Evolution of the concourse

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.

concourse-10-coliseum-field_closed-med

At times it can be hard to tell how full the Coliseum is because the field level concourse gets jammed quickly.

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.

Wrigley Field lower concourse has no views of game and no natural light, yet is wide enough to be navigable.

Wrigley Field lower concourse has no views of game and no natural light, yet is wide enough to be navigable.

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.

concourse-04-camden_lower2-med

Lower concourse at Camden Yards – closed to the stands, open to the outside

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.

Stacked concourses at Camden Yards

Stacked concourses at Camden Yards

Target Field's lower concourse down the lines has great views of the game due to a lack of overhanging seating.

Target Field’s lower concourse down the lines has great views of the game due to a lack of overhanging seating.

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.

AT&T Park's Promenade Level is open with the exception of the area behind home plate, which contains the writers' press box.

AT&T Park’s Promenade Level is open with the exception of the area behind home plate, which contains the writers’ press box.

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.

concourse-07-angel-200_level_open-med

Angel Stadium was built with a closed main concourse and a mini-mezzanine that is open behind the seats. Much of Rangers Ballpark was laid out in similar manner.

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.

concourse-12-petco_mall-med

Petco Park tries to have it both ways

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?

35 thoughts on “Evolution of the concourse

  1. I’m a huge fan of Petco’s concourse layout, all around the field. I like circulating around parks and I’ve felt the most freedom there while still staying connected to the game. Target Field’s concourse felt like the new Stanford football stadium’s concourse: open but dryly utilitarian. Petco’s definitely has more style.

  2. This one isn’t even close. Open concouse. It’s great to be able to traverse 360 degrees around the ballpark and be able to see the field and hear the roar or lack of roar from the crowd. This doesn’t mean you have to have a lack of overhang like in the Target Field example. So what, if your’e walking the concourse, you can’t track the ball if it’s in the air? (Follow the outfielders). The open concourse is great if you want to explore the ballpark and all of a sudden the bases get loaded with no outs, for example, simply stop a watch. Even if you can only see 75% of the field it’s better than being stuck in a non-open concourse where they only pump the radio broadcast over the loudspeakers. Some of the better ballparks have standing room in tons of locations. Personally, I like to enjoy a game from many different vantage points. It’s hard to do this with a closed concourse.

    There’s no need to have a cavernous concourse though (New Yankee Stadium)

  3. “Along with Camden Yards, Angels Stadium, Rangers Ballpark, and Busch Stadium have “closed” concourses – largely to bump up capacity.”

    That is a little misleading. In the case of Angel Stadium, there is a concourse closed to the field (the Field Level concourse), and one open the field (the well-stocked Terrace Level concourse, which goes 360 degrees around the field as part of the Rams expansion).

    In the case of Rangers Ballpark, it appears the main concourse was lowered to provide vertical space (in contrast to the concourse at U.S. Cellular Field, which is open to the field but is cramped vertically, with a level of suites immediately above the concourse).

    The obvious advantage of the “closed” concourse is to lower the upper decks as much as possible. If every concourse was required to have a view of the field, the decks above that concourse would be pushed higher, and the rakes of those seating decks would also have to be angled higher.

    The closed concourse is also the more egalitarian (for lack of a better word) design. The fans in the (higher priced) lower deck are sacrificing a view of the field when purchasing beer and hot dogs; the direct consequence of that is to allow the fans sitting in the (lower priced) upper deck closer proximity to the field.

    Think about how high the back half of the upper deck is at AT&T Park. How much closer would the upper deck have been if the suite level were placed at the back of the field level and not in a mezzanine between the club concourse and upper deck?

    The best cross section is that seen behind home plate in the (proposed) Wrigley Field renovation.

    The club level has it own open concourse, albeit limited to the width of the press box structure.

    Wrigley Field’s “unfair” advantage is that its suite level doesn’t need its own concourse. By being “suspended” over seats, the concourse on that level is (in a sense) vertically shared space, in this case with pseudo-premium space (a “marque bar” behind home plate). Down the lines, this space is simply a walkway/landing for the circulation ramps.

