Kickoff is looming. The Minnesota Vikings prepare to take the field at U.S. Bank Stadium, the $1 billion palatial wonder that opened last year in downtown Minneapolis. With its colossal transparent ceiling and 95-foot swinging glass doors, the luminous stadium is a testament to both the storied franchise and the grandiosity of America’s most beloved game.
The Vikings exit the locker room, pacing the walkway of the Delta Sky360 Club through a sea of screaming purple-clad fans, who are so close they can feel the intensity—the pregame tension brimming to the surface. Some fans reach out to fist-bump the players, but most simply look on in awe, reveling in their proximity to the Nordic warriors at such a crucial moment.
The Vikings take the field—and so do you. Your Turf Club Suite sits 25 feet from the playing field, among the closest seats in all of the NFL. The opulent club suite, located adjacent to the home team bench, offers all the luxuries a football fan could ask for: an inclusive food and beverage menu, three large HD televisions and the conveniences of a full-service concierge staff. After the game, you will receive unprecedented access to postgame interviews with the players and coaching staff through a glass partition in the Sky360 Club.
U.S. Bank is only the most recent example in the proliferation of the NFL’s super stadiums—billion-dollar architectural marvels constructed to serve as the grandest stages in sports and entertainment. Innovative in both design and function, these futuristic coliseums are using advanced technologies and progressive business strategies to recreate the 21st-century fan experience.
Most would trace the phenomenon back to Arlington, Texas, where, in 2009, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones built his behemoth AT&T Stadium. The first NFL stadium to exceed $1 billion in construction costs, the home of the Cowboys wowed spectators with its sheer size and a 60-yard television monitor that at the time was the largest HDTV in the world. In 2011, just two years after AT&T opened, the stadium hosted Super Bowl XLV. Cities and franchises across the country are now keen on adopting the Jones doctrine: If you build it, the Super Bowl will come.
From 1995 to 2005, 16 NFL stadiums opened, but only three—Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium, Detroit’s Ford Field and Houston’s NRG Stadium—hosted the Super Bowl within four years of their inaugural seasons. Just six NFL stadiums opened between 2006 to 2017, yet all of them won bids to host Super Bowls within the same amount of time. Minnesota will host Super Bowl LII this season with Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles following in 2019, 2020 and 2022, respectively.
“We think we’ve created some staggeringly beautiful buildings, but the real selling point is fan experience and revenue,” says Bryan Trubey, executive VP and director of sports and entertainment for HKS Architects, the design firm behind the AT&T and U.S. Bank stadiums as well as a venue currently in development in Los Angeles. “The sports business is one of the last frontiers as architects, and we’ve learned to approach buildings as a consumer design business, which has led to spending significantly more time developing every aspect of the building’s interior and exterior.”
U.S. Bank’s Turf Suites and the Delta Sky360 experience were the brainchildren of HKS. In designing AT&T Stadium and the Indianapolis Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium, the company became the first architects to place premium seats going down to the front row. HKS has a proven track record for avant-garde design, but it’s the value proposition that brings in business. Its design proposals are supported with market research and place a high stake on premium seating and sponsorship placements, ensuring long-term value.
Revenue-focused proposals allow previously unheard of investments by franchises and municipalities, which in turn gives the architects more freedom to innovate, making NFL stadiums some of the most prestigious large-scale designs in the nation today.
U.S. Bank Stadium
Hosting Super Bowl LII in 2018
Estimated Cost: $1.1 billion
Call it fate or a message from the Norse gods, but when the roof of Minnesota’s Metrodome collapsed beneath 17 inches of snow pack in December of 2010, causing $22 million in damages, it was an affirmation of two things: downtown Minneapolis was in desperate need of a new football stadium—and a dome wasn’t the way to go.
Given Minnesota’s frigid climate, an expensive retractable roof wouldn’t have made a worthwhile investment. That forced the franchise to find an innovative (but hard to pronounce) solution: ethylene tetrafluoroethylene.
ETFE, as it is more commonly known, is a lightweight, but durable, clear plastic. Developed for aeronautics, it became popular as a roofing material. It now covers Germany’s Alianz soccer arena and the “water cube” at the Olympics facility in Beijing. The U.S. Bank Stadium marked the debut of an ETFE roof as part of a sports complex in the United States, and its extensive use (248,000 square feet) makes it the largest of its kind in the world. The material’s transparency provides ample light inside the stadium, while layers of foil in each panel reduce the greenhouse effect on warm afternoons.
