has seen tremendous success in the past few years. Both the university and their athletics programs are gaining traction and their new stadium makes a statement that Baylor football is here to stay. Because of the location of the stadium, Baylor’s campus will now be able to be more prominently recognized by those passing by on I-35, and the design of the stadium means that most fans will actually walk through campus to reach the stadium, introducing them to Baylor’s culture outside of athletics and developing game-day traditions. A collegiate stadium should be a catalyst for growth and Baylor is ensuring that’s exactly what their new stadium will be.
McLane Stadium is a new iteration of the traditional football stadium. A living, breathing hybrid of next-generation tailgating, connectivity, revenue generation opportunities and brand opportunity, McLane Stadium is an example of all a college football stadium should be.