Modern venues have evolved to serve as multi-purpose year-round destinations

By Bart Miller, PE

The design and construction of sports venues largely stalled in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic created massive uncertainty amongst professional franchises, venue developers, and local governments. For perhaps the first time, the ability of sports venues to host large crowds safely and the reliability of event-related revenue was in question.

The market has rebounded in the past year based primarily on increased demand and heightened expectations for live events and entertainment intensified by the pandemic. In addition, ballooning media rights deals in professional and collegiate sports, new investment from private developers taking advantage of a favorable financing environment and the proven success of multi-purpose venues in creating new and diverse revenue streams have experts predicting a building boom over the next few years.

Photo: Kelly Gavin / Texas Rangers

Multi-purpose Venues and Mixed-use Developments

This coming wave of new sports venues will likely continue pre-pandemic trends, which included strategies to maximize revenue both inside and outside the venue walls. The primary goal of many new projects is to deliver a truly multi-purpose venue capable of anchoring a mixed-use development or entertainment district to draw crowds before and after events. Venues are being designed strategically to complement and sustain surrounding entertainment, retail, hotel, and office space by attracting a wide variety of events, a diverse array of fans and customers, and maximizing the number of event dates.

For example, SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, anchors the 298-acre Hollywood Park. The stadium is home to two National Football League teams—the Chargers and the Rams. The area currently includes five acres of green space and the 6,000-seat YouTube Theater. In time, a 300-room hotel, nearly 5 million square feet of office space, 890,000 square feet of retail and restaurants, and 2,500 residences will be constructed.

With the increased emphasis on concerts and other touring acts in particular, every new venue must be purposefully designed to attract and accommodate top performers and massive crowds, not just on game days, but throughout the year and across a wide range of events and attractions.

Developers and entertainment agencies are leading many of these projects during design and construction, driving new business to the venues once complete.

Texas Live! in Arlington, Texas, is an entertainment district that includes a wide array of restaurants as well as mixed-use residential, and hotel accommodations that cater to a broad assortment of game day experiences. Situated between AT&T Stadium, Globe Life Field, and Choctaw Stadium (previously known as Globe Life Park), Texas Live! is open year-round and includes over 200,000 square feet of space as well as a 5,000-seat outdoor event pavilion.

Photo: © Richard Ebbers, Design by Gensler in partnership with RINKA

Designing for Concerts

Sports facilities must be designed with the fan experience in mind, but multi-purpose venues must be conceived with a specific focus on the experience of the performers, convenient access for stage crews, and on proportioning the seating bowl to maximize and enhance end-stage performance viewing.

The new 10,000-seat Acrisure Arena, a multi-purpose sports and entertainment venue in Palm Desert, California, is a game-changer for entertainment in the region. More than just the future home of the Coachella Valley Firebirds of the American Hockey League, the arena has been conceived as both a concert venue and a rehearsal facility for world-class acts prior to national tours, and boasts the rigging capacity, talent accommodations and loading dock access to attract premier live music performances as well as host multiple athletic events.

The 270-degree seating bowl with retractable seating at the stage end is designed strategically to maximize the number of seats for stage end shows and minimize obstructed view seats commonly located behind the stage. Rather than a center-hung scoreboard, the venue also features a massive video board at the stage end to eliminate any interruptions to the continuous and highly flexible 200,000 lbs. capacity rigging grid.

© Richard Ebbers, Design by Gensler in partnership with RINKA

High-performing, high-capacity rigging grids that provide additional rigging locations and better access, support a wide variety of loading configurations, and enable a show to be loaded and unloaded quickly are critical to ensuring that a venue can transition smoothly from one event to the next.

Because concerts are becoming more immersive and dynamic, arena roof structures are being tested with each new tour due to heavier and more numerous structural loads, often loads that move, and are distributed over much larger areas than ever before. Designers of long-span roofs can no longer simply plan for a one-size-fits-all, distributed show rigging allowance. Instead, they must consider a myriad of theatrical lighting and sound requirements, current and future trends in rigging methods and preferences, and the importance of rapid transitions between successive events.

Venues that opened as recently as 10 to 15 years ago were often conceived with designated rigging grids concentrated over the center and end stages only, with capacities of 100,000 to 120,000 lbs. Those grids are now proving inadequate, as today’s heaviest arena shows—including Kanye West, Drake, and Game of Thrones—can exceed 250,000 lbs. with loads distributed widely across the entire venue roof structure.

Many venues are now looking to increase their rigging grid capacity and coverage through detailed structural analysis, the addition of rigging beams, and—if necessary—strengthening of their primary roof structures. In planning a new facility, owners should consider proportioning their rigging grid to extend across the entire event floor, be configured for optimum speed and accessibility, and provide far more capacity than they think they’ll need. The construction costs associated with additional capacity and coverage are nominal, making it much wiser to build it now than to retrofit later.

Distinct Bowl Design

Multi-purpose venues must also be strategically planned and proportioned for a variety of uses, with a focus on alternative or unconventional seating bowl configurations, premium amenities that reflect local demand and target demographics, and the flexibility to accommodate future modifications that reflect changing fan preferences. Often this means new venues that are smaller in terms of capacity, but much more diverse in the types of premium and ancillary spaces surrounding the action. 

Seating bowl structures and concourses, for example, must be designed with the understanding that any section at any level may be converted in the future to something entirely new.

Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, which opened in 2020, is a 40,000-seat Major League Baseball Park and home to the Texas Rangers. The seven-tier seating bowl provides distinctive front row experiences for each respective tier.

The first row of the seating bowl at the field level is seven feet closer to the field, the second tier is 14 feet closer, and the upper bowl seating tier is 23 feet closer compared to the Rangers’ old ballpark. In order to keep fans in the seating bowl comfortable, a retractable ethylene tetrafluoroethylene roof provides a climate-controlled ballpark during inclement weather but also the ability for an open-air atmosphere during pleasant weather.

The Next Generation

For the next generation of fans, the ultimate game day experience is about social connection, and the challenge for sports franchises and venue designers is to constantly reinvent that experience and provide a connection to the event that cannot be matched at home.

Opened in 2018, Fiserv Forum, home of the National Basketball Association’s Milwaukee Bucks is a prime example of the enhanced gameday experience—even when the team is not playing at their iconic home. During the 2021 NBA Finals, the 30-acre Deer District which surrounds Fiserv Forum, was the epicenter for away-game viewing parties for Bucks fans. Attendance in the Deer District peaked when on July 20, 2021, nearly 65,000 people gathered to watch the Bucks win the NBA Championship—generating close to $6 million in revenue for Deer District businesses on a single day and over $70 million total during the Bucks’ 2021 playoff season.

The trend to create unique and authentic experiences will only continue as venues conceive new strategies for attracting fans and accommodating a wider variety of events. Perhaps the greatest challenge for designers over the next several years is to find that balance between flexibility and authenticity—between conceiving a facility that can easily accommodate any event, but also provide a custom-designed, event-specific all-day experience for every fan that is centered around entertainment and mixed-use development.


Bart Miller is the National Sports Market Leader and a senior principal at Walter P Moore. He can be reached at bmiller@walterpmoore.com.

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