The Evolution of Sports Facilities

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Sports facilities include arenas, stadiums or buildings in which a sporting event is held. Sports facilities host competitions, practices, and general recreation for all levels of athletics.  For over a century, they have been at the center of communities and their legacy goes back much further in other contexts. 

The History of Sports Facilities & Their Location Selection

The history of stadiums and sports facilities can be traced back centuries with modernized versions beginning to be designed towards the end of the 19th century in urban metropolises such as New York and Chicago. These buildings typically were crowded, wooden structures without sufficient safety designs. The growth in the nation's population and organized sports created the need for larger and safer places to play. From the early 20th century, sports such as baseball and basketball dominated, with football eventually being added into the fold and becoming the driving forces behind stadium and sports facility development. Within a span of 30 years, there was a progression in the basic design of sports facilities with the architecture changing over time. As it stands now, many sports facilities have added a significant amount of amenities that allow for better profits from consumers, more luxury suites and more opportunities for sponsorships of teams that play in the arenas. The industry itself continues to change and alter as major professional ranks within all sporting types host their events in the places (Lamberth, 2005). A boom in the amount of sports facilities constructed has risen over the past 30 years or so because of the alterations within the industry and changing consumer expectations. 

There has been a noteworthy increase in construction in sports facilities in the United States. This particular boom began in the late 1980s and as it stands, has shown no signs of ceasing. The reasons for this construction boom differential from earlier decades reflects the changing dynamics of sports in general and the ability of companies financing the sports facilities construction reasonings. The command for new sports facilities reflects the role that sports plays in civilization and the apparent expression of that role is the eagerness of cities to continue building these forms of entertainment for consumers. Inherent in most decisions regarding new sports facilities is the selection of location. On a micro level, the physical location of the sports venue within a city is the chief consideration, while on the macro level, the decision is normally made by the leagues as they are organizations that decide where the sports facility will be erected (Newsome & Comer, 2000). There has been a minimal amount of research completed on the location patternings of professional sports facilities. Literature reflects many location trends as being more urbanized and less rural. The assumption then is that as professional sports developed more into a societal norm, permanent venues were decided upon as the demand for sports rose.

There is a necessity for sports facility location deliberation as a result of major league sports franchises. The rivalry occurs because leagues are almost always able to control the number of teams fielded, creating a sort of dearth among franchises. A franchise, therefore, cannot only play cities against each other in terms of metropolis selection, but they can seek the satisfaction by using their bargaining power as to how the sports facility will alter the city's look and economy. From this point of view, franchises can indeed garner support for sports facilities in a city if there is a growing amount of resonance for such a place. There are steps that normally go into the sports facility location and they are typically put into three distinctive categories: downtown, central city, and suburban locations. Downtown locations are defined as being central to the city's business district, the central city is looked as a within a considerable portion of the city, but outside the realm of the central business district, and the suburban locations are those outside the city limits (Newsome & Comer, 2000). 

In spite of the sports facility location, there are some issues that do arise. The problem of facility location is faced by both new and existing companies whose sole focus is to create these extensive venues for sports. The location of the sports facility is often determined on the basis of the company or sponsor's corporate headquarter location, but not always ("Technical Note Ten…," 2003). While the determination of a sports facility location is determined by many different factors, perhaps the most important analysis is done via patterns in consumer behavior in cities where there are existing sports arenas. It would appear from most findings that the optimum for sports facilities lay in the downtown locale. The implications of this seem to boost the morale and economics of the city.

The surge in downtown locations can be explained by understanding that is involved in or rather benefits from the location decision. Sports franchise businesses, athletes, fellow owners, and politicians all seem to profit from the downtown setting of a sports facility. There is not one explicit grouping of individuals who may benefit as a whole, but a myriad of benefactors. Each group has its own self-interests, this is true, yet the visibility of a sports facility in the downtown locale has more positives than negatives. The benefits to locally important corporations of gaining a major league franchise within the city allow for the public's increased attentiveness of that corporation and thus leads to a significant increase in that company's economic revenue (Newsome & Comer, 2000).  Likewise, local athletic businesses such as SquadLocker benefit from added sales. Corporations can have a momentous impact on the locations of sports facilities as well. Obvious examples of corporation influence on sports facility locales come directly from team owners. These owners are instrumental in the significant impact that a facility may have on a city in spite of the issues that may arise in the location selection process.

