NFL Renovations of the Future
A number of NFL stadiums have recently undergone or are considering large-scale renovations, with the primary focus of these being creating an experience that is intimate, driven by access to technology and other fans and in turn, provides clear value for the ticket price.
The reason behind these renovations? The way fans choose to experience the NFL is evolving. According to a 2012 survey by ESPN.com, only 29% of NFL fans prefer to watch the game in person at a stadium, compared to 41% in 1998. Why? Because since 1998, which, keep in mind, was the year Google was first founded and the iMac was first unveiled, technology has evolved into an ever-present part of our day-to-day lives. In turn, there are more NFL fans than ever before with more access points- including television, the internet, smartphones and tablets. To be a fan, you don’t have to have season tickets, you simply have to have internet access. While this accessibility has allowed the NFL to reach record-high popularity, it has also left architects, stadium managers and owners with a conundrum. How can we draw individuals out of their homes and into the stadium on game day?
There isn’t a simple answer because the solution has to be multi-faceted and proactive. Simply reacting to what fans can access at home and placing it in a stadium won’t be enough for the NFL renovations of the future. Instead, the only viable approach will be a forward looking one; architects and team owners need to think about current trends and how they may evolve over the coming decade. This may mean the incorporation of augmented reality, concierge style service for general ticket holders and access to stats, data and behind the scenes information that isn’t available to fans who are watching from the couch. A forward looking approach, coupled with what individuals value about the in-home experience — the comfort factor – will be key to successful NFL renovations over the coming years. The trends that will most impact NFL renovations include:
1. Greater fan engagement
The evolving expectations of fans are undoubtedly at the core of innovation in the NFL. When fans reach the stadium, how do you capture their attention? How do you ensure their experience is as comfortable as it would be at home? What opportunities can we offer fans who attend a game that they simply wouldn’t get otherwise? One of the most obvious solutions to this is rewarding individuals in the stadium with exclusive content and access. At the most basic, this means plans for bigger, better scoreboards and videoboards with clearer pictures. This also means improved WiFi availability so fans can stream content constantly and share their experience via social media all without losing track of their fantasy football team. In addition, we’ll need to continue to create smaller neighborhoods of seats within the stadium, ensuring that fans feel they are part of something more intimate. From loge boxes to club seating, there are more options to keep fans coming back and feeling engaged with other fans. Finally, access to athletes is something that will become increasingly important. Perhaps this means spaces within a stadium that offer a behind the scenes look into the locker room prior to athletes stepping on the field, or this could mean space where you see the athletes entering and exiting the field. Regardless, the evolution of fan engagement is crucial to drawing fans back to the stadium.
Technology and the way that the modern fan engages with the game socially will become increasingly crucial to NFL renovations. Instead of planning for current technology, teams must forecast technology’s path 5, 10 and 15 years down the road. In the years to come social engagement, using outlets like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc., will be increasingly important. Fans will expect to be able to share their tweets, videos and photos in real time at every stadium, not only at the select few who currently sport this technology. In addition, augmented reality and the prominence of smart uniforms will further impact design. We’ve seen already what Google Glass offers — the ability to overlay key information — and this technology is only the beginning. This direct and immediate access to stats, data and viewpoints that users at home don’t have will further differentiate the stadium experience.
3. Social gathering spaces
By repurposing currently underused areas of the stadium, teams will aim to create more unique experiences that rival and exceed what you may get at home. This is done in a variety of ways, but most prominently by creating social gathering spaces, branded environments, various premium seating options and engaging sponsor access points. These social gathering spaces become experiences in themselves functioning as destinations within the destination. This may include a full-service sports bar with clear sightlines and a close proximity to the field or a technology hub, where fans can stop in and check stats, plug in their phones, browse the web and monitor other games all without losing site of the game in front of them.
While the above trends are going to be essential to NFL renovations moving forward, they aren’t the end all be all. If we can learn anything from the past 10 years, it’s that technology and the fan experience is always changing and therefore, so must the approach to the design of facilities. In turn, we must find ways to give NFL fans unparalleled access to athletes and exclusive information while creating experiences that not only rival the in-home experience but exceed expectations of the modern fan. Whether through branded social gathering spaces or the integration of the latest technology, teams and architects are working together to create destinations that make the NFL in-stadium experience something for which it’s worth leaving the house.