April 02, 2019
Just one year removed from Super Bowl LII, all eyes will once again descend upon U.S. Bank Stadium as the venue hosts the NCAA men’s basketball championship. The Minnesota Vikings’ home turf will soon be swapped out for hardwood and courtside seating systems. Transforming the stadium into a basketball arena is no small feat—the setup process takes nearly three weeks to complete.
Designing a stadium that is capable of accommodating a variety of sports is certainly not a new concept. During the building boom of the 1960s and 1970s, the infamous multi-sport “concrete donuts” were embraced by cities looking to reap the economic benefits of co-locating their professional baseball and football teams. While NFL- and MLB-shared stadiums have since become extinct, the appetite for flexible, multi-purpose venues is greater than ever. U.S. Bank Stadium is a prime example.
U.S. Bank Stadium was designed as a “football-first facility” for its primary tenant, the Minnesota Vikings. Since NFL games occupy the space no more than 12 times a year, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority has the opportunity to schedule revenue generating events during the other 350-plus days. In addition to the Super Bowl and Final Four, U.S. Bank Stadium has hosted a variety of big-name events, including X-Games, collegiate baseball, monster truck rallies, concerts, and tradeshows. The facility has truly become a versatile asset for the State.
The next generation of stadiums are poised to follow this proven approach, combining amenities and features that cater to the fan experience and have the ability to accommodate bottom line boosting events and activities. In order to maximize their investment and increase venue flexibility, it is critical for owners to consider the following elements during the design phase of multi-purpose stadiums as they can significantly impact construction and long-term operating costs:
Seating types and configurations are driven by the programmatic needs of a stadium. For venues looking to maximize their versatility, retractable systems enable operators to efficiently scale up or scale down their seating based on the required floor space. Events with a smaller footprint, such as basketball, hockey and concerts, necessitate the rental of temporary seating to fill the open floor space and accommodate larger audiences.
It takes eight minutes to fold or unfold each section of retractable seating at U.S. Bank Stadium, enabling quick configuration changes.
For events such as concerts and basketball, the most expensive tickets are typically for seats located on the event level rather than the premium spaces. In order to deliver an exceptional experience for these customers, special consideration must be given to optimizing circulation on the event floor and providing easy access to amenities. Venues have dealt with these challenges by setting up temporary restrooms and food and beverage points of sale. Others have found success in allowing these customers to use club access points and facilities.
Event Level Surface
Sports and entertainment events often have competing interests when it comes to a stadium’s event level surface. Sports teams prefer the playability and safety of natural grass, while artificial turf is ideal for stadiums that host a large number of events that cause more wear and tear like concerts and action sports. Durable artificial surfaces are less susceptible to damage when covered with field protection systems for required events, resulting in a longer life expectancy than natural grass. Budget permitting, stadiums can have the best of both worlds. Las Vegas Stadium will feature an artificial turf field on the stadium floor for UNLV football as well as a retractable natural grass field tray for Raiders football. The grass field will be rolled in and out as needed for events, and to allow for year-round growth.
Las Vegas Stadium will feature a retractable field tray, making it one of the most versatile stadiums in the country.
Rigging requirements for sports and entertainment events, particularly concerts, place substantial demands on a stadium’s structural system. A collection of trusses, bracing, catwalks and rigging beams are needed in order to support hundreds of thousands of pounds of video boards, speakers and lighting equipment. For the Final Four, U.S. Bank Stadium will need to hang a center-hung scoreboard from the roof to replicate the authenticity of a collegiate basketball experience. While floor-based support systems can be rented for each event, ROI opportunities exist for venues that incorporate these structural requirements into their original design.
Ease of loading and unloading is of paramount importance to event promoters when booking venues. Large concert tours travel with upwards of 80 semi-trucks that require access to the building to deliver staging, lighting audio and other production equipment. A monster truck show requires 300 dump trucks full of dirt. In order to expedite crews, determining the ideal number of loading docks and the most efficient path to the event floor is critical during the planning of a stadium.
Large covered stadiums pose a myriad of acoustical challenges including extreme reverberation, echoes, distortion and sound absorption. Standard structural building materials such as exposed concrete, steel and glass exacerbate these issues by adding to the sonic bounce. Venues seeking to host concerts can benefit from a distributed sound system and acoustic treatments that increase control. U.S. Bank Stadium, for example, places giant curtains behind the stage for concerts in order to cover the largest portion of glass on the west side of the facility.
U.S. Bank Stadium covers large expanses of glass to increase acoustic control during concerts.
Due to the immense size and capacity of their venues, stadium operators are often faced with massive utility bills. HVAC systems in particular are known for being some of the biggest energy hogs. Innovation in building design and materials has successfully reduced heating and cooling demands in recent years. U.S. Bank Stadium is 20 percent more efficient than its predecessor, the Metrodome, due to its ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) roof—a translucent plastic that allows sunlight in, as well as its natural heat. Stadiums located in warmer climates have chosen to incorporate energy-efficient glass to keep heat out and reduce cooling costs.
While it can be tempting to focus on the first costs associated with building a stadium, it is important to not lose sight of long-term goals. When evaluating the desired programming mix for a venue, owners must consider the capital costs associated with reconfiguring and modifying their stadium for various events and also ensure the design has the infrastructure required to support their vision.
Dan Wacker is a design phase executive and Erik Thomas is a senior design phase manager in Mortenson’s Sports + Entertainment Group.