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Stadiums score with finicky fans

/ Source: CNBC

Over the past decade, billions of dollars have been spent to build sports stadiums across the country, but the architectural designs have been far less eye-popping than the money would suggest. That’s now changing, as new breathtaking buildings are rising and changing the fan experience for good.

While fans of the Philadelphia Eagles were disappointed by the team’s loss Monday night to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they were wowed by their new home field — the most expensive football stadium ever built.

A sleek lobby bar with rows of minimalist sofas, a pool table next to working fireplaces, and wide-screen plasma televisions at virtually every turn — just what you’d expect to find in a chic boutique hotel. Except this is Lincoln Financial Field, the Philadelphia Eagles stylish new $500 million football stadium.

“The idea is that this is just a place to hang out like a nightclub or hotel lobby.. this is an experience they’d never get in a typical football stadium,” said Daniel Meis of California-based NBBJ Sports and Entertainment and the project’s lead architect. Meis also designed the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Miller Park in Milwaukee and Safeco Field in Seattle.

“The people who use these spaces, they’re a traveled set, they go to nice restaurants, they go to nice hotels. So we actually spent a lot of time looking at high-end hotel chains . . . and restaurants around country and even some around the world for the inspiration,” Meis said.

The stadium even has an “open corner” for example, which was inspired from traditional Italian piazzas as a place where large groups of people can meet. Also the roof-top canopy looks like it was airlifted from a European soccer stadium and the so-called “Head House” at the stadium’s north end kind of has the feel of a train station’s main hall.

“We look for [examples] throughout history that have made buildings things that people connect to — so it’s not just the latest technological bell or whistle,” Meis said

Yet there are plenty of high-tech gizmos too. Huge 100-foot wide big-screen monitors dominate each end-zone — low enough so that all 70,000 fans get a blast of sight and sound. And more than 2,000 flat-screen monitors circle the concourse.

Even the building’s materials — a mix of sleek steel, brick and glass — break the mold.

Meis says the stadium’s unique architecture serves a metaphor for Philadelphia’s diverse neighborhoods. “The more we can provide an experience that’s enhancing that, as people circulate to the building from the first moment they show up, it’s a reason to come to the game and spend more money,” he said

And encouraging fans to spend big bucks is a blueprint for success in today’s sports economy, where dollars must be maximized and every ounce of revenue sucked out.

“The buildings need to generate more revenues to support construction of the building, but also to support the business of the team, and we’ve seen a huge jump in [player] salaries, sponsorships, TV contracts — that’s what really drove this last wave of buildings,” Meis said.

Of course there are the traditional big money-makers — 172 luxury suites — with an average price of $136,000 per season.

Not surprisingly, early reviews from the biggest critics — fans — are glowing. “Excellent sight lines, it almost feels like you’re in the game,” one Eagles follower gushed.

Exactly what Dan Meis envisioned for his stadium of the future. “It’s not just putting seats around a field, it’s the total experience of attending an event,” he said.