Stadium renovations aim to enhance fan experience
Courtney Becker | Friday, September 1, 2017
Editor’s note: This is the first story in a three-part series featuring the completed Campus Crossroads project. Today’s story focuses on the enhancements and renovations to Notre Dame Stadium.
Notre Dame Stadium represents more than football after the renovations made over the course of the Campus Crossroads Project, vice president for facilities design and operations Doug Marsh said.
“The common introduction we have for all of our ushers and hospitality folks is, ‘We welcome fans from across the world to the Notre Dame Stadium, this very iconic college football venue,’” Marsh said during a press tour conducted Aug. 11. “But I’m happy to say, it’s much more than that at the completion of this project.”
The renovated stadium, which has been under construction since 2014, will play host to the first official Notre Dame football game to feature the new changes Saturday, and Marsh said he expects the game day experience to be greatly improved as a result.
“In the midst of the project, it’s one of those things that occurred to us that while it’s terrific to add these facilities that will activate Notre Dame Stadium every single day of the year — not just the days we host football or Commencement or our Blue and Gold spring game — but an opportunity while we’re at it to improve the game-day enhancement experience for our fans,” Marsh said. “So we took the opportunity to re-invest to make those enhancements.”
Associate athletics director Beth Hunter said the adjustments highlight the football program’s history while simultaneously bringing it into the future.
“Our goal was to blend tradition with the most innovative technology,” Hunter said during the press tour. “We approached the renovation thinking, ‘What would Knute Rockne build today?’”
The aspect of the stadium that recalls the history of Notre Dame football most strongly is the enhanced stadium concourse. Marsh said the concourse has been redecorated and retouched in the art-deco style, “which was the period of architecture the original stadium was constructed in.”
The Campus Crossroads team paid close attention to details in transforming the concourse, Hunter said.
“The stadium concourses have been completely transformed, and they now feature all new art-deco-inspired way-finding signage, new lighting throughout — including art-deco-inspired chandeliers — and new up lighting, which highlights the original Rockne stadium brick and arches,” Hunter said. “We’ve bricked up close to 100 columns throughout the entire lower concourse, and our goal here was to really create a sense of space, so you feel more like you’re walking down a concourse than you are an airport parking garage.”
The stadium will also be easier for fans to navigate now, Marsh said.
“One of the things we wanted to achieve by this series of improvements was also to make a better way-finding experience,” he said. “So fans as they come in — particularly we have, every game, many first-time fans of the Notre Dame game-day experience — not sure where their seats are, so we added all these way-finding graphics.”
The backdrop for this signage, Hunter said, is a series of hand-picked program covers from throughout the football program’s history.
“Working closely with the University archives, we hand-selected approximately 70 program covers, ranging from the 1920s through the 1960s,” she said. “ … These covers now encircle the entire lower concourse. Additionally, we identified 22 ticket graphics ranging from 1903 through 1957 and installed those in strategic locations throughout the inner bowl of the lower concourse.”
Additional changes that will provide a more comfortable game experience for fans, Marsh said, are rebuilt and modernized restrooms and 150 televisions spread throughout the concourse, and the concession stand facades have been restored to a design featured in the 1930s.
“We really wanted to keep this of that style of the art-deco period, and I think fans are really going to welcome the feel for this,” he said.
As fans move upward through the concourse, Hunter said, they will also move forward in time.
“While the lower concourse intentionally celebrates the original Rockne stadium, the graphics and theming take on a more modern-day feel as fans traverse to the upper levels,” she said. “We took advantage of large, concrete walls in the four corner stairwells by adding these enormous graphics. … We also worked to produce some visuals for fans as they traverse the ramps, which now feature hand-painted ND marks and logos, as well as popular game day fan slogans. In addition, we added two sets of season program covers featuring Heisman Trophy winners, which are framed in repurposed bleacher wood.”
The concourse also features a Hall of Fame section of sorts, Hunter said.
