Here Come The Super-Stadiums

Forget the bum economy. Hungering for the kind of revenue needed to field top teams, a wave of stadium construction is sweeping through sports. But not just any stadiums. Super-stadiums.

The formula: Build new facilities with fewer seats and more luxury boxes, charge higher prices, earn more revenue, hire better players and reap more wins. Then turn around and raise ticket prices. It’s a sports business model that originated in America and is now spreading across the globe. “It’s become a game of one-upsmanship,” says Chris Lee, senior principal at HOK Sport, which designed several new European stadiums. “Teams are finding it’s a circle you have to be a part of.”

The website stadiumguide.com lists 78 new soccer venues across Western Europe that either opened recently or planned for the near future, along with a handful of others in Eastern Europe and South America. Most are scaled down models of the old giant soccer stadiums emphasizing seating rather than standing room, the better to minimize the chances for hordes of standing, leaning fans to fall and cause a crush.

Click here to see the super stadiums
In Pictures: 10 New Super-Stadiums

Two standouts: the 365 million euro ($576 million) Landsdowne Road Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, expected to open in 2009. Home to the Irish National Soccer Team as well as rugby, it will hold 50,000 fans and have 110 luxury suites, 10,000 premium club seats, fine dining and lounge bars. In Lyon, France, the 60,000-seat Olympique Lyonnais will open a year later. With a green design featuring solar power and reusable water, construction cost 240 million euros ($379 million) and will have 130 luxury suites and 5,000 premium club seats.

In the U.S., the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys are awaiting the opening of their massive $1 billion new field. Football’s Minnesota Vikings and baseball’s Oakland A’s also hope to have new homes soon. The San Francisco 49ers have been pining for one, even talking with officials in nearby Santa Clara, Calif. Minnesota’s baseball team, the Twins, already have a new stadium set to open in 2010. “Teams that need the revenue will always continue to build new facilities,” says Hamp Howell, president of industry consultant Sports Facilities Marketing Group.

The trend’s worldwide capital: the New York City area, where four new stadiums will open in the next few years. First up are two baseball cathedrals: the Mets’ Citi Field and the Yankees’ “new” Yankee Stadium—both expected to open in 2009. They’ll hold a combined 125 luxury suites, with the most expensive going for $2,500 per person per game, with capacities upward of 30 fans each. Top field-level seats will also cost more, allowing the teams to keep the upper tiers of their respective stadiums more reasonably priced.

After that comes a $1.3 billion home in New Jersey for the NFL’s New York Giants and Jets. Opening in 2010, it promises a capacity of 82,500, including 200 luxury suites and 9,200 club seats. The new stadium’s signature will be a 400-foot-by-40-foot-high rectangular wall featuring murals of players to fans outside the stadium.

Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls are also building a cozy new home with 20,000 seats in nearby Harrison, N.J. The fledgling league is hoping to strike a chord with casual soccer fans by rescuing some of its teams from monstrous football stadiums—mausoleums to a soccer club playing to less than half capacity much of the time—and into soccer-only venues that bring fans closer to the action.

“The first row of seats will be just 21 feet from the touch lines, “says Red Bulls spokesman Andy McGowan, who also notes that a translucent roof will cover every seat in the house. “It will be the benchmark stadium by which all other soccer stadiums in North America are measured.”

Elsewhere in America, sports facility consultants are drawing more business from mid-size cities looking to make sports arenas a centerpiece of downtown redevelopment. Tulsa, Okla., Wichita, Kan., Omaha, Neb., and Des Moines, Iowa, are all going in that direction, according to Howell. The idea is to draw people downtown to concerts and minor sports like arena football.

Kansas City built the new $276 million Sprint Center with the hope of luring the National Hockey League to town. The ownership group AEG, run by Philip Anschutz, has had flirtations with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators, to no avail so far. The Penguins just got approval for their own new arena to stay put. But Howell thinks the Predators’ status in Nashville is tenuous, despite a sale to a local group last year.

“The Predators are probably in play,” he says. Meantime, the Sprint Center plays host to concerts and college basketball tournaments, with no anchor tenant. The bulk of the arena’s cost was publicly financed.

No matter. If you build it, they will come. And if they don’t, the owners have the local taxpayers to split their losses with.

The top five:

1. New Meadowlands Stadium: Slideshow
2. Yankee Stadium: Slideshow
3. Dallas Cowboys New Stadium: Slideshow
4. Lucas Oil Stadium: Slideshow
5. Citi Field: Slideshow
More super stadiums

In Pictures: 10 New Super-Stadiums

Updated Wednesday, Apr 2, 2008