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Field Goal

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From high school stadiums to pro sports venues, the market is cyclical, fluctuating as much as the score in a poorly matched basketball game. The college market, looking to get some of the amenities found in pro venues, is concentrating on attracting students with snazzier sports facilities, and finding funding through student tech fees.

And although some of the bigger money is going overseas for pro stadiums, several U.S. venues will be ready for face-lifts in the near future. "I think the market has slowed a bit as a result of the recession at the beginning of the decade," said Fred Curdts, executive vice president and co-founder of SPL Integrated Solutions in Columbia, MD. "Public money slows down, and most stadiums are still funded by public money."

Current SPL projects include three or four such venues, including the St. Louis Cardinals Stadium, opening in April 2006. However Curdts says SPL would have been engaged in seven or eight projects a few years ago. "We're mainly seeing renovations in the college market," he stated, "and haven't seen new ones in that market for some time. Typically, we see expansions such as additional seating and suites. And often sound systems and scoreboards are replaced on a 20-year cycle." The next five years, Curdts surmised, will see many pro teams-the Dallas Cowboys, the Arizona Cardinals and most pro teams in the New York City area-benefiting from new stadiums.

New York has had recent setbacks, he said, including the loss of the Olympics. The Jets were going to build a large stadium near the Convention Center in Manhattan, and were reliant on public money for the transportation infrastructure. "It is my understanding that it was that funding that was vetoed," Curdts suggested. "A lot of projects are in limbo and will shake out in the next six to nine months."

Overseas areas will remain active, Curdts pointed out. "SPL did the World Cup Stadium in Seoul a couple of years ago, and there has been a lot of stadium building in Europe. We expect to see a lot of energy there."

There is a common belief that the major stadiums are built out in the U.S., and therefore sports architects have to push downstream into the collegiate market and smaller projects, said Bob White, marketing director, HOK Sport in Kansas City, MO. "It's true that we're getting more involved in these other markets, but it's because these markets have decided they want the same amenities and revenue sources as the major professional sports. There are still a number of major new stadiums to be built."

White continued, "Over the next five to 10 years we anticipate another 15 to 20 major new projects will happen for Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA and NHL. In addition, the colleges now have that same hunger for amenities and revenue drivers that fueled the explosion of major stadiums for professional sports."

Minor league venues have been a good source of activity for 15 years, and that segment remains steady, White revealed. "The same is true of medium-size arenas for indoor lacrosse, football, basketball and hockey."

Many of the major stadiums built in the 1990s now have become candidates for renovations and improvements. This may include adding seats or suites, or converting spaces to better reflect changing market demands and entertainment offerings. Restaurants have been converted into suites and vice versa and under-utilized spaces have been turned into revenue sources. "We've built dugout suites, party suites, picnic areas and specialty restaurants for some baseball venues including Coors Field in Denver," White said. "These add new spectator experiences, and that translates into revenues."

Arguably, HOK's most prominent stadium project, the replacement of London's historic Wembley Stadium, is due to open soon. The 90,000-seat venue, England's National Soccer Stadium, also will be a multi-purpose stadium serving additional sports such as rugby, and will be used for athletic meets and major entertainment events including the 2012 summer Olympics. A huge arch over the bowl will form a dramatic signature for Wembley. "We'll also open an entirely new Royal Ascot Racecourse next year," White offered. "It's going to be a dramatic new facility for a most prestigious client-Her Majesty, the Queen."

The U.S. led the stadium explosion and the development of modern stadium design, a trend spreading around the world, beginning with Europe and the U.K., and more recently to China, White added. "We're still riding the crest of that U.S. wave, and it's still swelling in Europe. Market demands and desires are rising everywhere. Regardless of current standards, and, of course, those vary widely around the world, expectations are rising everywhere."

Stadiums are about creature comforts, wider and more comfortable seats, more spacious concourses, more and better bathrooms, better sight lines, improved AV features and an increasing array of entertainment, food and beverage options, White concluded. "It's all a matter of how quickly these places can put together the upfront capital to finance their investment."

Many colleges are building up student and training facilities as well as venues for spectators, said Seth Talley, a consultant with the Greenbusch Group, a Seattle-area firm performing acoustical and audiovisual consulting for educational, civic and institutional projects throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. "A lot of the projects are for intramural or recreational sports," he explained.

Not all colleges have the facilities budgets or opportunities that professional sports teams have, Talley said. "PAC-10 athletics are certainly big business, but community colleges and liberal arts colleges don't belong to big athletic conferences. The expense of creating or renovating a sporting facility can't be covered by concessions and admissions." As a result, many college athletic facilities use a more student-centric model where the facility is designed to optimize the experience of the athlete instead of the spectator.

The schools are paying for the projects out of student technology and facility fees and using these facilities to attract students. WSU featured their new rec center prominently in their television ads when it was completed a couple years ago. The indoor practice facility at the University of Washington, another Greenbusch project, is another example of a large non-spectator facility. "It's basically a stadium without grandstands," he observed. "It was designed primarily for Husky football practice but is also intended for baseball and volleyball."

A trend that extends down to the secondary market is that many projects are designed as infrastructure only with systems to be installed later. "We'll put in conduit and boxes," Talley said, "and it may be years before any AV equipment is installed."

The next five years in his market will be very tough in the K-12 and college segments because of budget deficits and a political atmosphere that will not allow for increased taxation, said Per Forsberg, president and owner of Audio Architects in Chippewa Falls, WI. "Some schools have tried to eliminate sports entirely and have not been successful."
Audio Architects clients include the multi-campus University of Wisconsin, which tends to do a retrofit project on one sports facility about once every five years. "Their budgets always initiate a debate in the state legislature," Forsberg said, "and the budgets have been cut in the last five years. There's also been personnel attrition in the university support staff."

Recent Audio Architects sports-related projects have been for high school football and track fields. "We're lucky if they're $10,000 projects," Forsberg acknowledged. "They're fairly low-tech, but an interesting aspect is that Community Loudspeakers have come out with the R-Series, and we've had good successes with R.5s and R.2s for the high schools." In the past, he noted, high schools have been limited to paging horns. "Now they have choices in the lower price range. That will enable the high school market to improve quality within their budgets."

In order to thrive in the K-12 and college market, a contractor must be able to do all the facilities, indoor and out, within a client's organization or venue such as gyms, auditoriums, paging systems and commons, Forsberg said. "You have to be diversified to succeed."

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