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Stadium Design: Grand Designs

The genesis of a new or renovated stadium begins with the rights-holder who creates a brief that has to both push boundaries and stay within budget. Elisha Chauhan spoke to venue operators of the historic MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) and MLB (Major League Baseball) team the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field to find out the challenges each faced in the design process.

 

Target Field
The Minnesota Twins opened Target Field (pictured above), its $545 million, 39,000-capacity stadium, in 2010 after spending 28 seasons playing at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

Dan Starkey
Senior Director of Ballpark Development, Minnesota Twins

What was the main focus when designing the new venue?

Initially, we certainly wanted a unique feel to Target Field by reflecting and fitting into the neighbourhood we’re in. We also actively tried to keep our finger on the pulse of the fan experience to provide that the best we could.

Since opening, we’ve spent a lot of time looking at analytics and doing surveys to determine what the fans are looking for, so how to best prepare and adapt the ballpark to meet fans’ expectations is a very active and fluid discussion we have internally.

What were the main factors that prevented the perfect design?

We’ve been pretty fortunate in the fact that when we first designed Target Field we allowed ourselves to have a lot of options for future renovations, whatever they may be.

Certainly from a physical construction standpoint, you’re always limited by the confines of your ballpark, and we’re located in a pretty urban environment so we didn’t have the benefit of having a huge footprint to work with.

That’s definitely a challenge we still have to deal with, but at the end of the day, being in a big city has its benefits in terms of having that connectivity to a business district.

Every new stadium is unique, and you have to make sure it’s acceptable for all stakeholders. Fortunately for us, our ownership group was very willing to invest a significant amount of money in the design and construction process for Target Field, and they continue to be very generous in investing in the stadium.

One of the challenges of baseball is that it’s a very long game, and you do need to provide fans with different experiences within the stadium to hold their attention. We feel we’ve addressed that, but we will continue to evaluate ways to improve in this area.

A conversation we also have on an ongoing basis is how to convert fixed seats into more dynamic areas.

How have you renovated in the four years since opening?

There are two things that keep us continuing to invest in the venue. The first is technology, and the second is fan behaviour, which has changed even since we opened.

Technology is obviously evolving quickly and finding ways to integrate that technology into baseball and the fan experience has certainly caused us to continue to invest in infrastructure and software.

This includes a robust Wi-Fi and distributed antenna system throughout the ballpark, as well as a digital clubhouse where fans can interact with different social media platforms. We also utilise the MLB app At The Ballpark, and within that we have a customised game.

What design features do you feel separate your stadium from any other?

One of the things we realised very early on in the design process is that the ballpark isn’t all about the actual game – fans don’t always want to just sit in a fixed seat. We’ve got a number of different areas where people can stand at bars and restaurants that are both field-facing and not – both of those have been an incredible success.

We’ve also tried to take the in-stadia experience outside of the confines of the ballpark, into the outside precinct or a nearby plaza.

 

Melbourne Cricket Ground
Built in 1853, the MCG has developed into one of the biggest, most recognisable and modern sports stadia in the world. Renovations have regularly taken place to ensure it can retain that status.

Stephen Gough
CEO, Melbourne Cricket Club

What has been the motivation behind renovations at the MCG?

The Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC) is constantly striving to ensure the MCG and its facilities remain world-class.

The most recent renovation that has taken place was the refurbishment of the AU$55-million Great Southern Stand, completed prior to the start of the 2013 AFL (Australian Football League) season. The upgrade, funded by a AU$30-million contribution from the Victorian government and AU$25 million from the MCC, has improved the fan experience across all four levels of the stand.

In October this year, the MCC embarked on its most extensive turf-surfacing programme since it reconstructed the field and converted the stadium to host the 2006 Commonwealth Games. The AU$1.7-million programme saw almost 20,000-square-metres of turf stripped and re-levelled.

Of course, improving the fan experience is big driver [for renovations] and, in December last year, we unveiled two new [American electronics producer] Daktronics LED high-definition vision boards that have significantly enhanced that. They are the largest to feature at an Australian sports stadium to date; the digital area of the screens is more than three times the size of the previous installations and clarity has been significantly improved.

The redevelopment of the Northern Stand of the MCG between 2002 and 2006 reaffirmed our standing as one of the world’s greatest sporting icons. About 55 per cent of the ground – embracing the Ponsford and Olympic Stands and the MCC Members Pavilion – was rebuilt.

We are also currently working with global technology giant Siemens to design and implement an energy efficiency upgrade to significantly reduce the environmental impact of the MCG. The project will see the stadium reduce its carbon emissions by 19 per cent in just 12 months.

What was your main focus when thinking about design?

Numerous factors are taken into consideration when assessing stadium build and design. While getting the stands, seating areas and fan amenities right is integral, there are plenty of other stakeholders to consider – for example, for the players and sports officials, the MCG playing surface is a vital consideration.

Given the volume and variety of events played at the MCG, a versatile surface that enables the stadium to switch from one sport to another in a short period of time is required. The venue also regularly converts from event mode to normal weekday business mode, with up to 100 event days scheduled in any calendar year.

What are the main factors that prevent a perfect design?

The stadium’s history and status makes it one of the highest profile buildings in Australia.

The MCG has outstanding heritage values. In December 2005, the MCG was included in the National Heritage List so that these values can be protected for generations to come. Moreover, Yarra Park is also heritage-listed so any works that might impact the park need to be approved by Heritage Victoria.

The MCG is also a very public facility – everyone has a vested interest in it. Along with the usual considerations with regards to facility maintenance, its global profile from a tourism and world-class sporting event perspective places additional pressure on ensuring everything works.

What design features do you feel separate your stadium from any other?

Ask any Victorian and they’ll be aware of the stadium’s status as the home of Australian rules football and cricket. However, the MCG plays host to so much more, accommodating soccer, rugby, concerts, open days, charity events, dinners and many more activities. Add in a year-round function centre, our popular MCG tours and a successful, world-class sports museum inside the stadium, and there is much to offer.

In my opinion, access to the MCG is also unparalleled, whether you’re coming by foot, train, tram or vehicle. Within the precinct sits the home of a tennis grand slam at the Rod Laver Arena, and AAMI Park.

 

To read other articles from the Stadium Design feature, please follow the links below:

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