USA Today Sports Weekly and Populous: Designing the Future College Football Experience

Over the course of the past few months, we’ve worked closely with USA Today Sports Weekly and USA Today Sports to research the college football experience. We wanted to delve into what makes the college football fan tick. We wanted to know why they attend games, what they like about their experience and what keeps them coming back. And we wanted to use this research to create the best fan experience in collegiate football in our design work.

So in November, USA Today Sports and Populous surveyed fans, asking them four questions that would give us insight into what the college football stadium experience of the future should include. These questions were:

  • Why do you go to college football games?
    • The atmosphere (39%)
    • I’m a football fan (37%)
    • Game day traditions (13%)
    • For the party (10%)
  • What is your favorite part of college football game day?
    • The game (68%)
    • Pregame (28%)
    • Halftime (3%)
    • Postgame (1%)
  • What would make you more likely to attend a college football game?
    • A better fan atmosphere (33%)
    • If it was more affordable (29%)
    • A state of the art stadium (23%)
    • Increased access to the field, players, broadcasters etc. (11%)
    • Better food and beverage (4%)
  • Which of the following was most central to your favorite stadium memory?
    • Fans/crowd (32%)
    • Winning (26%)
    • Friends Family (20%)
    • A first experience (11%)
    • Stadium amenities (9%)
    • The relish winning the condiment race (1%)

The insight we received told us something important – the most meaningful aspect of game day is atmosphere. It’s the fans. It’s the energy. It’s the tradition. And it’s the culture.  These components have to drive our design decisions so they are strategic, allowing us to emphasize and enliven the game day experience.  We asked ourselves, how can we get fans closer to the field to enhance the experience in the future? How can we provide them access and touch points that will better connect them to the teams and players? How can we make them feel better connected to other fans? And how can we create an environment that feels more intimate and compact? How can we create many experiences in one? And what setting would create the best atmosphere possible?

After discussing in depth, we came up with an overall list of features that our design of the college football stadium of the future would include and a narrative to explain what we had created… a stadium that was hyper-functional, flexible, intimate and embedded into the culture of a city and a campus to create an incredible experience.  And here’s what we created:

Campus View

Game Day View

This stadium doesn’t look like the college football stadium we see today. It’s placed in the center of a campus. It is used on non-game days for other purposes – for classes, performances, training and as a central quad that is a gathering space for students and the community. It also features built up modules that bring the city to the campus, integrating retail, dining and other experiences that will be unique for game days but ensure it is used year-round as well. It has transformability, unique viewing corridors and seating options that are far from traditional. The features seen in the renderings include:

  • LED Facade which acts as a transparent media screen
  • Fiber Optic Field that can transform to accommodate sports or classroom activities
  • Fully integrated campus / city experience, with modules of the building functioning as retail, bars, restaurants, classrooms, labs and libraries, each transformable for game day
  • More technological connections than ever before, with the ability to control your personal experience, including dictating what views of the field you get, real time and exclusive data related to player performance, behind-the-scenes views of player huddles, locker rooms etc. available exclusively to those in attendance
  • Connectivity, which will also allow for the option to select your seating based on shared interests (statisticians, family friendly spaces, young professionals, etc.) to enhance the overall atmosphere
  • Suite seating which unfolds from the exterior facade on game days
  • A hovering bar / lounge which provides a different vantage point for game days
  • A bridge which provides complete connectivity to the city and campus, and on game days becomes a new vantage point for viewing the game
  • Drones which deliver concessions to fans
  • A completely sustainable environment that is a net zero energy building, aided by the flexible nature of the facility and emphasized  by ample green space

We predict, and agree with fans, that college football will continue to be about atmosphere long into the future. But we also must consider that atmosphere can exist on non-game days as well, to energize a campus and connect students to a city. College football, with its passion, tradition and ability to draw people together, is an opportunity for universities to elevate their brand and make their campuses destinations. And these renderings depict just that.

To read the full article, look in the January 15th edition of USA Today Sports Weekly.


  1. I agree completely, but you shouldn’t just use this to judge college football. This is the case with all sports, game day atmosphere is way more important than bars and concession stands. Distractions that can take people out of there seats and away from the action means having less people watching the games, leaving early, and coming back less often. That makes for a very stale game day enviornment. Standing area’s should be a focus if you want to influence better atmosphere. Students never sit during a game, EVER, so why have seats? Why not utilize standing terrace’s and standing rail sections for the students like you see in European soccer stadiums. I know you guys are doing Orlando City’s soccer stadium and would like to see a focus on the supporters section to be a standing rail zone. Also focusing on making the stadium as loud as possible and viewer friendly with spectators close to the pitch, rather than a 1000 concession stands, 10 bars, or TV’s in every corner. People want to be apart of the game, not visit a stadium that feels like a mall food court or airport terminal. Vendors are an important focus too, so people don’t have to leave their seats as much for beer, soda, food. ect. Just some advice from someone who attends events at one of your venues, the Amway Center.

    January 21, 2014
  2. To a degree, stadium technology nowadays overshadows the game itself. When watching the game at home, there are many other options of entertainment at one’s immediate disposal, so this bombardment of statistics, camera angles, and commentary helps keep the viewer glued to the televised game instead of letting the mind wander.
    However, while at the game in person a quick look around at the crowd will quickly reveal how distracted people become in these new stadiums. With dozens of television screens and WiFi, it becomes difficult to focus on the game when there are so many other factors biding for ones attention. This leads to people becoming disenchanted with the game, and severely hurting the overall “atmosphere” that they came for, and thought would be enhanced with the addition of such technology.
    Unintentionally, your “Game Day View” render illustrates this trend perfectly. Front and center in your fans view is a tablet connecting the fan to all of the games statistics. His attention is clearly focused on these statistics, while the game and playing field fades into the background. Furthermore, when the fan does decide to look up from his tablet, his attention will immediately be captured by the enormous LED facade that completely trumps anything taking place on the field. With the addition of drones whizzing above the crowd’s heads, it becomes a very difficult battle for the players on the field to compete for the attention crowd.
    If fans truly do value “the game” and “the atmosphere”, than these technological gimmicks are only hurting the future of the sport. Placing the stadium on campus, designing it so it doubles as the quad, and placing the seats closer to the field are all of the great points you include that will bring about a better game day atmosphere by rooting the team more deeply within its fan base, who are the driving force behind the whole existence of game day.

    Taylor Shumate
    February 21, 2014

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