    Of course, many people complain that seats at the back of the lower level are vertically obstructed seats, but some things have to be sacrificed to allows the upper deck a much gentler and more inviting rake.

    As is the case the Wrigley, the best design in a new ballpark would be to provide only the CLUB concourse with a view of the field. It would, however, require the architects to challenge the false nirvana of the open concourse.

  4. Because of the grading of the seats, I think you can have an open concourse without sacrificing much if any of the upper decks height. The upper deck can overhang and follow the grade of the lower deck. This provides only a narrow view of the action, but its better than the alternative.

    I don’t necessarily think you should be able to walk the entire concourse with views of the action. I’m okay with parts behind home, where a press box is, but I think the bulk should be open to the field.

    I think Camden was left open to the outside, instead of the field for asthetics. It looks great from the outside, but it sucks missing half an inning trying to get some food.

    Some parks do a lot with TVs and radio on the PA, but I’ve been to some parks where the only clue something important is happening are cheers reaching the concourse. I hate that.

  5. Just a side note–maybe someone knows–I noticed yesterday AT&T moved all the portable concessions that were at the on the field side of the lower concourse to the outer wall of the concourse Anyone know when they did this? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that way earlier this season. You used to be able to watch the game while buying from them, now you face away for the field for all concessions.

    Pedestrian traffic flow seemed about the same, unless you used the vacated space as a short cut, then it was much improved. Not sure if they’re considering adding seating there, or maybe standing areas with shelves like Petco.

  6. @Pudgie – You’re not saving that much space vertically by employing the closed concourse. Most ballparks have the club level or mezzanine above the lower deck, which should provide plenty of clearance. If there’s a suite level, it can run flush with the back of the lower seats as in Arlington.

    The idea of suites at the back of the lower deck only works if the lower deck is short (fewer rows/seats) and the suiteholders are okay with using the crowded main concourse. That might’ve worked in the 80’s. Not now.

    As for Wrigley, I think we can safely say there are a lot of century-old practices there that would be nonstarters in the modern era. Suites, the cantilever/column debate, and ADA guidelines have seen to that.

  7. @PJK

    I was listening to the Raiders broadcast on the NFL network and Greg Papa said the same thing during the game.

  8. The heat is being turned up on the City of Oakland to pony $300 million for a Raiders football stadium (which really multiplies to $600 million, since MLB will be asking for at least the same amount that the Raiders get). Anybody think the city is going to fall in line with what the Raiders want? Didn’t think so.

  9. whoever designed and built stanford’s new football stadium after they tore the old one down should be the firms that the raiders should hire to build whatever new stadium they want if they remain in the bay area. the new stanford stadium construction time was 9-10 months and cost from what I’ve read under 100 million? that can’t be right can it? from what i’ve read of reviews of the new stanford stadium everybody thinks it’s a great venue, parking sucks but that wouldn’t be an issue if that kind of venue was built where the current coliseum is now.

    i don’t know how much it’d cost to expand a similar venue for about 10k more to make the capacity to around 60k and i don’t know how much adding more luxury boxes would cost but it shouldn’t be that much more. really if the raiders do build a new football venue it should be something basic, you’re not going to need a 70k capacity venue with a huge amount of luxury boxes. i doubt a super bowl will be ever rewarded to the city of oakland regardless if they build a new venue down the road due to levis stadium being a year away from opening and that’s going to be the big ticket venue for the nfl when it deals with rewarding super bowls in this area so why not have a new raiders home be the simple and clean ala stanford stadium.

    if you could magically somehow move stanford stadium into the coliseum parking lot and that was the home of the raiders, i don’t think many raider fans would complain about it as imo it’d be an improvement over what the coliseum is at it’s current state.

    • @letsgoas – John Arrillaga is one of the biggest Valley developers and he ran a really tight ship with the Stanford Stadium project. There are no suites or locker rooms. There’s barely any space with interiors. The foundation was reused, as were the press elevator and a scoreboard. The place doesn’t look cheap but the place was definitely built on a budget. It’s really difficult to compare Stanford with any modern NFL stadium. They’re on completely different levels. The only comparison point might be the various expansions of Lambeau Field, which for many years hovered between 50k and 60k seats.

