Home Field Disadvantage

After yesterday’s games, the 49ers are 3-3 at their new home. The Cowboys are 3-4 at JerryWorld this season. The Jets and Giants are each 2-4 in the swamp, though granted both teams are terrible. Much has been said and written about how Levi’s, MetLife, and AT&T Stadium lack the kind of 12th man atmosphere considered a major part of home field advantage. Why is this? Jerry Jones gave a partial explanation in an interview with Colin Cowherd on Wednesday.

COWHERD: (AT&T Stadium has) become such a national attraction, that there’s been a debate about whether road fans are taking over the stadium. Are you concerned about that?

JONES: No I’m not. We had that wonderful game against the Giants… boy there were a ton of Cowboy fans at that thing. We do know we’ve got a lot of support. Other teams have the same issue, in that visiting teams can buy these tickets… Anyone can pick up a ticket. Our tickets have gone as high as 4 times face value for people that want to travel. And one of the reasons they give is, ‘We just wanted to use this game and come see the stadium.’ That’s part of the price we’re paying for that kind of interest.

Now don’t get me wrong, I want every edge we can have to win a football game. On the other hand, it’s a lot of pride that I have and we have as an organization to have that kind of interest in our stadium. We did overdo, I say overdo I mean in a good way. If you’re as passionate about this stuff as I am… they oughta pass a law against it. We just emptied our bucket.

AT&T Stadium

It’s big. It’s surely impressive. Is it good? That’s debatable.

The tendency to overbuild, as is this case with the newest three (aforementioned) stadia, has made the venue as much the attraction as the game. That should fade over time, as this kind of interest in football stadia – as opposed to ballparks – is a relatively new phenomenon. Football stadia are typically seen as utilitarian affairs, and while some recent iterations have become flashy, typically there aren’t scenic vistas or idiosyncracies to appeal to general football fans the same way ballparks do. Cowboys Stadium is the first truly palatial venue in the NFL, while Levi’s Stadium is the only new, swanky venue in California. If you’re a fan and you can spend a few hundred or a thousand dollars on a weekend in San Francisco (cough*Santa Clara*cough) or not snowy Dallas, it’s not a bad weekend in the least.

A few teams have a large enough national fanbase that they can be expected to travel well, namely the Cowboys, Steelers, and Packers. Big markets usually have good representation on the road too. So while the media noted the number of 49er fans in Arlington for Week 1, they also mentioned the invasion of Cowboys fans in New Jersey last weekend.

If you have a 10-year seat license to go with your seats, chances are you’re going to plan your attendance with care. That may mean attending every game as a die-hard, or selectively selling seats on a per-game basis. As internet-based secondary market resellers have gained popularity over the past decade, the process of buying and reselling tickets has become practically frictionless. And if you play your cards right, you can earn a decent amount of your money back.

A big concourse is good for accommodating fans in the concession lines. It also serves to take fans further away from the action.

A big concourse is good for accommodating fans in the concession lines. It also serves to take fans further away from the action.

Then there are traditionalist types. I know a Bears fan in Chicago who trades his annual Packers game seats at Soldier Field with a friend in Wisconsin, so that he can attend an away rematch at always-sold out Lambeau Field. As fans become more mobile and more empowered to get tickets away from normal home schedule, this phenomenon will continue to grow. Some factors such as ticket scarcity or lower capacity can help reduce the impact of road invasions. But disaffected fans have more options now, so they can be expected to exercise those options. Jones gets that.

If I’m Mark Davis, I fight the urge to make a stadium opulent, whether in Oakland or LA. Focus on the basics, spend money where it should be spent (locker rooms, suite/club level) and otherwise focus on fan atmosphere, not amenities. Bring fans as close to the action as possible. Wherever the Raiders go, if they can’t ably recreate the Black Hole or recapture much of the Coliseum’s intimacy, they’ve already lost. It is possible to make a stadium too good, at least in the short term. Every team in every sport can learn the lessons the 49ers, Cowboys, and the New York teams are learning.

