The real home advantage: how stadiums drive sports teams’ success

VIP seat at the Miami Dolphin's stadium
At Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium, there are 11 different seating options, including the 72 Club. Photo: Miami Dolphins

“It’s making sure that the fan is entertained from the minute they get there to the minute they leave, for the entire day even”

James O’Neil, Cushman & Wakefield

The fan experience doesn’t come cheap. Today’s technology-saturated venues are far more expensive to build than their predecessors. “Prices have sky-rocketed,” says James O’Neil, leader of the sports and entertainment practice at Cushman & Wakefield. “Maybe 20 years ago, a new stadium was a field with concrete around it, and parking lots around that. People went to go see that one event and that was pretty much it. Now it’s not just building a stadium, it’s building an entire entertainment district.”Mass transit links are essential and stadiums are more often in central locations, on higher value sites. As the cost and complexity of projects has risen, developers have had to seek additional capital, from lenders who expect a strong return from match-day operations.

So operators need people to come — and to spend money. That has changed the game completely, says Ron Turner, principal and sports leader at Gensler. “The performance of these buildings is extremely important — that’s what drives, in many cases, whether or not you can get a loan to build them in the first place.”

This is a global trend with operators in Europe and Asia all following the US model: a constantly expanding range of amenities and more premium seating. “There’s been a huge shift in how revenue is calculated,” says Turner. “It used to be about selling as many seats as you could, but that’s way down the agenda now. The premium product is the biggest thing that generates revenue, up there with naming rights and sponsorships.”

New stadiums have many more levels and a greater degree of segregation, but also greater freedom of movement. “Standing room is a real trend now,” says Turner. “The younger generation like to move around. We have to provide places where they can text their friends and say, “I’m over here, come on over, we’ll hang for a quarter.’” Advertisers love to attach their brand to these spaces: “Owners may not get as much for the seat, but they get a lot from the sponsorship.”

At Tottenham Hotspur’s new ground in north London, designed by Populous, premium options range from optimal-viewing seats to a £30,000-a-year private members’ club that will store your vintage wines and cognacs. New to the UK, Tottenham’s “loges” seat between four and 10 people in booths overlooking the pitch, with table service. “They sold phenomenally well,” says Chris Lee, managing director EMEA at Populous. “They’re the same price per seat as a box, but you can buy just four of them, which might suit the way you entertain better.”

“Ten or 15 years ago, there were general seats, club seats and suite seats. Now there are usually at least ten different seating experiences: theatre boxes, loge seats, field club seats, club and restaurant seats, in-bowl dining seats …”

David Manica

The regular fan experience is intended to keep people coming back again and again. “Even the cheapest season ticket is expensive,” Lee adds, “so we should be giving them a fantastic experience. UK football or soccer fans might go to 26-29 games a year, so you want to be able to do different things depending on whether you’re going with your friends, your partner, your children or a client. It’s about designing and curating phenomenal experiences, rather than designing a beautiful, iconic building and then trying to fit everything into it.”

A team’s ground can play a crucial role in its fortunes on the pitch too. Broadcast revenues are fixed, and players’ salaries set by an increasingly global market as sports such as soccer, American football and basketball expand into new territories. But income from ticket sales and match-day spending can vary dramatically — and help to drive results. “Stadiums are a differentiator between club A and club B,” says Lee. “Stadium revenues become a huge part of the business plan because it’s the one piece they can modify. When you’ve got £50m more a year to spend, that can enable you to buy better players and therefore do better on the field.”

When London football club Arsenal moved from its historic Highbury ground to the Emirates Stadium in 2006, match-day revenues doubled from £42m to £90m

People drinking and eating at the Tottenham Stadium in London before the game
The bar at Tottenham Hotspur's new London ground serves keenly priced beer from its own on-site microbrewery. Photo: Hufton+Crow

Food and drink is luring fans in earlier, and keeping them longer

From fine dining to family meal deals, everything’s available in today’s most advanced venues. Food and beverage has traditionally been a big earner for stadium owners, but an underwhelming aspect of the fan experience. Now they are taking a more strategic approach, so that dining at the venue becomes a choice rather than a grudging last resort.

“People are demanding it,” says Turner. “You have to have really good kitchens, and really good chefs providing quality food. Each event is a different kind of opportunity from a food and beverage standpoint, and every building is taking advantage of that now. So the buildings need a much more sophisticated back-of-house.”

Tottenham Hotspur’s new ground has a Michelin-calibre restaurant, but also beer priced to match local pubs and a microbrewery on site. “We’re selling out of beer every game,” says Lee. “People are coming two-and-a-half or three hours early, and they’re staying for two-and-a-half or three hours after the game. It’s not this massive rush getting there five minutes before and leaving five minutes before the end.”

The future of entertainment

the future of entertainment in neon lighting

Welcome to a world of 24/7 stadiums, shape-shifting sports pitches, alternative-reality theme parks, and tours by dead rock stars. It’s going to be one hell of a ride …

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The Axalta Spa Cabanas at the Jacksonville Jaguars' Florida ground - people in a spa while watching the game
The Axalta Spa Cabanas at the Jacksonville Jaguars' Florida ground. Photo: Jacksonville Jaguars

Bored of the action? No problem …

  • At State Farm Arena in Atlanta, basketball fans can get a shave or a haircut in the courtside barbershop, or practise their swing in a TopGolf driving range simulator overlooking the arena.
  • Lucky Jacksonville Jaguars fans can stay cool in the Axalta Spa Cabanas, a two-level space with video screens, bars and two large wading pools with prime views of the field.
  • Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena has built a massive, high-end sports bar across the road, with a 39ft HD big screen and rave reviews for its food, ambience and service on Tripadvisor. “Being in that space is actually more exciting than the stadium itself because it’s such a highly charged environment,” says Albert Paquette, principal at Architecture49. If you can get a table, that is.
red chair in a lounge at a stadium

Photo: State Farm Arena

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