A little over a decade ago, before the great “final” NFL realignment, the Seattle Seahawks were a fierce divisional rival of the Raiders. Who could forget this gem?
The Raiders will wrap up the preseason against the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field (née Qwest Field). If Mark Davis is looking for a good example to emulate in terms of stadium and game experience, he’d be hard pressed to do better than the Seahawks’ distinctive, modern home. Completed at a cost of $360 million in 2001 (plus $70 million for a large indoor exhibition space and garage), CenturyLink Field manages to provide top-tier amenities while creating a very intimidating home field atmosphere, which can’t be said for many new NFL stadia.
The key to CenturyLink Field’s success is its arched roof structures, which each cover most of the west and east stands. Even though people were scarce during the tour, our guide had us yell while on the upper concourse to demonstrate the echo effect, and it was impressive. Most outdoor NFL stadia have at best a roof as a trim piece, nothing as big as this. The roof design was meant to evoke Husky Stadium on the University of Washington campus, where the Seahawks played for a year while the new stadium was being built. Husky Stadium and Oregon’s Autzen are the loudest stadia in the Pac-12. The Kingdome was also loud, now this place is loud. Guess they like loud football in the Pacific Northwest.
Architectural firm Ellerbe Becket (now part of AECOM) incorporated another cool feature from Husky Stadium: an overhanging upper deck. From the picture above, the cantilever runs about 13 rows or 40 feet. The cantilever is actually something of a necessity because the stadium site, where the old Kingdome sat, is rather compact. While many league venues are surrounded by a sea of parking, CenturyLink Field is bordered by a street grid and railroad tracks (just like Safeco Field one block south). Without the cantilevers, Ellerbe Becket couldn’t have crammed 67,000 seats into this space unless they built more vertically, which would’ve been far more expensive.
Since tailgating wasn’t really possible in SoDo, a large exhibit hall was constructed adjacent to the stadium. Named the Event Center, the 200,000 square feet of flex space serves as a huge pregame staging area, a sort of scaled-down version of the NFL Experience at the Super Bowl. Non-ticketed fans are allowed inside until kickoff. The Event Center is also used as a concert venue (of debatable quality) and as a mini convention center.
When fans enter the stadium through one of the gates on Occidental Avenue S, they are greeted by the team store (for both the Seahawks and MLS Sounders) and an enormous lower concourse, which also happens to sit at field level. Using this arrangement conserves space within the limited footprint, though it also also limits the amount of additional structures that can be built on different levels within the stadium. The same concourse on the opposite (east) side is elevated above the field to allow for the construction of locker rooms, the commissary, and other back-of-the-house necessities.
There’s one suite level and suites on the club level beneath it. There aren’t three different club levels, or a stack of four or five seating decks. It’s a classic arrangement that has similarities with with Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field. The 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium has an unorthodox seating arrangement within a compact footprint. We’ll see if it provides the kind of atmosphere the ‘Stick could at times.
Before ever setting foot in CenturyLink Field, I had pretty good understanding of why it should be a great football venue. It doesn’t bow too much to the greedy, pervasive class system of stadium construction. It makes a nod to another great stadium in the area. It’s not a dome. It’s focused on football (and soccer to a surprisingly successful extent). It looks cool without looking too blingy. Unlike the Kingdome, a neither fish-nor-fowl space that both tenants wanted to abandon shortly after it was built, this stadium is something Seahawks and the public can be proud of (public financing problems notwithstanding). Besides the lack of tailgating lots, it’s just about everything a modern football stadium should be. As such, it’s probably the best among the new era of NFL stadia, and 2nd overall to Lambeau Field.