Inside Look: College stadiums

Premium fan experiences and high-tech connectivity among the trends
By: | Issue: September, 2016
August 31, 2016

Colleges now enhance game-day experiences with more luxury suites and better wireless connectivity in an effort to lure fans away from the comforts of home and to the stadium.

In 2014, nearly one-fifth of the total expenses for athletics at public universities was dedicated to facilities and equipment, according to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars are being doled out annually to build or renovate stadiums, with the focus on creating experiences beyond just attending a sporting event.

“Every university is trying to up its game, trying to compete with TV to draw people into the facility,” says Don Barnum, global sports leader at DLR Group, an international design firm that works with multiple higher ed institutions on stadium construction and renovation.

In addition to bigger and better scoreboards and sound systems, wireless connectivity is essential in new college stadiums so fans can use their mobile devices—whether it’s to keep track of social media or to enhance their game-viewing experience. Large institutions such as Penn State, Alabama and Stanford have all boosted bandwidth in recent years.

Some universities create their own game-related content and deliver it wirelessly, and even generate revenue by selling access to real-time stats or streaming video, says Barnum.

“The Wi-Fi connection also facilitates pre-ordering food so you don’t have to wait in line at the concession window—or if it’s a premium area, you can order from your phone and have it delivered to your seat,” he says. “It’s like a mobile concierge in some cases.”

Luxury seating and suites continue to be a primary revenue generator.

“One of the keys things is trying to create multiple levels of premium opportunity so there’s something for the super rich and also the young alumni, who may want to do something special but may not have the wherewithal to do it,” says Barnum.

Options range from opulent suites with giant TVs, waiters and private bathrooms (which require multimillion dollar donations to lease) all the way down to more comfortable stadium seats with backs—rather than the unforgiving metal benches of the past.

Stadiums also continue to see an infusion of high-end food-and-beverage options as well as branded restaurant outlets.

“But no matter how many expensive food items are offered,” says Barnum, “there will always be a place for hot dogs and nachos.”