  10. Great post. I once missed three innings in the Coliseum concourse. It was a pitchers duel but still, that sucked to know end and part of the problem was so many people crowded in there it was difficult to tell where the lines for the food were. I’ve always had better concourse experiences with the Giants even though their attendance is usually better.

  11. Of all the concourse styles you present ML, PETCO’s is by far the best IMO. You can never have a “too open” concourse IMO. The ability to circulate freely and easily, even at a sold out game, is a must for any concourse. And due to its sheer size and layout PETCO accomplishes this better than any park. And to do so while still allowing easy views of the field from most of the concourse (along with those great drink rails when you feel like stopping to take in a particular view) make for a great system. Add into it the sheer open sky effect lighting the whole thing during the day and opening you up to San Diego’s amazing weather and it just can’t be beat.

    That’s not to say PETCO’s design is for every city. Obviously the weather in San Diego lends itself to the very open design PETCO uses where a park in the northern latitudes or in wet Florida wouldn’t work with such a design. But I could see a similar design working in San Jose or Oakland if not for site size constraints at both Downtown SJ and Howard Terminal.

  12. @ML – The greatness of PNC Park is the evidence behind my thesis.

    At PNC Park, only ONE concourse has a view of the field. For a modern ballpark, that would be the design I would espouse.

    Let’s take for granted (at this point) that, in a modern ballpark, the suites have to be on their own designated level to provide exclusivity and to ease circulation. In the example of PNC Park, if BOTH the main and club concourses had a view of the field (a la AT&T Park), the intimacy from the upper deck would be severely compromised.

    • @Pudgie – Challenge accepted.

      @Dan – Remember that the Olympic Stadium was built to hold 85,000. 30-40% of those seats were torn down after the games, but one legacy issue remains – the depth of the lower level. It has 45 rows. That’s nearly football stadium depth. They needed to split the lower level to service it properly. Even then, there were worries about going over budget so Turner has a sort of generic cheapness that mars the experience there. I haven’t been there in a decade so I don’t know if things have changed much since then.

  13. Thinking about your description of Angel Stadium and apparently Arlington as well made me think of Turner Field. Turner takes that same design to an extreme with the first deck having two concourses. There’s the lower enclosed concourse (ala the old Wrigley style under the grandstand) and an upper top of the bowl style concourse that is completely open (ala Target Field or Petco). And both concourses are extremely wide for either style meaning that everything is very spread out. Where Turner seems to suffer however is that they appear to have filled these two concourses serving the same deck combined with only as many concessions as you’d normally see in a single concourse (above or below). Meaning that both of Turner’s concourses seem very sparse and spartan compared to many of there contemporaries. I don’t know if it’s a legacy issue from the ’96 Olympics or if it was an original design choice to free up circulation room, but the end result is that the place seems more barren and empty than it ought to given the park’s size. Not to mention the lower concourse is dark and a bit dank, not unlike the Coliseum’s concourse just larger.

  14. Went there last year and I’d say that “generic cheapness” remains. The stadium design itself did remind me more of the Coliseum than it did the other new parks. It feels sterile, concrete and too big. And its construction appears to have been rushed and/or cheaply done since rust, crumbling brick and exposed rebar are all over a park that is younger than Camden Yards, Progressive Field, or Arlington. Nevermind the poor concourse layout due again to the depth of the 1st deck.

  15. if the Diridon ballpark gets built as it appears in the concept renderings, it shouldn’t get much natural light either. I don’t think darnk, narrow concourses really matter to Bay Area fans. It hasn’t hurt popular opinion of AT&T Park which which as some of the darkest and most narrow ballpark concourses I’ve ever seen. As long as there’s a view of the field from most of the lower concourse, I’m good.

    I don’t typically mind the width of the Coliseum concourses. The only time I have an issue with them is when concession lines disrupt the walking traffic. This is more of a problem with limited service than concourse width though. Lines at a 14k A’s game are worse than lines at a 42k Giants game.

  16. @Briggs yeah, Man your right on the money. I really don’t know what’s up with modern engineering. The Coliseum at Rome was open in AD 80, you mean to tell me, that we really can’t build a structure, with most of the so called modern convinces in 2013, err 2018-2020-2025 at Dirdon, HT, Mars. I guess all those slaves came in real handy.

