Regular seven-figure investments will continue to be ploughed into Seattle’s CenturyLink Field in an effort to maintain its “iconic and timeless” appeal, according to David Young, the stadium’s general manager.

Young told TheStadiumBusiness.com at TheStadiumBusiness Summit 2018 that investments in video boards and sound systems, as well as connectivity, would be prioritised over the coming years in order to build on the facility’s reputation for providing a first-class fan experience.

“We’re going to take a look at our sound system,” said Young, who is also senior vice-president of operations at the NFL American football league’s Seattle Seahawks franchise, which plays at the stadium.

“We’ve received feedback from our fans that, particularly upstairs, the sound was a concern for them.

“Last year we invested in enhancing areas where the sound was least well served and that led to a great improvement in terms of fan feedback.

“We’re also looking at video boards. The size of video boards back nearly 20 years ago across our league was not what it is now. The fans are expecting a different experience.

“With our in-stadium visual experience, fans expect a certain amount of information and in recent years we have installed new video boards at both ends of the stadium to supplement what’s already in the building, as well as a 360 LED ribbon around the edge, providing stats and updates.

“We’ll also continue to update Wi-Fi and connectivity throughout the venue.”

Retro-fitting

Young acknowledged that ensuring technology is up to date at the stadium, which is also home to the Seattle Sounders Major League Soccer franchise, has involved “retro-fitting” at the facility over the years.

“It’s really been a commitment every year to go back and reinvest into that connectivity, because that’s something the fans expect. Connectivity is like a utility now – like water or electricity,” he added.

In spite of the ongoing work to upgrade technology features within the stadium since it opened in 2002, Young is adamant that, as a prime destination for fan experience, the venue will stand the test of time, with options to extend the lease beyond 2031.

“Our feeling is that we want this to be an iconic and historic facility that lasts through the ages. It’s our intention to stay in that building as long as we can,” he said.

“It has got such an iconic, timeless look to it and we have been in the fortunate position that we’ve kept the building up very well over the years. So, it might not have all the shiny bells and whistles that they have at the new stadium in Atlanta, for example, but I think the new fan experience is best in class and not matched anywhere.

“The building is coming up to its 20th year of operation. At that point, we’re not just going to be investing in the cool, flashy things, but also non-sexy items like structural systems and air conditioning. We have a regular budget, well into the seven figures, that we annually invest back into the building.”

Catering

In terms of other changes at CenturyLink Field, the decision was taken last year for the stadium’s operator to take catering in-house, ending a partnership with Delaware North.

In the NFL’s 2014 Voice of the Fan survey, CenturyLink Field ranked towards the bottom of the league’s 32 teams in terms of food and beverage. However, having identified that three of the top five teams in the rankings managed their own catering and carried out site visits, focus groups and research, First & Goal Hospitality launched in May last year.

In the latest Voice of the Fan survey, CenturyLink Field had rocketed from No.20 to No.4 in terms of overall satisfaction with catering provisions.

The move in-house has coincided with a rapid increase in the number of non-sports events at the stadium, increasing from about eight to between 30 and 40 concerts per year in the past three years. A total of 64 per cent of the stadium’s revenue is now derived from non-sports events.

“Our main and only reason was to best serve our fans and our guests of clients,” he said. “We just felt that to take it to the next level and create the best fan experience, we needed to do it ourselves.

“I firmly believe the more influence you have on operating areas and the better cohesion between the areas, the better you are going to serve the fans.

“However, we’re fortunate to have a couple of remaining partners within the stadium – in security and cleaning – who are really aligned with our values and are doing a great job, while parking is also managed by a third party.”

Next generation

The Seahawks will get a glimpse into what Young describes as the “next generation” of CenturyLink Field when the team takes on the Oakland Raiders in the first NFL game to take place at English Premier League football club Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium on October 14.

Tottenham has a 10-year partnership with the NFL to stage games at the stadium, starting this year and yesterday (Tuesday) the NFL shield logo was laid on the artificial surface that will sit directly below a retractable grass pitch at the 62,000-seat stadium.

“We look at the Tottenham stadium as very similar to ours in some ways – built as a multi-purpose stadium for football and soccer and with the top technology of the time,” he added.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what the evolution is like and how the next step has been taken. The retractable pitch seems pretty intriguing too.”

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