Sonics arena shows off some innovation

The Hansen-Ballmer group has developed a habit of releasing little bits of information every couple of days to stoke Sonics fans fires. A bit of arena info here, talk of season tickets there, a progress report down the road. It’s an effective way to keep those who are interested engaged, and should serve the ownership group well as they hit the home stretch in their effort to move the Kings.

Exterior shot with turbine-shaped cone representing arena footprint

On Wednesday several renderings of the SoDo arena were released. Previously, the public was treated to a planning document from 360 Architecture and some exterior renderings, but little was known about the interior of the building. Wednesday’s release borrows a few elements from baseball and football and integrates them into an arena concept, adding some new wrinkles along the way. I like what I’ve seen so far, and would love to see if these unique elements actually enhance the experience as arena backers think it will.

View from center court towards basket and end seats

View from center court towards basket and end seats

The lower portion of the above image doesn’t look much different from any other arena. Chris Hansen wants a hockey team to be roommates with the Sonics, so the arena has a longer multipurpose footprint to accommodate an ice rink. Above the upper deck seats are shallow rings of additional seats and standing areas, much like the mezzanine and upper decks in the end zones at Cowboys Stadium. It gives the appearance of an old theater layout with multiple balconies, and bears a passing resemblance to old McArthur Court at the University of Oregon. The idea is to better utilize the vertical space by replacing a dozen rows of nosebleed seats with overhanging mini-decks. Arena designers also claim that an additional 2,000 people can be brought in above the regular seated capacity via standing room admission for the ends. Before its replacement by the larger and plusher Phil Knight-funded Matthew Knight Arena on campus, Mac Court was well known as one of the loudiest, rowdiest, most intimate gyms in the nation. What this concept is trying to do might not succeed due to scaling, but there’s a better chance of making noise when more of the building’s volume is filled with people as opposed to just air.

Lower suites are 10 rows from floor and are not closed from each other

This next view shows some lounge-type areas behind the lower suites, which are a scant 10 rows up from the court. They remind me a lot of the patio suites at the Earthquakes’ stadium, which fit a gap between the exclusivity of suites and the openness of a club lounge. Since 360 is working on both projects, it’s not surprising to see concepts from one move into the other. I’d expect the same sort of borrowing for the final vision for Cisco Field.

View from “Sonic Ring”

There appear to be around 40 suites of differing sizes, along with two club levels along each sideline. The downside to this approach is that if a fan wants a sideline seat in the lower level, he has no choice but to buy a club seat of some sort. The corners and ends don’t have premium clubs, though it’s being hinted that the Sonic Rings may have their own special amenities. I can see that working extremely well for hockey.

Comparison of seating bowl cross-sections for Seattle arena and Staples Center

Another big claim is that the seating bowl will be steeper, which should improve sightlines for both hoops and hockey. To achieve this there’s only a single suite level between the “lower” and “upper” decks (the lower suite level doesn’t count because it doesn’t wrap completely around the arena). That allows for a greater rise for each row of seats. At the traditional upper deck, the steepness is similar to other arenas. Of course, those upper deck seats in other arenas don’t have three balconies above then. It’s a novel, albeit expensive, approach that from a cost standpoint is like building a fourth deck. Whether it’ll create the desired effect is unknown at this point. I’d love to take in a game when the place opens to see if it does.

Seating at the Fukuoka Dome

The whole package is a refreshing take on the boring, old oval arena. There’s a little Soldier Field in the way the Sonic Rings overhang each other, a little Cowboys Stadium and Qwest Field, and some Amway Center (Orlando) to boot. We haven’t seen interior renderings of the Warriors’ SF arena, but I hope they incorporate some of these ideas. It could be great for fans while allowing the W’s to boost revenues. During the early pool play of the World Baseball Classic, some games were played at the Fukuoka Dome. That venue has a novel seating arrangement with a single seating deck and three levels of suites above the seats. While there’s little else to love about the place, I kept thinking throughout watching games that the approach is something that could work in MLB in some modernization. The Fukuoka Dome seats 38,000, making it an ideal size. With some tweaking it could work for a new MLB ballpark.

