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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.