Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium opens in a matter of months, Liverpool’s main stand is captivating supporters and Crystal Palace have been given permission for a new £100m development to Selhurst Park.
Football stadiums are pushing the boundaries of innovation. So what does the future hold? What could your team’s stadium look like in 10 years time?
Leading sports architect John Rhodes from HOK takes us through some mind-boggling ideas…
As the quality of football coverage increases on television, John Rhodes explains that stadiums are having to offer more to convince fans to attend a match live.
“We’ve got this sofa v stadium arms race developing. The way people consume sport now is very much driven by replays, data and technical detail. With wi-fi, stadiums are now being able to deliver that content, which is very exciting. It means you can get a replay on your phone – and have the atmosphere.
“People are spending less on ‘stuff’ and more on ‘experience’. Stadium and sport is no different. The experience of going to a stadium in the future is not just going to be a pie and a pint. That could be the heart of the experience but people will expect more quality, more diverse products and more things around the sport that will entertain them.”
THE BIRDS EYE VIEW
Football stadiums could have seats directly above the pitch (as shown in the CGI image above).
A similar piece of infrastructure is already in place at the new Detroit Red Wings ice hockey arena and Rhodes believes the idea will be adopted in football before long.
“There is a suite level that is over the field of play so you can have a birds-eye-view of the ice hockey happening below. It is truly tremendous and you can really see how the game is operating – a very different experience. This is probably 300-400 seats in itself.”
A suspended gondola-like structure could move from one end of the stadium to the other during the game, offering a changing perspective.
Rhodes has other ideas to make certain seats special.
“That may well be a unique view of the changing areas: the bunker suite – access to the players that nobody else can get anywhere near – or it may be you are at the back of the bowl but that you get a fridge with your area where you can get drinks or additional food service.”
THE PITCH SCREEN
Technology is being developed to weave fibre optics into the grass so that replays could be displayed on the pitch itself.
Rhodes: “The field of play itself has to be more dynamic. In the future there may be opportunity to bring real time replays to the pitch surface that no-one else can experience unless you are in that stadium. In the sofa v stadium arms race it is that unique experience that people will want.”
Forget special glasses for every fan – the image would be visible with the naked eye. But how could the replays be shown without distracting the players?
“There are natural breaks within sport. In Rugby there are breaks in play where scrummages are set and when there are injuries.
“In football, after a goal there is a moment of celebration time where you could create additional content. You could see the replay of people moving across the pitch, mapping how the try [or goal] was scored. Then at half time there’s that opportunity to celebrate the highlights.”
Yes, you did read that right.
Creating areas for groups of friends to gather while at the stadium is seen as key to improving the overall enjoyment of the match experience.
Ideas include having a dedicated bar-like space within the stadium, to which drones would deliver pre-ordered food and drinks.
This would remove the need for food shops serving queues of fans, freeing up space.
The traditional seating banks in the stands could also be adapted to allow fans to experience the matchday in groups of friends.
Technology is enhancing the offer for those with disabilities.
As in-stadium wi-fi improves, content can be more easily provided to fans in the stands.
Rhodes: “For people with a visual disability there is an opportunity to stream live commentary of the game to them. But at the same time they can still experience the real energy of being at that stadium, the atmopshere, which is unique.”
Developers are also working to bring commentary to those with hearing impairments, in the form of subtitles that would appear on an electronic tablet.
It sounds counter-intuitive but clubs are now weighing up the value of increased capacity when designing new stadiums.
Rhodes explains why: “Most of the revenue now is more than likely from TV rights, advertising and sponsorship.”
As the proportion of a club’s income from ticket sales decreases, there is less of a financial need to maximise its stadium capacity.
Rhodes adds: “Clubs are focussing more on a unique product within that stadium and enhancing that atmosphere so you can feel it – that is the unique experience which is different to watching it at home.
“In the US we are actually taking seats out of stadiums that had a significant capacity and creating a new, diverse product that can retail at a higher rate.”
As part of this shift, the ‘kop’ is becoming more popular – as evidenced by Tottenham Hotspur including one in their new stadium.
Rhodes: “Dortmund is incredible. The idea of a big wall of people where there is no opportunity for energy to leak out is really exciting and something we are all focussing on.”
So if a unique, atmospheric experience is key to the stadiums of the future, what is the best atmosphere Rhodes himself has ever experienced?
“I was lucky enough to go and watch Portsmouth v Doncaster recently. It was a wet rainy day. The atmosphere was incredible. The Fratton end, the intensity of the people there and their passion took the side through to draw that game even though they were two men down, was really exceptional. That is a very traditional stadium but the fan base there is really quite something to watch.”
John Rhodes helped design the Mercedes-Benz stadium, home to the Atlanta Falcons NFL team. He describes the wrap-around big screen as a “breathtaking” example of how technological innovation adds to the matchday experience.