Sound Blitz: How Seating Bowls Affect the Game

September 16, 2016 / Craig Kaufman

Most of the large college football stadiums in use today have been enlarged and expended over decades. Many find their birth back in the 1920s. As these stadiums developed, sideline sections were always the first to be built and expanded. End zones seem to only come into play when the sidelines were developed and more seating was desired. Often end zone seating started with simple bleacher seating and later grew into fixed structures. As a result, many stadiums have end zone seating structures that are disjointed from the sideline sections.

The trend over the last decade has been to connect the end zone structures to the sidelines to fully enclose the field with seating. Fully enclosed seating bowls offer many benefits over open ones. They offer more seating for fans, provide for better circulation and improve building function. As an added benefit many stadiums have utilized end zone structures as buildings to house other programmatic spaces that are not necessarily tied to game day. These include team training facilities, broadcast and media operations, athletic offices, nutrition centers and other functions that are ideally located in the stadium but don’t require the valuable real estate on the sidelines.

However, the most important impact of a fully enclosed bowl is experienced on game day. Filling in the end zone and connecting them to the sidelines allows fans to be closer to the action. And one of the added benefits is the effect on acoustics in providing fans the ability to increase sound levels on the playing field.

The south end zone renovation at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium is a prime example of this effect. Prior to the 2016 football season, the south end of the stadium only had seating directly behind the end zone, leaving the corners open. Now, the south corners have been filled in and a canopy spans across the upper level, presenting not only a grand appearance but also acoustic functionality.

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In past years, the open corners allowed fans’ sound waves and energy to escape, reducing the volume in the stadium. The new 360-degree enclosed seating bowl and end zone canopy amplify the crowd’s energy and redirect sound waves to the field below, creating a more intimidating atmosphere for visiting opponents. The stadium alone doesn’t mean everything will automatically sound louder because the sound ultimately comes from the fans. But the new design can impact crowd noise so that sound can reach a level nearly twice as loud as before the renovation. So when the sound of the crowd rises, the need to be involved also rises and the players on the turf below are met with bellowing chants of support and encouragement.

Increasing the potential maximum volume enhances the game day experience not only for players but also for the fans. Those standing under the canopy will feel a significant noise increase by way of their own efforts, but it will also capture and reflect sound waves moving up the seating back down to the playing field, giving spectators an opportunity to truly affect the game.

This increase in noise won’t be felt solely by game day attendees in the new south end or players on the field. Closing the end zone means higher volume is heard along the sidelines and north end, as sound that previously left the stadium is now bounced back to the seating bowl. As a result, the sidelines will see a roughly 50 percent increase in perceived loudness, according to Jack Wrightson of Wrightson, Johnson, Haddon & Williams, Inc., world-renown acoustic designers on the project.

It’s important to note that the stadium itself doesn’t create the noise. That’s up to the fans, and when the fans are fired up, the benefits will truly be noticed. People attend sporting events for the experience. Atmosphere and noise are major factors in providing memorable ones. By giving Sooner fans a fully enclosed seating bowl, the energy will be up, the sound will be louder from the opening Boomer-Sooner to the cheers and shouts of the final seconds, and as history shows for teams with strong home field advantages – the home team usually triumphs.

Meet the author

Craig Kaufman

Senior Architect, Principal / Kansas City

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