  17. One of the problems of the wide concourses is adding to the volume of the structure resulting from stacking concourses for economical construction. This results in empty or underutilized concourse area, for example the luxury suite level of AT&T Park.

  18. @Bryan Grunwald
    Thanks, I figured it had to do with money, one way or another it always comes down to money. How they can build it for less (money), or how they can make more (money) off of it. AKA fewer amenities, or more inconveniences, for the small fries, so they can make the drivers of wealth more comfortable i.e. large companies that, perches club seats and suites. Well I know I will have to pay between 25-45 bucks for a bleacher seat, if it ever gets built in Oakland, and probable 35-55 if it gets build in San Jose, that’s if I can find a ticket down there. It’s worth it if the A’s get a new Home

  19. One thing the A’s could do short term to make the Coliseum more enjoyable actually revolves around the concourses. They could remove the fences/walls that block the view of the field from the majority of the concourse to give you an all around view of the field from the concourse and let more light in. And best part is, it wouldn’t cost them more than a few bucks to take them down.

  20. You can always count on pjk to find an excuse to type out Frisco.

  21. Forbes latest NFL franchise values list is out. Raiders ranked 32nd out of 32 teams.

  22. Briggs, in this case the name of the city is Frisco, TX.

  23. @Dan – Whenever I look at pictures of the old Coliseum, other than the view of the hills now blocked by Mount Davis, the open concourse is something I tend to gravitate towards and long for. I’ve always wondered why those fences were put up in the first place. I understand they were part of the mid-90s renovation for the Raiders and are supposed to serve as spite fences, but I don’t get the reasoning why? Its not like anyone can get close enough to see a free view of a game…

  24. I think both the JPA and A’s are too busy pointing fingers to worry about the small stuff like the paint on the walls or say…. the lease extension.

    I really hope MLB intervenes and plugs the A’s in AT&T Park. I know that’s crazy talk, but crazier things have happened.

  25. When I worked security at the Raiders, there were reports of people counterfeiting tickets. Instead of the usual practice of selling them to unsuspecting folk, they would use the tickets themselves as standing room tickets (in the pre-scanned tickets era). So maybe that is raison d’etre for the fences. Or maybe people in the last row didn’t like people hovering right behind the backs of their heads.

    In any case, most of those sections had the fences chopped from 6 to 3 feet a couple years ago, so you can now see over them.

  26. @Briggs YES, that’s the least MLB could do, since they are the ones that are holding the A’s hostage. If the Giants get their way, and Oakland gets its head out of its a__, and the A’s put in a real effort, that pays off, as a new park is under construction in Oakland, hell even if its in San Jose, part of any settlement should be that the A’s play at AT&T. Man it is embarrassing, to be the only city left where a MLB, and a NFL team share a home.

  27. “I really hope MLB intervenes and plugs the A’s in AT&T Park. I know that’s crazy talk, but crazier things have happened.”

    @Briggs, It’s not as far fetched as one may seem. I’ve been saying for quite awhile that the A’s should move to AT&T Park as temporary tenants of the Giants. This arrangement would be for four or five seasons until the new A’s ballpark in San Jose is completed. The Giants would receive rent, a percentage of the concessions, and parking revenues from the A’s as part of the compensation package that will allow the Giants to give up their so called “territorial claims” to the South Bay.

  28. re: Man it is embarrassing, to be the only city left where a MLB, and a NFL team share a home.

    …This is because Oakland simply cannot pay the bill to “re-enlist” in the major league sports “club.” The city simply does not have the money. This situation might actually end after this season, with the Raiders heading back to LA.

  29. @pjk I fear you may be correct, I never thought the best hope for my three teams, to stay in the Bay Area would be Santa Clara (Raiders), San Francisco (Warriors), San Jose (A’s) I hope One can stay in Oakland, I would guess if one stayed, it would probable will be the Raiders.

  30. The street level concourse for Fenways right field and bleachers is basically a large middle school bathroom with flat screen TVs. The lack of field views may have been a function of design from the era, but it suits the atmosphere of being a tourist attraction first and ballpark second.

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