Play it Up

May 1, 2004
Schools and universities are upgrading sports facilities to meet student and alumni demand for more sophisticated venues.

Across the nation, schools and universities of every size are following the quest to improve their sports facilities. Alumni and fans are demanding luxury suites, exclusive club seating and abundant concessions — all the amenities of professional sports venues.

Driving universities even harder is the desire to increase overall revenues. Money generated from luxury amenities in new sports facilities can help fund modern training facilities, and successful football and basketball programs often subsidize the costs of other university athletic programs.

To turn their teams into powerhouses, schools must recruit the best athletes. The quality of the athletic facilities at a college or university can be a critical recruiting tool. Higher-education officials are finding that some high school facilities have surpassed what is available on college campuses.

Because most college football stadiums were built before World War II and most arenas in the 1950s and 1960s, many facilities simply are worn out and need significant upgrades to satisfy the demands of today's alumni and fans.

Take a seat

Some college alumni have come to expect that college sports facilities will be comparable to professional sports venues. This means luxury suites, club seating and clubs. For a stadium at a large university, an upgrade may add up to 50 luxury suites and as many as 2,000 club seats. For a smaller school's facility, the enhancement might include only a handful of luxury suites. Either way, the additions mean significant revenue — up to $45,000 a year to rent a luxury suite and as much as $1,500 for a club membership — in order to qualify to purchase club seating tickets.

New suites at the University of Oklahoma's Memorial Stadium, renovated and expanded for the fall 2003 football season, were positioned on the east side and designed with multiple advantages over existing suites on the stadium's west side. Contemporary finishes and quality materials complement a deeper, more spacious suite space with increased wall and display areas. High-quality lighting illuminates the space and creates an exciting, festive ambience.

Extended counters and sinks were added to facilitate in-suite food and beverage service. Ample numbers of restrooms were situated just off adjacent hallways. Easy access to the upscale club also is important to give suite and club seat patrons increased beverage and food choices during a game. High-speed multiple elevators, in addition to stair and ramp options, speed circulation to and from all luxury levels.

Some college luxury suites even include fireplaces, as institutions seek new ways to attract alumni and increase revenues. However, many schools have found that basic improvements, such as updating finishes, replacing seating and expanding limited counter space, can go a long way toward polishing the allure of existing suites.

Merchandising expertise

Providing the right type of space to display sports merchandise is central to generating additional revenue. Items should be visible and easily available to every fan entering the venue. The type of retail shop and its location are both key.

The Tiger Team Store in Memorial Stadium at the University of Missouri-Columbia, for example, is at the stadium's main entry, situated at a major intersection for campus pedestrians and tailgaters. It also is adjacent to stadium entry gates and ticket sales. On the nearby boulevard, bold signage creates high visibility for the store. Dedicated store parking is next to the main entry, facilitating quick access for sports purchases.

Multiple exterior windows in the shop give space for attractive product displays and advertising, and allow natural light into the interior to complement accent lighting. Inside, the store's long, linear layout is punctuated by two entry locations, one direct from the exterior and the other into the stadium. Custom display cabinetry and millwork create handsome areas dedicated to name-brand, high-profile merchandise. The overall effect draws customers into the space and enhances the products' appeal.

Need a snack?

Maximizing the attractiveness of and access to concessions throughout a stadium or arena also can boost revenues. Concessions and novelties help capture every possible dollar from fans.

In renovated venues, concessions should be designed aesthetically as if they were in a new facility; the overall infrastructure that supports the concession system also should be redesigned.

Originally opened in the late 1950s, the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., faced many problems with concession sales. The existing state of concessions included minimal in-stand storage, a limited menu, inadequate equipment for preparation and serving, outdated menu display boards and signage, cramped workspace for employees, limited electrical and water services, and counters that did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

After the stadium's renovation is completed this fall, concession stands throughout the facility will be enlarged and have new equipment. The number of point-of-sale locations will increase. Other improvements include local health-department-approved finishes; new lighting, sinks and counters; signage/graphics and menu boards; overhead security grills; and ADA-compliant counters.

Accessibility for all

Creating sports spaces that everyone can enjoy is a goal that increases revenue opportunities and improves the quality of campus life. For students in wheelchairs, approaching large campus buildings can be daunting. Even at facilities that follow ADA requirements, visitors sometimes must deal with a confusing maze of ramps and special entries.

At a basketball arena being built at the University of Missouri-Columbia, the positioning of the facility will allow all patrons to enter at grade level without the use of a ramp. The design takes advantage of the building's sloping site to create front doors accessible to all users at each of three at-grade levels. The layout maximizes the arena's overall visibility, and connects the arena entrances to new and existing pedestrian circulation. Placing the new building in a key campus location also helped achieve the goal of providing accessibility to all.

At the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, the total makeover of Wantland Stadium will provide ADA-compliant access to all areas and spaces. ADA-accessible and adjoining companion seating will be situated on the home and visitor sides of the stadium at grade level. New pedestrian plazas on three sides will provide flat, accessible routes for those in wheelchairs or with other physical challenges.

Designs that provide quick and easy access to restrooms also enhance accessibility. And fans that spend less time in the restrooms will have more time to spend their money on concession sales.

Waggoner, AIA, is principal and COO for CDFM2 Architects, Kansas City, Mo.

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