The announcement that the 2014 Super Bowl will take place in New York has raised eyebrows for one big reason: weather.
Of the decision, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald wrote: “The NFL, with this open-air Jersey Super Bowl, has hijacked our de facto National Holiday and sold it to the most bitter of surroundings.” By “surroundings,” he refers not only to the wind and cold, but to the “gray banks of sludge (far too ugly to be called snow).” But it’s precisely a different definition of “surroundings” that led to the decision. It’s a definition of surroundings that includes more than just weather.
In a vote on Tuesday, the NFL awarded the game to New York/New Jersey, granting a one-time waiver of its rule requiring that Super Bowl games be played in cities with warm winter weather or domed stadiums. The rule exists, presumably, because the NFL believes that the Super Bowl should be played in warm climates. Tampa even called out the weather as a key dimension in its bid.
But football fans in an array of northern cities -- Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Boston, Cleveland, Minneapolis -- are so avid they endure Antarctic winter conditions in the games leading up to the Super Bowl. There was a rationale to the idea of a New York-area Super Bowl that transcended the cold. In fact, John Mara, part-owner of the Giants, found receptivity among other NFL owners to the idea of the game taking place in New Jersey in the time leading up to the vote.
The NFL has, through its actions, confirmed that the biggest single game in professional sports needs more than just great weather to be a success. So how did New York/New Jersey score?
For one, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell believes that the area is a “unique market,” a “No. 1 market in our country and in many cases around the world.” That means money. But it means other things too.
The Jets and Giants' bid won because they considered the entire experience of the Super Bowl and have designed a stadium that delivers more fully than any we’ve ever seen. They thought about fan experience on a variety of levels. From the stadium itself to the entire city, the bid takes the best of the New York area, and will make the game in 2014 unique in a way that only that region can. A Super Bowl float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade? Only in New York.
The Jets and Giants have done something in New Jersey that reminds us that football is not just a shorts-only pastime. They’ve designed a great fan experience.
So what makes a great fan experience? And what does it mean to go about designing it?
After working with Jay Cross, then president of the New York Jets, on the unrealized project to build a stadium on the West Side of Manhattan, Cross gave our design studio, Bruce Mau Design, the unique opportunity to join the Jets and Giants as they set out on the design and construction of the new building in New Jersey a few years later. The project was unique from the outset because typically, the design process for this type of facility would include mainly architects and engineers. In this case, our design firm was brought in to think about everything in between – or the “street to seat” experience.
360 Architecture, under the leadership of George Heinlein, was assigned the near impossible task of designing a home for two teams that both wanted their home field to feel like their own home field. Bruce Mau Design was asked to help figure out how to make that happen, and how to ensure that both Giants and Jets fans felt the full force and excitement of a Sunday home game, every week.
There are a few simple things that separate a stadium that has truly been designed with fans in mind, rather than the way most of the largest stadiums have conventionally been designed. Here are five of the top things we kept in mind while planning for this stadium:
1. Make the Fans’ Experience a Priority in Every Nook and Cranny of the Stadium
Typically, a stadium project is designed by an architect, an engineer, and a landscape architect. What’s missing is everything in between. Great designers think about how people use what they’ve designed and are always trying to improve upon that. They have an approach that considers the experience holistically. When thinking about the fan experience, we think about the entire path the fan takes from “street to seat” and design it to be a powerful emotional experience. Architects and engineers, by necessity, have to think and plan, from above, about how all the pieces fit. The designer of the fan experience needs to understand the architect’s perspective, but also consider how the average person will experience the space. At the New Meadowlands, both the Jets and the Giants appreciated the value of this approach.
2. Enhance the Fan Experience with Effective Wayfinding
More often than not, the signs that help people get around a stadium are an afterthought. In fact, in an ideal world, the building would be so well designed that you wouldn’t need a single sign to get you were you want to go. The reality is that it is often a huge problem and not only makes the building less efficient in terms of the way that people move around it, but it also means they’re spending more time figuring out where to go and less time buying hot dogs and enjoying the game. At the New Meadowlands, wayfinding signage was designed to be bold and clear and free of the clutter of sponsorship signage.
3. Plan for a Sponsor Hierarchy
A major problem with many existing stadiums is the "Sell Every Square Inch" syndrome. The short-term gain is more revenue derived from the existing real estate. The long-term loss is the degradation of the overall fan experience. More clutter means more confusion and a less comfortable experience. The best and most valuable brands in the world carefully control how they present themselves to the world. It should be no different for a sports venue. The venue should be designed as a brand, and as a part of that, it should control the experience, because when that happens, everyone wins. With the New Meadowlands, sponsorship presence is largely consolidated and kept quite separate from the wayfinding system. This means clearer messages for sponsors and a simpler and less intrusive experience for the fan.
4. Offer Compelling Sponsor Experiences
It’s easy to put up a big logo on a wall. It’s less easy to imagine a way to turn a sponsor’s brand into an experience and a story that’s valuable to the fan. There’s a sort of sweet spot you want to hit where a powerful and engaging experience has been given to the fan, delivered by a brand looking for visibility. It’s about inventing new real estate, seeing opportunities that may not appear to be obvious, but that represent significant moments in the space to tell great stories. At the New Meadowlands, key sponsors are confined to the four corners of the building -- but each gets an immersive and integral space devoted to their brand. The clarity gives the sponsor the opportunity to design a focused immersive story of their brand that has the potential to be iconic and on par with the intensity of the action on the field.
5. Let the Venue Give the Fans “Wow!” Moments
In the case of the New Meadowlands, a massive TriVision wall will greet visitors when they arrive at the main entrance to the building. It’s a sponsorship opportunity, but also an easy way to transform the building from the Jets to Giants with spectacular impact. The entry sequence for the building was carefully considered. The 50-yard line will continue off the field, through a field level club, through the main hall, and even out into the exterior plaza where a large “50” bench will serve as a meeting place for fans along with a wide range of activities designed to make the outside of the stadium a gathering place before and even after the game. A great fan experience has iconic “wow” moments that become stories that people talk about. Part of delivering those memories is wrapped up in creating shared cultural experiences.
Granted, no claim can be made that you can design your way out of a snowstorm on Super Bowl Sunday, despite the fact that the New York-New Jersey bid made provisions for shovels, fire pits, and seat warmers. But when you consider the entire fan experience, from street to seat, you find ways to further amplify the excitement that’s already built into the event. And when you can do that successfully, then the buzz of excitement is enough to keep any fan warm, no matter how cold, on the biggest day of football.
Images Courtesy of Bruce Mau Design and New Medowlands Stadium
Paddy Harrington is creative director for Bruce Mau Design (BMD). Since joining the Studio in 2003, Mr. Harrington has led some of BMD’s largest projects including the designing the fan experience for the NFL’s New York Jets and New York Giants New Meadowlands Stadium, a global sustainability platform for Coca-Cola, and a sustainable urban mobility program and vision for Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Harrington is an award-winning writer and filmmaker with experience in architecture, broadcasting and advertising. He is a frequent presenter on the topic of Designing Powerful Stories for Brands, Spaces, and Cultures at conferences worldwide. Harrington most recently served as guest lecturer for the Executive Education Program at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University where he presented Constructing a Narrative for Designers. Harrington holds a Master’s of Architecture from the University of Toronto with a multiple prize-winning thesis, and a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Ottawa.