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Creating the Premium Fan Experience

August 28, 2013

This blog post was written by architect Matthew Buchanan.

Take a look across the sports architecture landscape and you’ll notice several trends emerging. Chief among them: the facilities “arms race” and creating the premium fan experience. As athletic departments face fiscal and technological challenges, their priority remains filling their seats with fans – and keeping fans in those seats requires much more than just winning games.

Your favorite school may be in the midst of, planning, or even just dreaming of facility expansion and you have probably heard from your alma mater, seeking money to support a capital campaign. While raising money can be a challenge, the payoff comes in spades as supporters continue to buy in (literally and figuratively!) year after year. And the way they keep you buying in? By coming up with new and creative ways to improve the fan experience.

Kansas State University Stadium1-690_AECOM
photo courtesy of AECOM

Traditional chair back club levels and air-conditioned suites no longer define premium seating. Sure – these mainstays have soldiered on and continue to be featured in both professional arenas and college stadiums, but these days there is more to the premium experience than special seats. Many professional and college teams are experimenting with creating a lifestyle around being a dedicated fan, and creativity reigns supreme when it comes to determining how to tap into fans’ pocket books.

photo courtesy of AECOM

That “in-stadium fan lifestyle” is becoming increasingly difficult to define and provide. As regional coverage goes by the wayside and more channels gain television rights and our television sets become bigger and the picture more highly defined, the at-home fan experience becomes more and more enticing. Who wants to wait until halftime so you can stand in line at the bathroom or try and balance drinks and snacks while weaving your way through a crowd when you can be at home enjoying the game(s) of your choice with a refrigerator full of food, a thermostat set to your preferred temperature, and no lines in sight.

Athletic Directors have realized that with the right mix of creativity and capital, they can draw fans back into the stadium by enhancing the fan experience on a multitude of levels. This engagement encourages new alumni as well as big donors to donate and renew their involvement year after year. Through multiple giving levels, your school wants to give you the option to decide how unique you want your fan experience will be. Universities have begun to institute stadium perks that allow more fans to be treated like big donors.

photo courtesy of 360 Architects

Do you want to be at field level or courtside, close to the action? Or would you rather be further away in order to see plays develop? Would you prefer to be away from the rowdy student section? Maybe you’d most like to sit in an open-air suite adjacent to an air-conditioned room filled with televisions and a buffet just behind you. Regardless of your preference, there are now options at many price points to appease nearly every fan’s wishes.

photo courtesy of AECOM

There are many ways in which an average season ticket holder can take advantage of the creative ways universities and owners are trying to upgrade the fan experience. One common practice is a foundation donation, which allows you to to keep your seat and your priority level. There are other options, too; with an additional fee, you can lease back-padded chair seats for the season instead of lugging your own cushion inside the stadium. Club-level space and the access of those spaces has adapted as well; once, your donation would dictate seat location or club access, now you can both keep your regular seat and gain access to a club space. There is an added fee but it is not nearly the cost of an entire seat move to a location with traditional club-level access.

photo courtesy of 360 Architects

For years fans have tried to create a stadium experience with amenities that mimic their favorite at-home features. Within the tailgating area of any stadium across the country there is an assortment of RVs, televisions, chairs, and favorite foods – all there so fans can combine the comfort of home with the excitement of their favorite team’s game day atmosphere. Emerging trends in stadium design reflect that universities and owners are taking note, and trying to bring that much sought after combination of comfort and excitement inside the stadium.