“Another update that we are excited to reveal is a brand-new recognition display honoring the accomplishments of football monogram winners,” she said. “This will now be located inside the Frank Leahy gate on the south end of the stadium. Individual plaques honoring all-Americans, academic all-Americans, Heisman Trophy winners, College Football Hall of Fame members and National Championship teams will soon be mounted on columns surrounding 80-inch monitors.”
One of the most important aspects of attending a football game is fans’ experience inside the seating area around the field — known as “the bowl.” This year, Marsh said, Notre Dame’s signature wooden benches are missing, replaced by aluminum bleachers covered in vinyl.
“Last season, we began to replace the redwood bleachers,” Marsh said during the press tour. “We did that in the upper bowl that was added 20 years ago. We’ve since then, this offseason, replaced all the planking bleachers on the lower bowl, and in the midst of that, widened each seat by two inches. So everybody gets the same amount, whether you’re [in the] lower bowl or upper bowl.”
In addition to the increased comfort of wider seats, Marsh said the stadium has increased its safety by adding, “thanks to prompting and requests by many fans throughout the recent years,” railings to the aisles in the lower bowl area of the stadium.
“They were not required in 1929–1930 when the structure was first built, but they’re really a good idea,” he said. “So we’ve added them to help increase mobility and safety.”
Another added benefit of these railings, Marsh said, is the ability to conceal new Internet and cellular antennas within them.
“ … We will have a new wireless infrastructure — first time ever — at Notre Dame Stadium, dedicated solely to fans in the bowl and in the concourse,” Marsh said. “So connectivity will greatly improve. Secondarily, but just as important, we’ll have a new dedicated cellular network in the bowl. … So a dedicated cellular network, dedicated wireless network — connectivity will be best in class and hugely improved from past experiences.”
Marsh said the updates also took greater player safety into account through decisions such as extending the padding around the field, removing additional bleachers on the sidelines and moving the flagpole to sit farther back from the sidelines in its new location near the video board.
“We’ve taken the band off the field. The band will actually be put in an expanded student section,” he said. “All 400 members of the band will now be right here in the front, and we’ll have new dedicated stairs. … I believe, historically, that is not a precedent. That had been that way kind of originally, so we’re kind of going back to that.”
Something fans might notice when the Irish and Temple take the field Saturday is a new tunnel for Notre Dame’s opponents to enter and exit the field, Marsh said.
“This helps for a variety of reasons — principally to help unclog the tunnel that we use. It’s very busy on game day, as you can imagine,” he said.
Hunter said the relocated visitor tunnel, locker room and team trucks create more privacy for the Notre Dame football team, band and fans.
“With so much of our focus on that of improving the fan experience within the existing Stadium, when it came to the north tunnel, our focus shifted to that of our football student athletes, coaches and recruits,” Hunter said. “ … We thought about how we could really create a special and unique environment [in the home locker room] for our football team, while also celebrating many of the traditional and historical elements of Knute Rockne’s original locker room.”
The Premium Seating
In the midst of Campus Crossroads construction, the University announced in February that it was transitioning to a tiered ticketing system, in which ticket prices would vary based on the quality of the tickets.
This change has resulted in the decrease in the price of some tickets while increasing others — the cheapest face value option of a ticket to Saturday’s game in the general seating is $45, down from $75 for last year’s home opener against Nevada, and the most expensive one is $145, excluding preferred seating.
In an interview with The Observer conducted Aug. 17, University athletic director Jack Swarbrick said the change in pricing “was borne out of a number of goals we wanted to achieve.”
“One of those was, given all that this stadium represents, we wanted to be able to say — as we can — that the revenue from the bowl is the same this year as it was last year,” he said. “And so, while some tickets went up, we priced the house so it produces the same amount of revenue. The other thing that was important to us was to make the game more affordable. And so, we created a much lower ticket price than we’ve had in a long time. … And so we wound up with a much bigger spread of value.”
The increased space for each seat in the bowl decreases the number of seats in the general seating area, which Swarbrick said is offset by the addition of 3,200 seats added through a premium seating experience fans can purchase.