It would make sense that owners with considerable downtown investments would be concerned with the impact that a sports facility location would have. What is less clear in understanding the location selection process is the degree to which this represents a boosterism effect on the corporation's strategy as a whole (Newsome & Comer, 2000). In other words, does a corporation always benefit from the location selection being downtown? Downtown locations then are the primary driving force behind how the city flourishes in spite of the many different reasons as to the selection of a facility being downtown. 

Another reason for the increase in downtown location arises from the idea that the push for sports facilities in these areas of a city represents the team owners' force for income increase. Many original sports facilities and relocations of these facilities are the effect of the owners' capability to play one area off against the other. This is an insightful strategy in accepting how the sports facility process works. Can the same be said for smaller cities where sports facilities are? Smaller cities' downtowns are generally situated to a broader local fan base. Small cities can benefit from the downtown locale as well then with the implications being larger urban areas can reach the sports venues if need be (Newsome & Comer, 2000). In addition to the location selection, the designs are also taken into account. 

Sports Facility Design & Planning

The sports business means many different things to different people. A global industry, sports stirs within most individuals a passion that can be felt. To the business world, however, sports provide a lucrative and continually growing marketplace that is worthy of immense investments. Design trends play a pivotal role in the entertainment factor behind sports facilities. Sports are a big business and with a constantly evolving sports sector, the trends continually shift and change (Plunkett Research, 2013). The sports industry then has to evolve with the changing trends by garnering as many new items within the facilities as they can either through new construction or in the renovation process.   

The sports facility planning and development process can be a demanding one, to say the least. It is important for planners to consider the probable errors that may come up. Master planning is a decision-making process that promotes changes that will accommodate the needs and specifications of a new sports facility. The planning process can and does change attitudes when assets are factored into the proverbial equation. The planning process also plays a significant role in the trends that may be adopted in the facility's design. Heavy coordination is needed to ensure successful integration. Another important characteristic of the process of planning in the construction of a sports facility is the ability to respond to an ever-changing world. In the planning stage, there are many different goals and objectives that come into play such as the physical characteristics of the sports facility and the ways in which consumers will be able to get to the sports facility. These evaluations are necessary (Sawyer, 2009). Without the planning stage, the success of a sports facility is minimal.

Stadium design trends have become a popular topic as of late. Practical designs have become a memento of the past, as the 18-34 year old demographic and the majority of the clientele that attend sports events in the sports facilities prefer deluxe accommodations. For this reason, sports arenas have for the last 20 years catered to the needs of the communities in which the sports facilities are constructed. Finer elements are incorporated into the sports facilities to appeal to the increasing amount of sophisticated fans. Universities and professional franchises alike have been able to increase the revenue through the saturation of items such as upscale dining and other amenities that are unique to sports facilities (Lamberth, 2005).  The sports facility experience should be able to capture your senses immediately upon entering and designs, for the most part, have been able to capitalize on this overarching idea.

In the design discussion, the seating environment must be taken into consideration. Fifty years ago, sports facilities had restricted seating types. Comfy seating or what is considered to be premium seating were not the norm as they are today. All sports facilities have preferred seat locations where 80% of the revenue comes from. Sports facility design today offers a number of seating environments that have evolved into an assortment of small neighborhoods. Suites, club levels, and additional decks and tiers encompass most sports facilities designs during the planning stages. Most of the spectatorship today is familiar with the luxury/private suite conceptualization, which is stated to hold roughly 10-16 people with fixed seats in a living room type environment. Some fans of sports may not be familiar with other expansive settings that often are included in the construction of the new sports facilities such as club lounges, fine dining, and loge seating as well as bunker suites. Many sports facilities even have nightclub style bars that offer a chic appeal to build your own buffets and stand-alone dessert carts with widespread menu selections (Lamberth, 2005).  Sports facility trends have also expanded within the audio technology area as well. 

Advancements in audio/visual technology are apparent on scoreboards and in the sound systems that are built in the sports facilities. Technology has the capacity to pay for themselves through imaginative promotion whereby portions of a facility can be branded with a message from the sponsor with the push of a button. Technology enables more services and allows for more amenities for consumers. Computer run monitoring and access systems are often accompanied by sports facilities. They are often placed near building perimeters, parking lots, points of entry, concourses and seating environments. Area lighting and climate control are other features that are included in the audio/technology of sports facilities (Lamberth, 2005).  In addition, the trends that have become the norm over the last 30 years, a city’s economic structure are altered significantly when a sports facility is built. 