16 thoughts on “Sonics arena shows off some innovation

  1. Based on the image comparing the proposed cross-section with the cross-section at Staples, it appears that the “Sonic Rings” are way too far from the playing surface to be of significant value.
    They remind me of the catwalks at renovated MSG that are over the seating bowl.
    Nice gimmick, but, long-term, not a significant source of revenue because no one is going to pay premium prices to be that far from the court/ice.

  2. The elderly and physically impaired may have some trouble with the steep and/or long isles stairs. Drunk people too.

  3. Not a fan of the low suites. Particularly since they appear to be roughly where the glass would be in a hockey arena (assuming Seattle follows through on trying to steal the Coyotes next). I’ve not been a huge fan of them at the Earthquakes new stadium but at least they reserved some sideline seating for regular folks at that stadium. This seems to take the low suite idea and simply push the common folk completely away from the game along the whole sideline. It’s not a good development for the sport long term.

  4. RM,
    Curious: any idea why the Japanese haven’t built any new ballparks? I recently saw photos of a new yard in northern Mexico. You’d think with the money the Japanese have, they’d be all over new, modern ballparks.

  5. God that’s an ugly arena. A volcano on top of an office building. Yuck

  6. “The downside to this approach is that if a fan wants a sideline seat in the lower level, he has no choice but to buy a club seat of some sort.”

    That’s been the case at Oracle for 15 years now, so it’s not that drastic of an “innovation”. I think, in general, this looks pretty cool.

  7. Tony not sure what you mean. The Japanese have a whole bunch of new parks built in the last 20 years over there. And of the 4 teams that don’t have new parks 2 are historic venues (Meiji Jingu and Koshien) ala Wrigley and Fenway and arguable Kleenex Stadium is also in that class. Sure their parks aren’t the same style as ours, half of them being domes, and most have fake grass and/or base cutouts. But that seems to be the style they favor. And given their weather both rain and snow I can’t blame them.

  8. Thanks Dan. Was not aware of that. Gonna check out some of the parks you mentioned.

  9. I visited Fukuoka Dome for a Hawks game as a kid 10 years ago. I don’t remember much about the stadium itself, but the in-game experience was quite something! Their take on the seven-inning stretch will always be a memory that sticks out to me: (not my video, of course)

    Its pretty interesting to compare Japanese and American ballparks and see so many design aspects found in Japan that would be considered obsolete and undesirable here. I mean, just look at the foul territory at some of these places like Sapporo Dome and Chiba Marine Stadium – they make ours at the Coliseum look downright puny!

  10. Come to think of it, the Coliseum would probably be considered a Gem in Japan 😉

  11. “Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium”… oh man, now I’ve seen everything.

  12. Thank you for mentioning Mac Court – that was the first thing I thought of when I say that picture. Saw many incredible Duck games there – when you were in the upper balconies it felt like you were literally hanging over the court. Made for a great atmosphere. A Duck inspired design in the middle of Husky territory – love it!

  13. I was wondering when the MSG catwalks were going to come up. Certainly a few venues have to be watching/waiting to see how they work out, and if they would work elsewhere.

    I was trying to picture them in the Shark Tank last night; it’s difficult to envision them in a location (in what’s now open space) that someone would have a decent vantage point without the structure blocking the view of the scoreboard or an end-stage event from some of the existing seats.

  14. I like the hockey set up that is on you tube.

  15. The upper deck and ‘rings’ remind me of St. Louis Arena, where the roof angles in and supports stick out in the upper deck like an old ball park. Hansen’s web site says the roof is cheaper because the roof trusses are shorter. The ‘rings are held up by the uprights of the ‘turbine like’ upper sides of the arena. According to the website, the suites are not on exclusive, walled off concourses to minimize ‘stratification’ of the arena and create a ‘shared experience.’ If that’s not bullshit, it’s a welcome change in arena/stadium evolution. I hope somebody checks out the site and comments.

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