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Designing the Perfect NFL Stadium

Scott Carasik@ScottCarasikContributor IIJune 3, 2013

ARLINGTON, TX - FEBRUARY 01:  A view of Cowboys Stadium with outside before Super Bowl XLV Media Day on February 1, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. The Dallas area was hit with winter weather late yesterday evening causing road and school closures in the area.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Let's design the most amazing stadium known to man. And let's give it to an NFL team.

When looking at designs of the most recent stadiums to be built around the league, that seems to be the most common theme. Make it awesome. Make it unique. And make it perfect for that team.

As a former civil engineering major from The Citadel, I took many classes related to the construction of a stadium. Honestly, I originally wanted to become an architectural engineer—the same thing Andrew Luck majored in while at Stanford.

When initiating a design project, I look back to what Dr. Plemmons said in project management class, "Start from the ground up," was the main message. The "ground up" in this case is the impact to the economy, where to place the stadium and more than that? 

The design.

To design the perfect NFL stadium, it's wise to focus on some of the most important aspects of building a unique, intricate coliseum. These include sight lines, how the stadium can convert to other events, the sound design and most importantly, how it fits the team that will be playing in it.

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Economics

So, you want to have this amazing new stadium. That's great! 

But the first thing you need is the capital to finish the project. You also need the capital to start the project. That leaves the question of how you fund this massive new project. Oh yeah, you'll need just over $1 billion.

Some teams will opt for public funds if they can get them. While others will try to do a combination of every funding source possible. One of the best examples for how to adequately fund a billion-dollar stadium is the plan that they want to have in Atlanta.

Step 1: Try and get as much public funding as possible.

Atlanta attempted to get $300 million from the city and state. However, they were forced to take less money—$200 million—and owner Arthur Blank had to pledge $50 million to improvements to the area surrounding the Georgia World Congress Center campus.

So that's $200 million of the projected $1.05 billion cost.

Step 2: Get the NFL to help out.

The Falcons applied for assistance from the NFL and received $200 million in funds. These typically come in a loan that the team will have to pay back, but for now, it's extra money.

Now the Falcons are at $400 million of the projected $1.05 billion cost.

Step 3: Try to find a corporate sponsor for naming rights.

The next step for the team is to find a corporate sponsor for it's new retractable roof stadium. Ideally they can raise another $350 million dollars through this, but let's be conservatively optimistic and say the team only gets $300 million from Coca-Cola for the full 30 years of naming rights. Based on past deals for stadium naming rights, $300 million for 30 years is a realistic figure to shoot for.

Now, they would be at $650 million of a projected $1.05 billion dollars. Just $400 million worth of funding to go.

Step 4: The dreaded Personal Seat Licenses—or PSL's. (with an alternative)

The city of Atlanta is completely against personal seat licenses. So is every other franchise's fans. So why do teams always go back to them?

Why would fans sign a contract that says in order to buy season tickets, you have to first get a personal seat license without other benefits?

So here's the solution. Why not sell ownership shares to help build the stadium the same way the Green Bay Packers did? They would be largely symbolic, but you could also sell many more of them.

With over five million people in the Atlanta metro area, if just 50,000 people bought one share for $2,000 each, the team would raise $100 million towards the stadium. They could also have the "State of the Franchise" events with priority seating for "owners" among other fringe benefits that owners would receive.

Overall that additional $100 million dollars to go with the already raised $650 million would leave just $300 million left to fund.

Step 5: Finally come out of pocket.

Let's put it this way. If this plan comes to fruition, the Falcons won't have to rely on much out of their own coffers. $300 million plus whatever the overrun costs are is a minimal amount for the team to pay for a $1 billion palace for at least 30 years. 

If there is one way to fund a stadium, the multiple-prong approach described here is probably the best—but not the easiest—way to go about it.

City Placement

The biggest thing after funding any project is where you are going to place your new giant building. Every city has ideal sites for these over-65-acre—or three million square feet—stadiums.

There is no correct answer for the best place to put one of these bad boys. Honestly, it's easiest to work with the city and figure out the most cost-effective site. Using Dallas as an example, they went through three different municipalities before they finally decided on a site in Arlington.

The idea behind picking a site is making sure it will be big enough for a new stadium. That means over 80 acres of undisturbed and non-requisitioned land—meaning no wetlands, no rivers, no easements, and no eminent domain issues.

The Cowboys decided on a site that is in that 80-acre range, and they finally got their stadium finished after over a decade of issues. They likely had to fight easements and eminent domain issues while they created the site.

Sometimes roads even have to be moved in the middle of a city and, in some cases, historic landmarks may be threatened. It's definitely an issue the Falcons are facing with their site selection, as they may have to buy out a pair of churches that have been in Atlanta for years.

Features That Are Needed

So many questions come when talking about features within these new monoliths. The biggest is what the essentials are within the stadium. So breaking it down to the core, there's the structure—which we will discuss later—seats, vendors, and parking.

When exploring seating, some questions pop up: how many is enough? How many is too much? How should they be oriented towards the field? What type of seats will be put in?