When planning a football stadium, the following criteria should be considered:

  1. Constrain cost, if only to limit the need for seat licenses and other lengthy contractual ticket arrangements.
  2. With the technology available, make in-seat ordering the most attractive option for concessions – to keep fans in their seats. This may mean severely or completely eliminating convenience fees in order to gain traction and fan confidence in the system.
  3. Resist the urge to participate in the club swank-out armament wars. Provide a reasonable level of accommodation and focus on service.
  4. If possible, keep as many suite levels above the seating bowl as possible.
  5. Consider a partial roof over the seating bowl to keep noise in and reduce summer sun/heat.

None of these considerations will change the secondary ticket market in any appreciable way, but if there are incentives to keep fans cheering in their seats for every game, every effort should be made to work towards that goal.

A’s release 2015 Spring Training Schedule

The A’s have released their spring training schedule, so you can start planning your trip to the desert for their first season back at Hohokam Stadium. That’s right, if you hadn’t heard, the A’s are moving on from Phoenix Municipal Stadium, which while cozy and scenic lacked up-to-date training facilities for the players and some of the creature comforts found at other Cactus League ballparks. I recently had a chance to check out some of the renovation work at Hohokam. Thankfully the old beige paint is pretty much gone, replaced by forest green, light gray, and gold accents. The new Daktronics scoreboard is up, seats have been replaced, work on the party deck in left field should begin soon. All renovation work is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In keeping with the later start of the regular season, spring training starts on Tuesday, March 3, with a “home-and-home” set against the Giants. The Cactus League slate ends April 1 before moving to the Bay Area for the ritual Bay Bridge Series.

springtraining-2015

If you want to catch as many games as possible at the new Hohokam, come during the first weekend and into the second week, when 5 of 6 games will be played there. The first 3 games are also a good bet, since 2 of them will be in Mesa (1 at Hohokam, 1 at Cubs Park). If you have the chance, make sure to check out some of the newer parks such as Salt River Fields and Camelback Ranch. Salt River Fields is the new gem in the Cactus League and is worth the extra drive.

If you have any questions about how to plan your Cactus League trip, feel free to reply in the comments. I’ll be happy to help.

Hohokam seating chart

Hohokam seating chart

Levi’s Stadium Tour

These days, there’s no such thing as a comprehensive stadium tour, at least not for Joe Public. Inevitably, some important feature is missed or glossed over. Most every stadium tour visits the luxury areas (clubs, suites) to show the public where their money went and to sell the occasional business owner on the merits of a package. Visits to a locker room/clubhouse and the press box are requisites. If the stadium has grass, you’ll get to see it. You won’t be able to step on it. Some operators allow fans to step on an artificial turf field, some don’t. If there’s a museum or historical monument, some time is usually spent there. The 49ers didn’t stray far from the formula at Levi’s Stadium, and in doing so the tour I took there felt like it came up a bit short.

At midfield

At midfield

The team provides two versions of the tour, a $35 ticket that includes a 49ers museum entry, and a $25 version sans museum. I took the latter. If you’re not aware, I’m not a 49ers fan, so while I have an appreciation for their history, I don’t feel the need to spend an extra $10 to see it. Besides, I already visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier in the summer. I’m good with the history stuff for now.

Tickets for the tour and other events can be bought at the main box office along Tasman Drive near the Toyota Gate F (northeast end). A small valet parking lot is provided there, otherwise you can park near the golf course across the street or on non-event days, the main lot to the west. The Tasman Drive side also has the entrance to Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak restaurant at Gate B. Move west towards Intel Gate A you’ll see doors to the museum and Comcast Sportsnet’s in-house studio. All the while you’ll be shaded by the bulk of the stadium, its huge angled steel columns reaching skyward and touching down close the street. The whole package takes up about 17 acres between the 49ers’ preexisting headquarters and San Tomas Aquino Creek, which was left undisturbed during construction. A set of 3 new pedestrian bridges link the stadium to the main lot.

