Stadiums are no longer being built for one sport. It's easy to see why: Driving by an empty Mile High and seeing 3.4 million square feet of space being unused for much of the year is incredibly disheartening. That space cost taxpayers $300 million and it's hardly ever used. There are very few negative things I will ever even think about Pat Bowlen, but his threat to take the team out of Denver unless he got his stadium will always be a sore spot for me. He was a great owner, but even great men can do wrong, and that was one of those instances.
But a new owner with deep pockets could rectify this lone irritation. And looking at stadiums around the world, the future is exciting (and a little bit scary).
Let's start off with the good. Wired teamed up with Sports Illustrated to take a look at what the future of football might look like. Here's their episode on stadiums.
The part that sticks out most to me is the line that one major stadium architect thinks the best stadium would be no stadium at all. The stadium would go up for the game and come down afterwards. The venue is just a part of the downtown. It's its own neighborhood complete with restaurants, bars, shopping, parks and hotels that converts into a stadium on game days. All of those businesses are open year round and the stadium turns into a public square.
Here's Neil DeGrasse Tyson hosting a show on the future. This episode talks a whole lot about the technology factor, which I'll get into later, but they also bring up how the future is focused more on the fans. It's all about our experience. From phone antennas installed under seats to the screens/displays, everything is built with the intent of getting you out of your house. And since there's a finite number of people who can get into the stadium, the campus also becomes a major driver with fan parks outside.
I don't know about you, but I would love to watch a game on jumbo screens mounted on towers outside of the stadium. Tailgating has always been a blast, and having that be its own experience on gameday would be just fine with me. Not to mention, having stores for my wife and kids to go shop in if the game isn't going so great wouldn't be a bad thing either!
But beyond this evolution from wasted space to a year-round destination, technology is making leaps and bounds in affecting the experience. Here's a look from Visa on where we're at. Digital tickets, ordering from apps to your seat, monitoring lines and wait times... That's all already here. And like the Tyson video discussed, they can also track vehicles and parking spaces. A stadium parking garage could use screens to navigate you to an open parking stall. Screens around the stadium could start navigating you to bathrooms with shorter lines or concession stands that have shorter wait times. These are all here.
What's scary is where it's going. Here's an article on the future of stadium technology. Stadiums in the future will be technological fortresses. Facial recognition, crowd control systems, data-gathering, and artificial intelligence. This will all likely be too far into the future for a new Broncos stadium to feature, but it also might be built with these future upgrades in mind. Imagine scanning your face and linking it to your ticket before going to the game. The technology is already here (in order to get my past tax information, I had to go through a very similar process with a web cam). The good: You walk right into the stadium with no line. You don't worry about money or cards when getting concessions. Anyone who has been banned from the stadium is kept out and threats security is stronger than anything we've ever witnessed. The stadium watches and monitors you from the second you arrive to the second you leave. They'll be able to personalize your experience... and also likely sell your data, too. New stadium or not, this is likely the future no matter how much we might despise it. A new stadium will definitely give ownership a chance to be first to implement it though.
But, to end on a happier note, there's one main feature many of these links discuss that I've somewhat passed over. Yes, the campus will be multi-use... but more and more we're seeing stadium transforming in incredible ways to serve multiple purposes themselves. SCX developed the world's first retractable turf. 11,000 U.S. tons can be rolled in and pieced together in three sections. We could have a natural grass turf in the stadium, roll it out and transform it into an area for basketball and hockey (Avs and Nuggets happen to be owned by family). Normal sized concerts that don't require an entire stadium could all be featured in this one public destination. Just look at how stadiums can be transformed now and the potential is massive. The profitability of such a campus has to be off the charts (at least compared to the current stadium). And by replacing both Mile High and Ball stadium with one venue... there's so much more land to develop, so many more businesses to build.
If Rob Walton follows Stan Kroenke's example, this could all be paid for without one taxpayer dollar. And he could still profit massively from it. So-Fi is a city within a city. It's 298, which is 3.5 times bigger than Disneyland. Even something half that size could turn the area into a public gathering spot and tourist destination. With gambling becoming more acceptable, toss in a casino and let people make microbets on the games. Toss in a movie theater and other entertainment options. Seriously, if I could visit Denver, have a hotel next to the stadium and enough entertainment for the wife and kids before the game without having to drive all around the city, it would be phenomenal.
That's where stadium design is going. If Rob Walton is going to build us a new stadium, these are going to be the things he has in mind. There's plenty here to be excited about and also some to be nervous about. But the number one factor is that I seriously doubt he'll demand any money to build this area. This would be an overall real estate deal to him and one that would make sense without having to anger the taxpayers. With the richest owner in the league and the new trend of catering to the fanbase... I think we have a lot to be excited about.