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Inside Look: College stadiums

Premium fan experiences and high-tech connectivity among the trends
University Business, September 2016
  • Special seating: A seat on the 50-yard line at Kansas State University’s Bill Snyder Family Stadium offers Wildcat boosters a memorable football watching experience. The second, third and fourth levels of the new $75 million West Side Stadium Center have suite, club and loge seating—each at different price points—for season-ticket holders, who also have access to all-inclusive food and beverage in the lounges located behind each seating area. Options range from wider seats to extra leg room to areas that pr
  • Even small Division III institutions like McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland, offer special private seating sections with catering capabilities to entertain alumni, parents, donors and other VIPs. When the $8 million Kenneth R. Gill Stadium was dedicated in 2012 as the new home of the Green Terror, the climate-controlled Sydney Albrittain Suite provided expansive field views and live game feeds. Architect and interior designer: Marshall Craft Associates (Baltimore); Mechanical electrical engineer: Gi
  • Athletic amenities: Baylor University football players moved into a stunning 7,500-square-foot locker room when the $250 million McLane Stadium on the banks of the Brazos River in Waco, Texas, opened in 2014. More of a stateroom than the traditional no-frills locker rooms of yore, it’s on par with changing facilities professional athletes use. Built in the shape of a football, the fully carpeted space is 50 yards long, 17 yards wide and features more than 100 cherry wood lockers with lighted shelves, 14 spe
  • Brand loyalty: College stadiums aim to fulfill every fan’s desire to show team spirit. Moving away from the old pop-up concession stands, the team store at Kansas State’s West Side Stadium Center is a full-service retail shop offering football, basketball and baseball apparel as well as souvenirs and collectibles for Wildcat fans.
  • The “Gull Gear” store at Salisbury University’s new stadium allows Sea Gull fans to support their teams with clothing, souvenirs and other team-related memorabilia.
  • Fans received a little something extra beyond the traditional stadium experience when Frostburg State University in Maryland completed the third phase of $5.7 million in renovations to Bobcat Stadium in 2014. The new facilities include a hospitality suite with casual seating, granite-topped counters in the food-serving area, large flat-screen television monitors, and indoor and outdoor tiered seating overlooking the field. The restrooms on this level have high-end tile finishes in the univers
  • Wildcat fans who enjoy luxury suites at Kansas State University’s West Side Stadium Center get to watch the game from quality accommodations with complementary food, drink and other premium services on game day.
  • Arizona State University’s $256 million renovation of Sun Devil Stadium includes 490,000 square feet of improvements, including the addition of the Legends’ Club, a premium seating option with access to a lounge environment featuring a full-service complimentary buffet. Scheduled to open for the 2016 football season, the upscale club level also offers roomier seats, multiple large TV monitors and private restrooms. Architects: HNTB Corp. (Kansas City, Missouri), Gould Evans (Phoenix); Construction: Hunt Con
  • Multifunctional space: With such a significant investment, leaders at Baylor University in Texas wanted McLane Stadium to be a draw on more than a handful of football Saturdays. The Baylor Club offers upscale dining not only on game days but throughout the year, serving lunch, dinner and a continental breakfast Monday through Friday. In addition to the formal dining room, there’s a lounge, a more casual bar and grill, an outdoor patio overlooking the field, private dining rooms and a full ballroom that can
  • A state-of-the-art training clinic includes top-notch medical attention and monitoring for Salisbury University’s student-athletes. The Maryland institution’s new $19 million, 30,000-square-foot four-story Sea Gull Stadium opened this past April. It’s the home field for football, field hockey and men’s and women’s lacrosse—all sports where participants will incur a fair share of bumps, bruises and other injuries that require regular and long-term rehabilitation. The second-floor clinic has treatment tables
  • Meet the press: Keeping up with the ever-growing media requires expanded press facilities. The Draper Holdings Communications Center at Salisbury University’s Sea Gull Stadium is home to the Sea Gull Sports Network and features an upgraded press box with game operations areas for sports information directors, scoreboard staff, clock operators and announcers. It also offers  video-recording facilities and radio-studio booths for home and visiting teams.
  • McDaniel College’s Kenneth R. Gill Stadium features a state-of-the-art broadcast booth that is used for full production, including feeds for live audio broadcasts and web streams, in addition to complete game productions.
  • Fans of stadiums in general can get a behind-the-scenes look at Baylor’s stunning McLane stadium—regular 90-minute guided tours includes visits to the locker room, recruit lounge, post-game interview room, press box and field access.

Colleges now enhance game-day experiences with more luxury suites and better wireless connectivity in an effort to lure fans away from the comforts of home and to the stadium.

In 2014, nearly one-fifth of the total expenses for athletics at public universities was dedicated to facilities and equipment, according to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars are being doled out annually to build or renovate stadiums, with the focus on creating experiences beyond just attending a sporting event.

“Every university is trying to up its game, trying to compete with TV to draw people into the facility,” says Don Barnum, global sports leader at DLR Group, an international design firm that works with multiple higher ed institutions on stadium construction and renovation.

In addition to bigger and better scoreboards and sound systems, wireless connectivity is essential in new college stadiums so fans can use their mobile devices—whether it’s to keep track of social media or to enhance their game-viewing experience. Large institutions such as Penn State, Alabama and Stanford have all boosted bandwidth in recent years.

Some universities create their own game-related content and deliver it wirelessly, and even generate revenue by selling access to real-time stats or streaming video, says Barnum.

“The Wi-Fi connection also facilitates pre-ordering food so you don’t have to wait in line at the concession window—or if it’s a premium area, you can order from your phone and have it delivered to your seat,” he says. “It’s like a mobile concierge in some cases.”

Luxury seating and suites continue to be a primary revenue generator.

“One of the keys things is trying to create multiple levels of premium opportunity so there’s something for the super rich and also the young alumni, who may want to do something special but may not have the wherewithal to do it,” says Barnum.

Options range from opulent suites with giant TVs, waiters and private bathrooms (which require multimillion dollar donations to lease) all the way down to more comfortable stadium seats with backs—rather than the unforgiving metal benches of the past.

Stadiums also continue to see an infusion of high-end food-and-beverage options as well as branded restaurant outlets.

“But no matter how many expensive food items are offered,” says Barnum, “there will always be a place for hot dogs and nachos.”