Having worked in the tech industry for 15 years, I instantly recognized the tour guide’s initial talk as a sort of startup pitch, and I wasn’t surprised by that in the least. He made sure to use “technology” and “fan experience” several times in his spiel, emphasizing the excellence within. It makes sense, especially if the team is trying to get fans to spend money to buy such an experience instead of hanging out at home in front of their flatscreen TVs and with their much cheaper (and often better) junk food items.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Instead of walking around the bowl, we took an escalator up to the Yahoo! Fantasy Football Lounge, an attempt to corral fans who need to get their extra juice by watching “their own” players on Sunday. It’s a good setup, with unassigned, get-there-early seats along the windows. Flatscreens are assembled into a seamless ribbon board to display stats per player and position. FFL has its own concession stands. If you’re a fantasy junkie it might be your kind of setup.

We weren’t able to visit the multi-level United Club as a private function was already underway there. Strangely, we didn’t visit any suites either. I suppose that’s just as well, since they’re all sold out for 10+ years. Usually there’s a community or city suite to visit. Then again, when you’ve visited as many stadia as I have, suites stop looking impressive and start looking like the same nice hotel hospitality suite with a view after a while.

The Club and Lounge are on different levels of the SAP Tower, the west stand that holds the those facilities, the press box, roof garden, and locker rooms at field level. It may not be inspirational in any aesthetic sense, but it is incredibly efficient. And yes, that’s the same SAP that has naming rights at San Jose’s arena.

Levi's Stadium has 9 levels within the SAP Tower

Levi’s Stadium has 9 levels within the SAP Tower

Our next stop was the Verizon Press Box on Level 8, which seems 10 times the size of its counterpart at the ‘Stick. There are multiple functioning elevators. The buffet area isn’t the size of a Manhattan studio. It’s wonderfully, blissfully air-conditioned. Now that might not sound like much, but the press box at the ‘Stick was terribly cramped, uncomfortable, and a death trap waiting to happen. A corridor behind special suites on the press level features old magazine covers with great 49ers of the past on them. The press box and its hermetically sealed environs are no place for cheering fans, which makes it great that the 49ers provided options that mimic press box-style views.

We walked up a few flights to reach the roof garden on Level 9. This area has gotten rave reviews for its flexible usage and its contribution to Levi’s Stadium’s LEED Gold rating, the first for a stadium in the US. Named the NRG Solar Terrace, the roof has a glass-fronted rails for those who want to watch the game, and hotel-like outdoor lounge areas towards the center. In the distance you can see the Bay to the north and the downtown San Jose skyline to the south. Various plant types are given reclaimed water, and in true California fashion there is an herb garden. The lounge uses reclaimed redwood from Moffett Field, a trick the San Jose Earthquakes are using at their stadium.

On the other side of the red rollup door is space for a 2nd home team locker room *cough* Raiders *cough*

On the other side of the red rollup door is space for a 2nd home team locker room *cough* Raiders *cough*

The last part of the tour was spent at field level. The grass looks ready to be torn up and resodded again, though it has gone through two games with few incidents compared to the first batch, which didn’t take. The 49ers’ next home game is on November 2, which will give 3 weeks for new sod to take hold if the work begins Sunday or Monday. Midseason resodding at least the areas between the hash marks is a common ritual for all NFL stadia with grass.

We entered one of two BNY Mellon clubs, which are located along either sideline at the 50 yard line. They’re swanky and feature the best food and drinks. The 49ers copied the Cowboys by incorporating the soccer-style midfield entrance from the locker rooms. The visiting locker room is on the north end, the 49ers to the south. Two auxiliary locker rooms are on the north end, as is the Gold Rush (cheerleaders) dressing room, a rarity among NFL stadia. The picture above shows a large rollup door that provides entry to a potential second home locker room, presumably for the Raiders if they every showed interest. I’ve heard the Raiders are interested in something else in the area temporarily, but that’s for another post. The locker room is not finished and would require a lease agreement between the 49ers, Raiders, the Santa Clara Stadium Authority, and the NFL before any substantive work could begin. That said, it shouldn’t take more than an offseason to get it ready.

Our tour group spent 90% of our time within the area defined by the SAP Tower, which is unfortunate. Every stadium tour should include a walk through at least half a concourse if not a whole loop. It makes it seem like there’s nothing to see in the other three-fourths of the stadium, when that obviously isn’t the case. I hope the 49ers incorporate that into future tours somehow. After all, they’re trying to sell seats and that’s where most of the seats are, right?