But it was snow, not heat, that brought the previous stadium down. To prevent accumulation the roof was constructed at an angle, which gives the stadium exterior a unique esthetic. Some have even speculated that the slanted ceiling serves a strategic purpose, as the acute angle of the roof lies above the visiting sideline and directs much of the noise from the stadium at the Viking’s opponents.
Transparent ETFE lets in so much natural light that the Vikings recommend bringing sunglasses to afternoon games. Complement that with five of the largest glass doors in the world to open during warm-weather games, and the indoor stadium suddenly has an outdoor vibe.
Premium seating is a hot commodity nowadays and U.S. Bank’s offerings are comprehensive, with options at virtually any angle. Want red zone action? Go for the Touchdown Suites by the east end zone. Prefer the all-encompassing view at midfield? The Norseman and Norseman Lounge Suites run between the 20-yard lines on the first level of the stadium. And if you simply want to get as close to the action as possible, the Turf Suites put you right on the field, mere feet from the Viking’s bench.
Hosting Super Bowl LIII in 2019
Estimated Cost: $1.6 billion
Just as football players are commonly described as modern gladiators, stadiums are often compared to ancient coliseums. But in designing the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta, HOK architects drew inspiration from a different Roman relic: the oculus, or circular opening, in the dome of the Pantheon.
Eight ETFE panels in the shape of falcon wings expand and retract inside of the oculus like a camera’s aperture in less than 12 minutes.
The oculus as the centerpiece of the design creates a novel appearance for both the interior and exterior—a design requirement for the Falcons. “We were not in the business of building a better Georgia Dome,” says Falcons CEO and president Rich McKay, alluding to the former home of Atlanta football. “We wanted to change the game in design and fan experience.”
Beneath the oculus lies a circular LED screen that the Falcons are calling a “halo display.” It stands 58 feet tall and measures 1,075 feet around, three times larger than any display in professional football. “If you laid the screen flat and stood it up, it would be taller than any skyscraper in downtown Atlanta,” says McKay.
But the franchise wanted more than a majestic edifice that would look good on TV. The interior design had to be focused on optimizing the stadium experience. “Anything we do starts with talking to our fans and conducting research based on their suggestions,” says Mike Gomes, the Falcons’ senior VP of fan experience.
A council of 1,000 fans provide feedback on all aspects of the stadium, from food, to the lines at the bathroom and gate giveaways. “We made the seats bigger, made it possible to circumnavigate the building no matter what type of ticket you had,” says McKay. But, as any experienced spectator may have guessed, one overwhelming concern dominated fan suggestions: the price of concessions. In a move that has drawn just as much attention as the building itself, Mercedes-Benz Stadium has announced it will be offering the lowest food and drink prices in all of sports: $2 hot dogs, $3 peanuts, $5 beers, and $2 soft drinks with free, self-service refills that will add value and shorten concession lines. A “whole-dollar” pricing policy will make transactions easier and more efficient.
Atlanta is also making it a priority to get fans as close to the action as possible. Premium seats at the 40-yard line on the first level have access to nearly 60 yards of the sideline behind each bench. Those fans can walk directly onto the sidelines and into a special club area beneath their seats.
The franchise has made a conscious effort to reduce the number of media and team affiliates standing behind the goal posts in order to reduce obstructed views for the 16 end-zone suites. Loge Suites are located in each corner of the field where the end zone meets the sideline, as well as traditional boxes on the 200 and 300 levels.
The fans weren’t the only consultants for the Falcons’ new stadium. Atlanta sought advice from the NFL several times throughout the design process to ensure Mercedes-Benz Stadium could accommodate the biggest game in sports. “The stadium was constructed entirely for mega events like the Super Bowl,” says Gomes, citing field and seating flexibility and broadcast capabilities that have been “tricked out to the nines.” But if you were to ask of the Atlanta Falcons what was the one key to building a Super Bowl–location-caliber stadium, they would offer a simple answer:
“The most basic but important factor was the placement of the stadium in the heart of Atlanta,” says Gomes, remarking that more space for far less money was available on the outskirts of town. But the Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank remained adamant on keeping the stadium close to the city’s tourism areas, including its 10,000 hotel rooms and Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which is the busiest airport in the world. Atlanta’s population rose to nearly 5.8 million last year—among the fastest-growing cities in the country—and the franchise is already looking to the future.
“We don’t want to host a Super Bowl,” says Rich McKay. “We want to host Super Bowls.”
Hard Rock Stadium
Hosting Super Bowl LIV in 2020
Estimated Cost of Renovation: $500 million
Joe Robbie Stadium was the dated home of the Miami Dolphins since the late 1980s. But thanks to a half-a-billion-dollar, multiyear renovation, Hard Rock Stadium—as it is now known—bears no resemblance to its past iterations.
