NFL Learns to Build Stadiums That Sell Football
W. D. Murray Bloomberg News, THE JOURNAL RECORD
LOS ANGELES -- Football stadiums used to be easy to design: Build a cavernous bowl and jam it with as many seats as possible.
Concern about sight lines and the character of the structure was nonsense. As long as the turnstiles were spinning, it would be a beautiful building.
No more. With some $3 billion being spent on new football stadiums and renovations in the decade ending in 2000, National Football League franchises are taking a lesson from Major League Baseball, which is leading a trend toward ballparks with identity. `'Franchises have to max out the revenue potential of their facilities in order to compete," said Paul Much, a senior managing director at Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin and an adviser to a host of professional franchise owners. `'In the NFL, the difference between the revenues flowing out of a team's facility is really about the haves and have nots.'' Football, like the three other major sports, has realized that it's no longer a game, it's major entertainment. Where once it cost $15 to attend an NFL game, a fan now pays as much as $60. That realization for baseball has made for nicer stadiums. Newer parks are loaded with such amenities as large numbers of luxury boxes, club seating, upgraded concessions and a look and feel linking to the sport's earlier times. `'The NFL is behind Major League Baseball in trend toward enhancing the fan experience,'' said Dan Meis, the design principle at the Los Angeles-based NBBJ Sports & Entertainment, the firm that has designed new football stadiums for Cincinnati and San Francisco. Unlike baseball, which has storied ballparks to draw from, football has no such nostalgia, he said. "There are no Fenway Parks or Wrigley Fields in football. That's the challenge we face as designers.'' Absent the ivy-covered bricks of Wrigley Field or Green Monster of Fenway Park, football can rely on one link to its past: a sense of community. `'It's the kind of belonging a fan got in Cleveland's `Dog Pound' and in Denver's south stands," Meis said. `'It's the same feel you get sitting in the bleachers at Wrigley Field. They may not be the best seats, but you want to be there for the atmosphere.'' The stadium evolution within the NFL is about to speed up. Carolina's Ericsson Stadium and the Trans World Dome in St. …