Tuesday, March 20, 2012

If I had a Million Dollars

Citrus Bowl with Orlando City Enhancements
(Click to enlarge)
As Orlando City continue their push towards Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion, the biggest question remains the stadium, as is typically the case with any new team. During MLS Commissioner Don Garber's visit to Orlando last month he mentioned that City already have two of the three pieces for expansion in place; solid ownership and a strong fan base. Although there are plans in-place to renovate the Citrus Bowl and those plans are being modified to include soccer-specific improvements, the construction schedule could still be years away based on funding. I've frequently been asked what simple enchancements would I make to the Citrus Bowl, just as a "band-aid" to improve the atmosphere and pull in more fans to Orlando City's matches. Here is a look at how I would spend the money based on my engineering background, cost estimating experience, and poor Photoshop skills...

The Lion's Den

It's a big ticket item sure, but having spent several days and nights at the Citrus Bowl for football and soccer games there is one thing that always stands out; it's a cinder block. When you drive on State Road 408 past the stadium you see a giant, life-less concrete block; no personality, no character. The master plan for the stadium has some fairly significant improvements to the exterior of the venue, but what could we do in the short term? The plan is to use a series of tensioned sail shades over the south end (supporters section) of the grandstands. The shades serve two important purposes, both of which help improve the atmosphere and increase revenue. The first benefit is it provides a faux ceiling over the supporters section making what is already a loud venue even louder. The second benefit is that it acts as a giant welcome mat for the team and the stadium. It is also a billboard for the tens of thousands of people who past the stadium everyday and may not realize a professional soccer team lives there. It makes you curious, you want to know what's going on under that canopy and I can imagine some well placed lighting would make for a beautiful scene at night. The cost, roughly in the $500k-$750k range based on the need for support columns and the size of the sails. The existing upper deck and ramp structures might be able to be re-used for anchor points which could reduce the cost. The other benefit is that the shades are completely removable in the fall/winter for when the stadium converts from soccer back into football games. If the budget could be stretched further there's no reason why these removable tension sails couldn't also be used along the sideline/midfield seats as well.

Tarp the Upper Decks

Probably the simplest enhancement to the Citrus Bowl for the team would be to use tarps to cover the seats in the upper deck to reduce the feeling of a giant empty stadium during matches. The team already does a great job by limiting seating to the lower bowl, but imagine having a nice visual in the sky above with the team logo and team colors. Much like the sail shade mentioned previously, the upper decks are visible from the 408 and the tarps will act as billboards to attract new fans to the stadium. The Seattle Sounders are an example of effective use of tarps where they have placed team and sponsor logos across the upper decks of CenturyLink Field. The New England Revolution are an example of poor use of tarps where the giant plain blue tarps have turned the inside of Gillette Stadium into a fish tank. The cost, somewhere between $100k-$150k based on the fabric used and the printing of logos.

Party Suites

One of the biggest problems with the Citrus Bowl is the lack of luxury suites and that's not something that can be solved with a million dollars. When the master plan for the stadium is carried out new suites will be worked into the mid-level sidelines and potentially could be added above the south end seats, but at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. In the meantime the team could purchase/rent three to five large tents and place them on elevated platforms at the northend of the stadium. The platform would prevent shots from taken out patrons as well as offer a better angle for viewing the rest of the field. They would also need to be low enough to make sure they don't block the video and score board at that end of the stadium. The tents would have the team logo and alternating Orlando red and purple colors, again enhancing the atmosphere for fans. The area can be setup for an "all you can eat" ticket like Seattle and other MLS teams use to fill less desirable sections of the stadium. They could also be spruced up with patio furniture, fire pits, to make more of an ultra lounge area for groups looking to rent out the spaces. The key is to find a way to offer a higher-end corporate experience to companies and large groups that want to attend matches. It's a bit of a gamble, but it's wasted space otherwise that could generate revenue and bring in fringe soccer fans. The price tag would be similar to the tarps, $100k-$150k for the tents and running temporary power and water lines to the area. 

So if I had a million dollars (and you know I do) to throw at the Citrus Bowl that is how I would use it to make improvements. What are your thoughts? How would you improve the atmosphere at the stadium while doing it on a budget? Let us know in the comment section below and stay tuned for more Orlando City coverage all season long!

4 comments :

  1. so shade tarps and pop up tents and fire pits....and jacksonville type tarps over upper deck seating......water and power wouldnt work....the Lions Den would have to be removed for the BOWL games as they are the PRIORITY tennant of the stadium....Fix the food its SHIT. get local restaurants to sell food not the god awful stuff they have there....no one is going to invest in this until the amout of tickets GIVEN away are less than those that are actually paid for!

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  2. Very nice idea. Hopefully someone will take note of this. Ignore the haters. New stadiums make all the difference.

    -SKC fan

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  3. Instead of tarps for the upper decks, picture this (using the cool photoshoped image above):

    1. Take the lights and slide them over towards the middle.
    2. Trim the “curved” ends (from where you just slid the lights) completely off the upper decks so that there's just the straight part.
    3. Bend the lights down a bit so they’re not at such a steep angle.
    4. Span slats between the beams so that it becomes a faux roof (still supporting the lights though).
    5. Add tracks and wheels to the “roof” sections so that they can slide down to the bottom of the upper deck and act as a roof partially covering the lower deck. Keep it down for soccer games; slide up for super events.

    Note: The lights would have to be doubled up (almost) for the different angles needed for when the roof is up or down, and each set switched on or off independently.

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