I’m headed back to Levi’s Stadium to take in the Friday Night Lights doubleheader. I’ll be roaming around, taking more pictures. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or hit me up via Twitter.

University of Phoenix Stadium

I finally visited Levi’s Stadium on Wednesday. Took the tour and bought a ticket for Friday Night Lights, the rescheduled (and doubled) set of high school games. I’ll be roaming the stands this Friday, taking in both prep games. I’ll have thoughts on the tour and the stadium experience in posts to come.

Before that, I have some thoughts on the stadium of a 49ers divisional rival, the Arizona Cardinals’ University of Phoenix Stadium. Set to host the next Super Bowl in February, UoPS is a unique venue with both a retractable roof and retractable field. Despite the technological flourishes, in terms of amenities UoPS clearly belongs in the previous era of NFL stadia – modern and proficient but not as flashy and gilded as venues for the Cowboys, Giants/Jets, and 49ers became.

View of north end of stadium (via Flickr user MCSixth)

It’s not obvious from up close, but the façade is meant to evoke part of the desert environment, particularly a barrel cactus with a snake wrapped around it. It was designed by Peter Eisenman, with the stadium guts conceived by HOK Sport/Populous. On the north and east sides, the façade becomes two-tiered before abruptly ending with a gigantic Cardinals logo, itself meant to replace a snake’s head. It’s not uncommon to see this use of steel panels in airport architecture, and that’s what I expected when transitioning from outside to inside.

Walk in and the theme is clearly evident, though it’s most certainly not an airport. Lots of polished concrete, red signage, red and gray seats, and bits of white and yellow/gold throughout. The consistency of the theme is so thorough as to seem almost militaristic. The floors are clean enough to eat off, and the tour guide was very proud to brag about how every seat is cleaned off before and after every game. The biggest benefit of the retractable roof, besides climate control, is the prevention of desert dust buildup that would definitely occur if the stadium was not fully enclosed.

View from a corner luxury suite

View from a corner luxury suite

The seating bowl is as simple as a newer stadium gets. The lower deck has 40 rows of seats, followed by a 12-row club level, a suite level, and a split upper deck. Other than the lack of overhangs, it’s practically the same layout as a ballpark. It’s a layout that goes back some 20 years, since the rise of separate club and suite levels. Thankfully, the upper deck and roof don’t seem especially tall for a dome. All told there are 5 levels in the stadium, compared to 9 maximum at Levi’s Stadium.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The grass field tray is a concrete tub on wheels filled with sand, dirt, pipes, and of course, grass. It stays outside most of the time to allow for its Bermuda grass surface to grow. Friday afternoon before a Sunday game a set of door on the south end opens and allows the 76 hp motors that control the field to ride on rails, smoothly and slowly into the stadium. The surface is 3 feet off the ground, so if any maintenance of the traction or irrigation systems has to occur, there are small passage built within for people to shimmy in and take care of any repairs. The seats are about 3 feet above the field, among the lowest seats in any new stadium. There are no field suites or clubs or other niceties down low, little public art on the concourses.

The roof uses BirdAir fabric, much like the inflatable domes of old. The use of the retractable field in conjunction with the roof allows for the roof opening to be smaller than other domes, since there’s no concern about growing grass inside the dome. The roof is supported by a pair of 700-foot long Brunel trusses, named after the great British civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who used the design to construct the Royal Albert Bridge in England. The trusses are anchored by four massive 17′ x 12′ concrete columns.

Industrial chic is one phrase that can be used to describe the aesthetic. The Cardinals and the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, which owns and operates the stadium, call their suite level boxes “lofts.” While they aren’t multi-level, they have exposed piping and no drop ceilings. The suite I saw on the tour didn’t have leather armchairs or hardwood tables or cabinets. As long as this level of amenities is acceptable to Cards’ suite buyers, there’s little to change except for the installation of HDTVs throughout, a badly needed upgrade. The only major changes made recently were the installation of a very good (IMO) WiFi network and the replacement of the scoreboards, which happened over the summer. One thing to keep in mind, A’s fans: the scoreboards cost $10.8 million. The bigger board in the south end is 164′ x 54′, whereas the smaller north board is 97′ x 27′.