“ … Just as the $45 ticket responds to some customers who are looking for something in particular, the premium seat in the hospitality represents something else another part of our customer base is looking for,” Swarbrick said.
In designing the upper levels of Campus Crossroads — where the premium seating is located — to be able to fit around the stadium, the section has “gained some terraces,” Marsh said.
“There are eight terraces — four per side, two on [floors] nine and seven, respectively, of the two buildings,” Marsh said during the Crossroads press tour. “They create these really nice opportunities for people [in these sections] to get out.”
Outside of football season, Marsh said people can rent out the upper levels of the Campus Crossroads buildings for meetings, parties or other gatherings.
“This whole series of buildings are to be activated, and we want the community to use them just as much as we’ll use them,” Marsh said.
The Video Board
The addition fans will notice “most visibly,” Marsh said, is 54-feet high by 96-feet wide video board. Executive producer of live events for Notre Dame athletics Mike Bonner said the video board will allow the University to provide fans with what many have been asking for — replays.
“Replays, replays, replays — that’s what our fans want, and that’s what we’re going to give them,” Bonner said. “And I can do that … I will be taking in upwards of — between our feeds and NBC’s feeds and other robotic cameras — 27, 28 different replay angles that I can take at any time.”
Bonner, who has operated video boards for the New York Yankees and Denver Broncos, said the video board is of an extremely high caliber.
“It has the most physical pixels in an NCAA outdoor venue,” Bonner said. “What that mean is on that video board the little RBG — red, green and blue LED pixels — are 10 millimeters apart the way they’re set. So there are nearly 4.8 million pixels within that video board. And that helps with viewing angles, it helps an incredibly clear picture on there. It’s really impressive.”
The visual enhancements in the stadium have allowed the University to remove the scoreboard on the north end of the stadium, which previously impeded fans’ view of “Touchdown Jesus,” Marsh said.
“It is enhanced by ribbon boards on the two sideline buildings … because we no longer have a scoreboard on the north [end],” he said. “We’ve replaced that with these boards on the three other sides. This opens up the view for many fans in the bowl to have a clear view of the ‘Word of Life’ mural on the library.”
While the video board will primarily focus on the football game, Bonner said he will also be able to put on a “show” for fans in attendance that will remain true to Notre Dame’s values.
“The University has been incredible — Jack Swarbrick’s vision, Fr. John and everything that we’ve been given here to really put on a great show,” Bonner said. “But let me tell you, it’s not just about football. We will be spreading the University message. We will make sure that fan are entertained in a variety of ways, and we will be continuing to do a lot of our traditions. We will be announcing our Mass schedule — it’s just going to come to you a little bit different. We’ve shot seven different Mass schedule videos with seven different Holly Cross priests here from Notre Dame, and they will tell you what’s coming up after the game or the next day.”
Bonner said the video board will enhance traditions rather than eliminate them.
“We’ll make sure that all of our traditions are kept alive. We’re going to continue to do the Sgt. Tim McCarthy reading, but it’s going to be in a little bit different way. I’ll save that one, that’s a tease for game day for you,” Bonner said. “Also, we’ll make sure that we continue to do our recognition ceremonies. So our faculty recognitions, our team Irish recognitions, but we’ll get to tell their stories. We’ll get to visually enhance a lot of the things we were doing. The band is still going to be a very big part of what we do. The great thing with the band and our communications — what we’re able to do with headset communications — is the coordination will be there.”
The ultimate goal for the video board — and the Campus Crossroads renovations in general — is to ensure fans have a positive Notre Dame football experience.
“We’ll be telling the story of how the wooden benches have been used, and the green groups, the bicycle racks that have been added here,” he said. “Football is also going to be up there on that video board, and as I mentioned, we’re going to make sure that the fans walk away after a great experience. We’re going to show them great action, we’re going to show them history, we’re going to show replays — did I mention we’re going to show replays?”