At the center of it all is a massive 626,000-square-foot canopy that was installed before the start of the 2016 season. The covering, composed of ETFE and 17,000 tons of steel, puts more than 90 percent of Hard Rock Stadium’s seats in the shade—and away from the relentless south Florida sun. The covered areas can enjoy temperatures that are reduced by an incredible 20 to 30 degrees.
In 2020, the Miami area will host the Super Bowl for a record-breaking 11th time. But without the vision of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who has privately funded the modernization of Hard Rock Stadium, such a feat would have never been possible.
“The league said Miami won’t get another Super Bowl without the redesign,” says Ross, a real-estate developer responsible for such major projects as New York City’s Time Warner Center and the ongoing Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project. He was determined to not only make a new home for the Miami Dolphins and University of Miami Hurricanes, but to bring a world-renowned entertainment center to south Florida.
In July, Hard Rock Stadium hosted the internationally recognized El Clasico rivalry soccer game between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Ross has also made public his desire to bring the Miami Open tennis tournament to the stadium. The venue also has the flexibility to host festivals, premier music tours and—of course—the big game itself.
“They don’t pay us anything to host a Super Bowl,” says Ross, speaking on the importance of having an event space like this in Miami. “But it’s an economic boost for the area and it benefits the city as a whole, so you do it as a citizen.”
This season, renovations to suites and premium seating doubled Hard Rock’s unique offerings from eight to 16. The number of seats overall for regular season games fell from 76,000 to 65,000, but now the stands are as close as 56 feet from the field in a stadium that once had some of the most distant vantages in the NFL. The landscaping on the stadium grounds has also been thoroughly redesigned. “When you approach the stadium it’s going to feel like you’re walking into a five-star resort,” says Ross.
The new 72 Club contains nearly 600 double-padded lounge seats that would fit into a living room decor. Fans with access to the 72 Club can walk on the sideline at any time to reach private club access that comes with the ticket. Seating experiences are similar for fans with tickets in the field clubs (Ford Field Club and Atos Field Club Presented by EMC2), which offer an incredible perspective in the front row behind the end zone.
“It used to be you had a lower deck, club seats and an upper deck. Today people are more sophisticated, so we’re appealing to them with a more diversified offering,” says Ross, adding that there’s now more space for standing areas, concessions concourses and clubs. “People aren’t just looking to go to a game anymore. They’re looking to go to an experience that includes a game.”
Los Angeles Rams & Chargers
Hosting Super Bowl LVI in 2022
Estimated Cost Upon Completion: $2.6 billion
After decades without an NFL team, Los Angeles now has two. In 2016 the Rams returned after 21 years in St. Louis. This year, the former San Diego Chargers headed back to the city that spawned them. And the stadium that will soon serve them may be the largest spectacle in all of pro sports.
A 70,000-seat football stadium, a 6,000-seat performance center, 1.5 million square feet of office and retail space, 300 hotel rooms and 2,500 residences means L.A. isn’t just building a football arena, it’s building a city within a city.
“The pattern you’ve seen with our venues will be progressive—from Lucas Oil, AT&T and U.S. Bank to L.A.,” says HKS Architects executive Bryan Trubey. Many of the details of the stadium are still unknown, but something big is happening.
HKS is again tapping ETFE, this time for an 18-acre, wave-like canopy over the stadium. The sides of the building will be open, creating a feeling very similar to what HKS has done in Minnesota, while taking advantage of the climate in Southern California.
The new stadium was originally intended to open in 2019 and host the Super Bowl in 2021. But record rainfall in the southern California area this year forced a construction delay.
Many predict the city’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics to be a sure thing, making a multiuse venue more crucial than ever. And from the looks of it, there isn’t an event in the world too large for this future crown jewel of Los Angeles.
Las Vegas Stadium
Las Vegas Raiders
Estimated Cost Upon Completion: $1.9 billion
When the Oakland Raiders move to Sin City for the 2020 season they will set up shop in Paradise, Nevada, closely neighboring the Las Vegas Strip. Little is known about the stadium, but renderings released by MANICA Architecture show a transparent roof covering a horseshoe-shaped venue that opens to views of the Strip. The “glass-domed roof,” as they are calling it, will be accompanied by large operable walls at the side of the venue, similar to the design of the U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vegas stadium is designed to fit 65,000, and the proposal says it can be expanded to 72,000. Nothing is official yet, but given the city’s access to entertainment and hotels, the odds of a Sin City Super Bowl seem pretty good.