If you want to get an idea for how much control the NFL has over its Super Bowl venues, check out the picture of the unpainted walls in the slideshow. The Authority had wanted to paint the walls on the service level prior to SB XLII (in 2008), but the NFL told them to wait until a decision came from New York. The game was played anyway without a final decision, and when the Authority asked the NFL again, they were told to wait further. Eventually the league allowed the lower walls to be painted team colors. The upper drywall remains dry to this day.

Having been in all of the recent new NFL Stadia (UoPS, MetLife, AT&T/Cowboys, Lucas Oil, NRG/Reliant), it’s rather amazing to observe the way these venues have grown in size, space, and spec in less than a decade. Another tour goer and I were comparing this stadium to the JerryWorld in Arlington. I said at the time that if UoPS is a nice Marriott or Hilton, AT&T Stadium is a Four Seasons. Luxury and opulence is on display there in Texas-sized proportions. It somehow seems twice as large as UoPS (it’s 25% larger in terms of capacity). While team owners continue to furnish these palaces in order to chase greater corporate dollar commitments, the simple fact that there’s a game being played is getting lost. The barrel cactus in Glendale holds 63,000, can be expanded to 78,000 if necessary, and has pretty much everything a team needs if not everything a team wants. That marks University of Phoenix Stadium as the end of an era. It’s very good, loud, and should last 40 years or more. The crazy thing is that I can look at it and not find that much different from a stadium like the Georgia Dome, now considered outdated by its tenant with a bling-bling replacement on the way. If a franchise ends up in LA in a new stadium, will the NFL abandon UoPS for future Super Bowls knowing that a much fancier stadium in a bigger market is on the way? Or will the league pressure Arizona to keep up in the stadium space race? Sometimes good enough just isn’t.

MLB 2015 Travel Grid (Schedule) Now Available

Every year it happens like clockwork. MLB releases its tentative schedule for the next year in early September, and I cut it up and remix to make something suitable for planning ballpark trips. I call it a Travel Grid. The Travel Grid is table of all games based on each team’s home schedule. One variant places the teams in regional clusters, allowing users to connect the dots to plan trips.

Sample of Travel Grid in PDF format

Sample of Travel Grid in PDF format

Want to do a 3-5 days seeing games from Washington to Boston? It’s possible. Want to catch games at both Chicago parks and Milwaukee? If it’s there you’ll see it. I started doing this a few years ago to help me plan my own trips. I hope it’ll help you plan yours.

The schedule starts a week later than what you’d usually expect, on April 6, and ends October 4. Every 5-6 years this reset has to occur, as we “lose” a day every year. The late start may help avoid more rain postponements that have seemed to be more frequent in recent years. The downside of that is the postseason running dangerously close to November. The All Star Break will be July 13-16. Much of the pain for the A’s will be frontloaded, as they’ll experience 2 of their 3 longest road trips (9-10 days) in April and May.

A’s interleague opponents will be the NL West, which will bring about a few changes. Instead of the 2+2 format the A’s and Giants series’ took on the last couple years, the teams will play 6 times, 3 in SF in the summer and 3 in Oakland as the last home series of the season. That sets up the possibility for some cool roadies. In mid-June the A’s will play 3 at the Angels and 2 at the Padres. If you’re looking for lengthy A’s East Coast trips, things don’t look as promising. Other than series at the Indians and Yankees to end the first half, there are few trips where you can stretch out and follow the team for a week unless you’re willing to take on multiple leg flight schedules. The team has a particularly brutal stretch next September when they visit the Rangers, then fly to Chicago to meet the White Sox, then back to Texas for a series against the Astros.

That said, if you’re looking to put together ballpark visits, the schedule’s pretty friendly. East Coast possibilities for 5-7 day trips (the length I like) are available pretty much every month. Similar length Midwest trips are ripe in June (Rust Belt) and July (Chi-StL).

The 2015 Travel Grid is available in two layouts: an alphabetically ordered (left-to-right) table and the aforementioned regional cluster layout. Both are available in Excel, CSV (comma delimited), and PDF (poster view) formats. Feel free to leave feedback in the comments or send me a tweet.