These aren't super tough to answer because of the past stadiums that have been successful. The amount of seating should be between 60,000 to 100,000 depending on where it is located. A population study should easily figure out what the best capacity will be. Suites and a press area should always be worked in, but those normally just get stacked between the first and second or second and third level of a stadium.

Now orienting the stadium towards the field is where the design fun comes in. Ideally, every fan has a great view from midfield to the end zones no matter where in the stadium they sit. Even if they are in the third level, they should have an excellent view of the action.

After seating, the biggest question is the vendors. What kind of food will be sold? What kind of souvenirs or merchandise will be sold?

Since we're designing the perfect NFL stadium, you have to bring in food that isn't just your standard stadium fare. The ideal way to go about it is to have food that fits the city you are in. They should represent the city.

For example, southern cities like Charlotte, Atlanta and Nashville would have excellent Southern foods from barbecue to soul food like fried chicken and mac and cheese. That being said, still serve the standard stadium foods, but also work to find alternatives that are likely to please the locals.

When it comes to souvenirs and merchandise, that's a bit easier. If they make it, the team should sell it. NFL stadiums already have this covered and should just do what they are doing. The only thing that I would add is the ability to buy customized jerseys on the spot.

Once the seating and stadium fare is settled, parking and tailgating areas need to be a part of the design. Right outside of the stadium is the best way to do it. If a parking garage is needed due to the site, just build it. 

Allow tailgating on the top floor and in the lots around the new stadium. It works out well in multiple cities already. You can also never have enough parking. Again, a study is needed for the exact layout and design as every city is unique.

Features That Are Fun to Have

After going over what is needed, let's look at just a couple of things that would be fun to have. While they could range from an aperture style dome opening to a giant video board, there are hundreds of features that I haven't even thought of that could be put into this category.

For the perfect NFL Stadium, we'll just look at a few things. While we could explore the concept of a fantasy football hub or rumble pack seats like the Falcons stadium concepts have shown, I decided that a more conservative approach was needed for the perfect NFL stadium.

The first feature we will look into is the giant video board concept. While Jerry Jones went a bit too far with the "Everything is bigger in Texas!" motto, we would be a bit more conservative. There would definitely be a video board, and ideally, it would be something similar to Jerry's giganto-tron.

It would have multiple displays for the entire stadium to get a good angle for what is on the screen. The ambitious Cowboys owner just went overboard with his screen size. In the ideal stadium, it would be about half the size of those screens but in the same location that Jones put his in.

Another feature that should be explored is a celebration after a touchdown. For the bird-related teams, why not have a trained bird fly around the stadium? For the pirate-style teams, why not have a ship with guns that go off like the Buccaneers have?

Obviously for the Bears or the Lions, it wouldn't make sense to release the live animals into the crowds, but there is a way to set up a celebration for these teams that doesn't involve the live animal. But either way, I would make sure every touchdown or field goal had a dance done by at least the mascot as a minimum. 

The final feature that would be a ton of fun would be the 100-yard bar. This sounds like some half-cocked idea that was designed as a way to peak interest in a new stadium. However, it's going to gain some traction and is legitimately a great idea—for a club-level and even press feature.

It's just a bar that goes the length of the field and can seat people the entire length. How would this be tough to pull off? You could even have four or five levels of this hundred yard bar as part of the club section and create a completely unique perspective.

This could even be where you have the fantasy football nuts sit. They would be able to have a wi-fi hot spot style access to hook into. Even better than that would be an ethernet hook-in at each spot so that people could hook right in with their laptops. But no matter how you cut these features, the perfect NFL stadium would be a ton of fun to be at.

Overall Design

When going over the overall structure design of the stadium, there are many things to consider. 

Starting with the basic structure. do you go with a bowl? How about a horseshoe? Maybe a two-sided stadium?

So many questions on how you can design this thing. Honestly, it all goes down to how the team feels it can create the loudest and best experience in the game. Every team will think a different design is better.

My personal favorite is a lowest level bowl followed by a horseshoe on the top two levels of a three level stadium. Where the opening is, have it face the city or, in the case of a waterfront location, have it face the cove or bay or ocean. Something like Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

How about the roof? Do you go with a dome, open-air, or a retractable roof?

Now here, there's going to be arguments for both the dome and open-air that make sense. However, I will always be the one who says, "Have your cake and eat it too." And in this case, that's the retractable roof option. 

So when it comes to the best possible structure design, the best looks to be something like the Solarium concept for the new Falcons stadium. Mainly because it seems to combine the best of all worlds.

When the stadium is open, it just looks like an open-air bowl stadium with wings that you can see the city of Atlanta from. When closed, you can still see the city and it's a glass barn-style building that can host events in any weather. 

As a whole, stadium design is all about the city architecture around it and the people making the decisions. But when picking out the perfect stadium, give me the Falcons new Solarium concept, and I'll be perfectly happy.

All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus's Premium Stats, ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All contract information is courtesy Spotrac. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.

Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.

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