Since the beginning of the recent stadium boom, no part of any venue has undergone a greater transformation than the seemingly utilitarian concourse. Once considered little more than a long corridor fans used to access concessions and restrooms, the humble concourse has expanded to something much greater. Concourses now house a great variety of ways for fans to spend money. Restaurants and lounges now often take up concourse space. And no discussion can be had without recognition of the concourse as a flowing hangout space, whether via the proliferation of drink rails or the simple widening of concourses to invite people to mill around and circulate. Taking cues from modern airport design, stadium operators recognized some time ago that they had captive audiences due to ticket sales, so might as well milk the faithful for what they could. Judging from how fans have reacted, they love it.
The phenomenon seems to be more uniquely American (or at least North American) than anything else due to marketing and expectations of the ticket-buying public. Nevertheless, concourse expansion has taken hold in several new top tier European soccer stadia. The Olympics and World Cup haven’t been touched as much because of the sheer cost of expanding multiple venues, but single-team or single-sport venues continue to follow prevalent trends.
Let’s start our discussion with the concourse we’re most familiar with as A’s fans: the field level concourse at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
I’ve written before about how this concourse has three hallmarks of old stadium design: it has is narrow at 30 feet wide, it has no buffer space for the seating sections, stairwells, or concession stands, and there are no attempts to divide traffic to better manage the flow. While the last issue can be addressed by instituting better queues at the concession stands, there’s still no substitute for greater space. Even during the day the concourse is devoid of light and claustrophobic thanks to fairly low ceilings. There are views of the game at many points, but the overhang is low enough to compromise those views.
The oldest ballparks still in use, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, have large main concourses underneath the bulk of their main grandstand. It works for providing interior space. It doesn’t work in terms of making fans connected the game. Whether that’s important to you as fan, it’s important to teams and architects. They want the best of both worlds – connectedness AND amenities. There’s no perfect solution and some have succeeded more than others in implementing their solutions.
Camden Yards’ design was largely influenced by difficulties encountered at cramped Memorial Stadium. Natural light floods the concourse, though there are few views of the game from the main grandstand concourse. Additional rows of seating sit atop the concession stands on the right of the picture above, with the backs open to allow some crowd noise to enter the concourse.
In a similarly reactionary manner, Target Field was designed to accentuate field views. The finished high ceilings make the lower concourse feel like an airport, for good and ill. The upper deck also has an open concourse.
Many parks built in the 2000’s have placed a premium on space behind home plate, leading to level after level of suites and clubs. At times a grandstand can look more like a hotel or office building than a grandstand.
Then there are a handful of ballparks that went against the grain. Along with Camden Yards, Angels Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, and Busch Stadium have “closed” concourses – largely to bump up capacity.
Finally, we have the concourses at Petco Park, where the concessions lines are often well-removed from circulation. It creates a sort of mall food court-like feel. There is sunlight and there are views, but is it perhaps too open?
As we’ve moved over the years from utility to feature, we’ve seen in hindsight the number of compromises that have needed to be made to provide openness (to the field) or better circulation and light. Disregarding for the moment any space or footprint constraints at a potential new A’s ballpark, what kinds of concourses would you like to see implemented?