Regional

Alphabetical

Enjoy!

Lucas Oil Stadium

As I was finishing my Midwest trip, I had to make 4+ hour drive from Cincinnati to Chicago, where I had to return my rental car and fly out of Midway. Thankfully I had a couple places to visit along the way, the great brewers 3 Floyds just outside of Chicago and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Having been to Cowboys Stadium and University of Phoenix Stadium, I was eager to compare the retractable dome peers.

Lucas Oil Stadium opened in 2008, in between UoP (2006) and Cowboys/AT&T (2009). Unlike the other two, Lucas Oil Stadium was meant to be in a downtown environment, adjacent to a pre-existing convention center. The stadium replaced the old RCA Dome, the built-on-spec fixed roof stadium that lured the Colts and owner Bob Irsay one cold morning in March, 1984.

I had never been to the RCA (Hoosier) Dome, so I can’t speak to its quality as a football venue. From what I could tell, it was much like the Pontiac Silverdome, with a two-deck, football-first layout and air-supported roof. Being in Indianapolis, the RCA Dome and its successor became favored venues for the NCAA basketball tournament, since the NCAA’s headquarters are in Indy and the area is well-suited to handling large events. Indy is also home of the DCI Championships, the national drum corps (marching band) competition.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Like many stadium tours, this one started and ended in the team store. A flight of stairs took us from the street level to the lower concourse level. The lower concourse is split, 3/4ths of it set up in the middle of the lower deck to accommodates suites, while the north end concourse is open at the top of the lower bowl. Throughout the lower concourse are massive sponsor areas for Lucas Oil, Meijer, Stanley, and others. Huge windows illuminate much of the concourse, but the mall-like feel can’t be avoided. It’s better than the awful compromised sterility of MetLife, though that bar isn’t exactly high.

While it has a fairly compact layout, the seating bowl has few cantilevering opportunities. There are columns along the club level corners, creating some obstructed views. The one interesting feature is the press box, which is suspended from the roof above the western upper deck. The view is high up as one would suspect. At the entire press box is along the sideline, not set in the corners as is often the case with new NFL stadia.

HKS designed Lucas Oil Stadium to evoke an old field house, a nod to the team sport the state loves most of all, basketball. Bankers Life Fieldhouse nearby has the same vibe. Neither truly pulls off the homage. BLF already looks rather bloated, so you knew that getting LOS to look right at scale would be a difficult challenge. To minimize the visual impact, HKS placed the footprint slightly off the street grid and turned the stadium so that the north windows face the center of downtown Indy. The effect works when you’re close to the edifice since the façade is broken up into components, but once you see the whole thing with its peaked roof from afar, it’s ruined. There’s simply no avoiding the fact that this is a huge stadium, though at some angles it looks smaller than its peers in Arizona and Texas.

Unlike UoP and AT&T, the roof is designed to open laterally with the field (to the sidelines), not to the ends. Part of the reasoning is that much of the load-bearing structure is built along the sidelines, as opposed to the other two stadia where huge trussed arches carry much of the roof’s weight. HKS did a nice job of not over-emphasizing much of the structural work, which is the opposite of the firm’s muscle-flexing exhibition in Arlington. Again, this helps to reduce the visual scale of the building and largely works. In that sense Lucas Oil Stadium looks and feels more like a really large basketball arena than an enormous football stadium. That says a lot for an industry that has never considered intimacy much of a factor in its fan experience.

One obvious feature not at Lucas Oil Stadium is a museum, or some other nod to team history. There’s a Ring of Honor along the upper deck rim, sure. Despite the team’s general lack of success during the 30 years from roughly 1970 to 2000, there is a rich history that should be better acknowledged. Exhibits along the concourse or on the outside of the stadium would be helpful, yet are inexplicably missing. At some point Peyton Manning will have a statue outside. It would be better if Manning’s tribute was located near plaques for Johnny Unitas, Eric Dickerson, and Marvin Harrison.

