Photo: Courtesy of Planning Korea
If you’ve gone to a game at any of the new stadiums erected over the last decade, you’re well aware of the differences between them and the older, more traditional stadiums.Today’s teams are not only trying to create more visually appealing buildings, but they’re interested in making attending the game an all-encompassing entertainment experience.
Of course, making everything about new stadiums bigger and better means that teams can hike up ticket prices, which has understandably alienated fans in these difficult economic times. Still, there are some pretty interesting new things going on at the ball park.
It’s doubtful that anyone who attended a ball game at the old Polo Grounds could have foreseen the way video boards would transform the stadium experience. They probably wouldn’t have guessed that luxury suites would begin to take over stadiums and force the average fan out. And they certainly wouldn’t believe that there may soon come a day when beer is no longer sold at games.
Some of these changes can already be seen at today’s arenas, but will soon become the rule rather than exception for a day at the ballpark.
It seems a little strange that the closer you get to a game, the less you know about what's actually going on. But, in the information age there are few more isolated places than professional sports stadiums. Out of town scores are often only displayed on a tiny board across the length of the stadium and it's not exactly easy to call a friend to find out what's going on in the outside world because of all the background noise. That will all change very soon as stadiums begin to beef up wifi networks, giving fans all the same access to the latest scores and stats around the league while still enjoying the one-of-a-kind experience of seeing a game in person.
Gigantic HD video boards are the latest craze at new stadiums as teams attempt to deploy the biggest, flashiest, and clearest screens for their fans. The information is often quite primitive: what batter is up next, his batting average, and the score by innings.
That will change as teams figure out creative new ways to use their booming HD screens. It's only a matter of time before scoreboards start catering to the fantasy-obsessed so can keep up with their own personal matchups while they're at the game.
We've already talked about the boom of video boards, but that's only a prelude to sticking TV screens right into the seats in front of you. It's probably not practical to put a TV into every seat of an 80,000 person stadium, but there will undoubtedly be sections that give fans the opportunity to see the action on the field in front of them while following the same game or a different one on their own TVs.
One the TV and mobile devices are all hooked up, the personalised content can begin to flow. Can you imagine the outrage in Detroit on June 2 if every fan in attendance was able to see instant replays of Jim Joyce messing up Armando Galarraga's perfect game over and over again? It's not far-fetched; the Pittsburgh Penguins already offer their ticket holders the chance to watch customised instant replays from home games on their cell phones. Considering the sorry state of officiating across the sports world right now, this has to be a terrifying thought for the zebras.
The only place in the stadium where you're in the dark now is in the bathroom, which is frequently packed with joyous tailgaters rushing to relieve themselves. That's not going to last long.
Professional teams have figured out that they can sell booze in more extravagant, and more expensive ways than just the traditional vendors and concession stands. By implementing souped up bars into stadiums, teams can add their typical mark-ups on top of already-expensive bar prices. The Devils broke the mould when they created the Fire and Ice Lounges at the Prudential centre that allow fans clear sight lines to the ice. Other teams have quickly recognised what a hit these bars are with fans and have been followed suit. These bars allow fans to enjoy two of their favourite scenes, the rowdy sports bar crowd and the live game in front of them.
This almost too obvious, but both ticket prices and concession stand prices aren't likely to drop anytime in the near future. In fact, as the US economy slowly recovers it's more likely that concession stand prices will reach new highs. Buying food at the game is a huge rip-off revenue driver for teams and they aren't going to back off as stadiums get more expensive. Also, look for less-traditional food options -- steak, sushi, ostrich? -- as teams try to branch out to different members of their audiences.
Modern pro stadiums are focused on creating an all-encompassing entertainment experience that extends far beyond the playing field. It might seem like a stretch to think that a roller coaster will pop up over a baseball field's outfield fence, but some type of amusement park ride -- Detroit's Comerica Park already has a Ferris wheel -- that provides unique views of the game (and can keep the kids entertained) seems inevitable.
Luxury suites used to be a way to make nosebleed seats at the top of the arena a more attractive option, but as richer fans demand more and more access, those 'skyboxes' have come down out of the clouds.
The New Meadowlands Stadium features the 'Coaches Club' that boasts a deck of suites 'just five yards behind the home team's bench.' That's unprecedented access that will soon be copied around the sports world.
Fans are offered unprecedented access at Cowboys Stadium through perks like the Miller Lite Club, a bar that separates fans from the players by glass walls (and in some areas, nothing at all) as they walk from the locker room to the field. Some teams have slowly begun phasing out access at once public-friendly venues like training camp, but others have realised that access isn't so bad because the money to be made from gimmicks like this is astronomical.
Domed stadiums haven't become universal in sports yet as some teams struggle to hang on to the challenges the elements can present. But economically it makes no sense for teams to risk losing customers because of a little snow. Domed roofs can now be retracted in minutes if the weather permits, so there's really no reason that every stadium doesn't have them. Plus, the enclosed spaces allow venues to hold more than just sporting events, giving owners another way to make money during the offseason.
Part of the problem with sports stadiums is that many are used on a very limited basis outside of the select dates when a game is held. But, there are already some folks that are exploring the possibility of having a stadium that could quickly be converted from a football stadium into a basketball or hockey arena.
It sounds pretty complicated, but as construction technology improves, so these wild blueprint schemes could eventually be possible. Imagine the marketing possibilities for a two-sport double header!
Before everyone panics, I'll concede that this is no guarantee. But in the last few years there has been an alarming number of incidents of violence between fans and sometimes between fans and players. It would take a lot for teams to suck it up and kiss one of their greatest sources of easy revenue goodbye, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that something bad enough could happen to force their hands' and outlaw (or at least severely limit) beer sale at games. Some pro teams have already banned the sale of beer bottles and most college stadiums don't sell beer at all.
Sound crazy? It's not. Part of Japan's technology-heavy bid to host a future World Cup included a plan to synchronise live World Cup games with holographic images of the games at distant stadiums in real-time. In other words, a game between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers could be held in Cleveland, but life-like 3-D holographic images could be projected in front of a raucous crowd at Heinz Field at the same time. It's not quite the real thing, but we think football-crazy Americans would be more than happy to tailgate eight more times a year and teams would be OK with picking up some extra revenue from ticket sales and concessions.
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