The Role of Sports Facilities as City Changers

Sports facilities have long been known to be a central factor behind a city's economic recovery or a vehicle by which a city uses to increase its revenue. Cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and even Durham, have invested heavily in sports facilities as a means to revive urban districts. While corporations play a key role in a sports facility's construction on occasion in regards to proceeds, most sports facility construction is performed on the basis of urban development. Studies of the brunt that sports facilities have on communities and cities have concluded that at first glance that they provide a great deal for the city but do not necessarily capture the investment returns that cities hope for. Economists argue that the fruition of sports facilities and their ever-changing designs and plans have not necessarily shown significant evidence that they contribute to fiscal expansion on a metropolitan level. In spite of this evidence, North American cities keep building and renewing sports facilities with a soaring cost to the public (Chapin, 2004). Redevelopment efforts are concerned primarily with attracting tourists and established customers to the cities in an effort to drive up revenue. The reverse has happened though.

Redevelopment efforts have been the primary force that has determined where sports facilities are constructed. Cities have often hoped that jobs would be created and that taxes would be generated as a result of sports facility construction, but that seems to be a misnomer based on economic studies. Proponents for sports facility construction understand the evolution of sports and the way the public reacts to newly constructed facilities, but the argument is mainly centered on the redevelopment argument instead of looking at the larger picture. Investments seem to be justified by investors, corporations and the like, and prior research findings are offered up when a sports facility design is put forth. Indications of this would show that sports facilities are needed to revitalize a city or metropolitan district, but they offer nominal amounts of benefits. It would seem from most literature and discussion, that there are stable payoffs from sports facilities on a pecuniary level (Chapin, 2004). That is not to say that redevelopment has not been noted with the erection of sports facilities.

The redevelopment strategy behind sports facilities is centered on the idea that large facilities generate activity within the district and thus bring in an influx of people that provide support to the surrounding retail establishments. These projects are often noted as galvanizing other investments within the public sector. Certain areas are considered to be more prominent to drive the concept of redevelopment. The rationale is that jobs and increased revenue will be noted with a new sports facility in a blighted area. The overall thought is noteworthy because there have been instances where this has occurred such as Denver, Seattle, and even San Diego; yet in spite of research noted about these cities where redevelopment has worked has not been sufficient enough to show forth a need for constant new construction (Chapin, 2004).

With the economic crisis and subsequent bailouts still brewing within America, the sports industry is not immune. A more upbeat approach to difficult times has affected how redevelopment efforts are purported and the types of design trends that are incorporated into sports facility planning. The economy has not been affected much by ticket sales for the preponderance of sports. In spite of this fact, overall payoffs have been bleak. In the 1990s, 60 major league facilities were created using $18 billion and a noteworthy payoff was not noticed much (Chapin, 2004; Robertson, 2010). The analysis of the road to redevelopment for cities is not clear-cut, however, as consumers continue to flock to sporting events for the mere love of the sports. Investors can then count on the dollars generated from the sales of the various amenities available to the consumers while they are at sporting events.


The evolution of sports facilities has been a fascinating exercise in the rejuvenation of cities and districts. Sports provide an outlet for consumers to cheer on their teams within a wide range of events all within an immaculately constructed and designed facility. The benefits of sports facilities are intangible and tangible.  Many professional sports facilities have been built over the last 30 years or so providing many benefits. While economists have questioned whether the pros outweigh the cons, sports facilitates have benefited cities and the surrounding areas in terms of landscape and recognition. Sports reflect the culture that finds them important. Sports, in essence, glorify the American fascination with winning and sports facilities allow for the competitive spirit to be expressed not only by the teams, and spectators but the city as a whole where the facility is situated.

Sports form a part of human and social development, contributing to the integration of economic and social factors. Sports bridges the cultural gaps, resolve conflict and educates people in ways that few activities can. Sports is a means of exchange and understanding among people of different backgrounds and belief systems (World Economic Forum, n.d.) and by having a sports facility present in a city, society continues to evolve and flourish especially in areas where the impact is significant.


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