Having opened towards the end of the NFL stadium boom, Lucas Oil Stadium is a perfectly good representation of the era and of Indianapolis. It has all the amenities you’d expect and has undergone numerous changes to react to the market. It is also, sadly, the product of a major subsidy from Indianapolis – as is the basketball arena. Indianapolis will always struggle with its big city-small town desires. While Indy will never be a proper big city like Chicago, at least it can be a good host. Indy knows that game inside and out.

Huntington Park, Columbus

After a visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, I drove the 2+ hours southwest to Columbus to catch a game at Huntington Park. Traffic and a late start made it so that I didn’t get there until the 4th inning. Nevertheless, there was sufficient time to take the whole scene in.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Joe Mock wrote a particularly glowing, exhaustive review of Huntington Park back when it opened in 2009. If you want the full scoop, read that. I prefer to highlight a few things I saw during my brief visit.

First, it should be noted that Huntington Park (named after an Ohio bank) is one of the first ballparks done by 360 Architecture, the same firm working on the Earthquakes Stadium and Cisco Field. 360 is known more for its work on several indoor arenas, including Nationwide Arena across the street from the ballpark and Sprint Center in Kansas City. With 360 and not Populous (HOK) doing this venue, there was a question about how much the architects would stray from the script. While it doesn’t look all that different from a Populous design from the outside, on the inside there’s plenty of new and innovative thinking.

Like many urban parks, Huntington Park uses all available space within its city block. The brick facade along the right field fence runs up against into Nationwide Drive, a small street running through Columbus’s arena district. Instead of a complete wall, there are openings approximately every 20 feet, allowing for numerous places to view into the park. Near the right field corner this area is a short, double-deck walkway that’s also 20 feet wide. Beyond right-center the walkway ends. The sidewalk on Nationwide Drive ramps up to the concourse level and carries the theme further, providing “portholes” for spectators along the street. Many minor league parks have a Knothole Gang-type feature, but Huntington Park is perhaps the most innovative in how to design it. It’s very reminiscent of AT&T Park’s arcade/promenade feature, yet very unique on its own. Visually, the stadium’s two-story design means the colonnade has little impact. The impact would be much greater on a taller stadium such as Cisco Field.

The setup dictates that there’s no 360-degree concourse, which is ironic given the architecture firm’s name. This apparently was a conscious choice, since the team and architects figured that the wandering around the concourse novelty effect would wear off over time as fans got used to the venue. This was an apt decision, as fans seemed to have settled into spaces they like the most. A $7 ticket is good for the bleachers, berm, or standing areas, most of which have drink rails. Families may like the bleachers or the small berm in left. Fans wanting good views of the game might choose the drink rails down either line. And if you get there early enough, you and your friends can hang out in that right field colonnade, where there are stools and extra side rails that allow you to “claim” your own space. If there ever was an effective argument against the wraparound concourse, this is as close as it gets.

Along the main bowl, the benefit is an enormously wide concourse, which I estimated to be 66 feet not including the wheelchair row. That’s over twice the width of the Oakland Coliseum’s lower concourse. With all that space, 360 broke up the concourse, similar to the way part of the lower concourse at Jacobs Field* is split. They even took it a step further by including a completely open-air concession stand that serves from three sides. It’s a particular ingenious way of using the space while also providing views of the action. The concession stands are full service, with taps, soda fountains, grills, and deep fryers. It’s not a design that should ever be attempted if the concourse is not sufficiently wide enough since it could cause severe congestion. Even with the 66-foot width, congestion has been reported at Huntington Park, though I didn’t see it when I went and there should be easy ways to manage it when it happens. Restrooms and other services are set into buildings along the concourse.

Behind the plate in the seating bowl are the club seats and loge boxes. Loge boxes, while de rigueur in 2014, weren’t so commonplace in 2007 when Huntington Park was being built. With 4 chairs each, tables and full service, loges fit the gap between individual club seats and luxury suites. I can see why they were incorporated into the Cisco Field design and Dodger Stadium.

I had heard and read many recommendations about Huntington Park, and was pleased to find out that they were very much on target in their assessments. I haven’t even gone over several other features, or discussed the general niceness of the crowd. For now, it’s good enough that Huntington Park is a solid evolutionary step of ballpark design, and I hope that they’re allowed to evolve it even more at some point.