How Populous Brought Brands to Life throughout Allianz Field
By: Jemma Radick
How do you make a house a home? It’s the challenge of first-time buyers everywhere, regardless of whether the home is a 3-bed, 2-bath split-level or $250-million, state-of-the-art soccer stadium.
This question was top-of-mind when we first sat down with Minnesota United FC owner Bill McGuire in 2015. How do we make Allianz Field feel like home, for players, for fans and for the stadium’s inaugural season partners? From the onset of the project, it was clear Bill had high expectations for how we brought those last two stakeholder groups together.
We’ve all been to venues where brand activation was clearly left to the end of the process, places with vinyl logos slapped on the nearest and most convenient surface. Fans see them as a distraction, ads that ultimately produce little value for the team or its partners. How do you integrate partners into the match day experience in an authentic and additive way?
In other words, how do you create something outstanding that doesn’t stand out for the wrong reasons?
In a project the magnitude of Allianz Field, it’s no small task to prioritize aesthetics and the holistic experience during the controlled chaos of construction. But together with the team and its partners, that’s exactly what we did in the run-up to opening day.
From the beginning, we master planned a seamless fan experience at Allianz Field. We had the tremendous honor and responsibility of providing MNUFC with a complete set of architectural design services, so we put this robust scope of work to good use. Our multi-disciplined team of designers wove the architecture, interior and landscape design, wayfinding and branding together to create one cohesive and fluid design.
We started by better understanding who MNUFC fans were and what they were looking for in their matchday experience. This, in turn, helped us create opportunities for brand activation and storytelling that would add to – not take away from – the fan experience. We began with the naming rights partner and worked our way through to identify other partnership opportunities for gates, zones, premium spaces and communal areas.
“This robust masterplan helped us clearly define the ROI to our partners,” says Katie Mattis, the team’s senior vice president of partnership sales and activation. “The detailed package Populous designed allowed us to seamlessly integrate our partners’ brand stories into our stadium experience.”
By placing a focus on the human experience and the integration with the stadium design, we helped organically tell not only our partners’ stories but the team’s in a way that resonates with fans. Here’s a trio of examples of that philosophy in action:
Allianz Arrives in North America
Munich-based Allianz has built a brand on more than the financial services it’s offered since 1890. It’s known for being the namesake of eye-catching venues across four continents. With its mesmerizing exterior skin, the new home of MNUFC was a natural fit for the Allianz name and marked the first time the company has sponsored a stadium in North America.
Plenty of thought went into how best to design the exterior signage. We studied the stadium architecture and experimented with the scale and the placement. We calculated how far away someone would be able to make out the letters, optimizing for legibility while complementing the stadium design. The result is signage that feels part and parcel to the stadium’s clean lines and flowing, glowing exterior. Flip through the slideshow below to see the progression of the exterior signage from early days to built reality.
Corner Kicks and Roof Deck Activation
Inside Allianz Field, the Wonderwall supporters’ section and primary scoreboard take up residence in the middle of the south end zone. That left ample pockets of space on each side for brand activation. Bell Bank and Element Electronics, two partners with roots that run deep in the North, activate not only these corners but their accompanying gates. In addition to concepting large-scale, non-traditional signage, we worked with each brand to express themselves in authentic ways. Graphic murals, for example, bookend the Wonderwall and highlight joint community initiatives of Bell Bank and MNUFC.
On the opposite end of the field, Star Tribune and Taylor Communications partnered to present the Roof Deck, one of the most popular spaces in Allianz Field’s young life. Populous strategically planned the placement of their partner integrations to achieve an equitable balance that is a natural fit for the architecture and complements the overall stadium aesthetic. Working with the partners and Star Tribune’s agency to fully integrate the partner activations, we created a lively feature within the stadium, one that offers a totally unique fan experience.
The Loon Comes to Life
Keeping the holistic design approach in mind, we designed custom wayfinding signage that fully integrated MNUFC’s brand into the stadium, going so far as to literally wrap around structural elements. Developed in collaboration with Twin Cities-based branding agency Zeus Jones and inspired by the MNUFC crest, the signage uses a folding theme to mimic a scarf or ribbon. The team story continues with large-scale Loon and wing graphics in the stands and a manual scoreboard and analog clock that throws back to the team’s playing days at the National Sports Center in nearby Blaine, Minn.
Outside on the stadium’s south lawn is a 65-foot-wide UNITED sculpture honoring the Itasca Society, an exclusive club made up of 4,058 season ticket holders from MNUFC’s inaugural season. The name of each member will forever be inscribed in the sculpture, a large-scale monument that quite literally unites all Loons fans together for an Instagram-worthy moment.
Whether for MNUFC or its partners, every element of branding at Allianz Field was carefully designed with the fans in mind. By master planning the entire experience from day one, MNUFC could tie everything together, leading to a cohesive and sophisticated aesthetic in which partners have found great value. In the end, we helped all parties involved craft customized spaces of their own. Partners bought in to not only the sport of soccer, but the return that comes from investing in good design. The league has taken notice as well, honoring Minnesota United with both Corporate Partnerships Executive (Katie Mattis) and Team of the Year for 2019.