Soon enough we will get our first look at the renderings for the new Bills stadium. We’ve gotten some hints of what to expect already. Open air with a partially covered seating bowl, natural grass surface. How the rest of the stadium comes together remains to be seen.
While we wait, I thought it would be fun to cobble together some examples of cool or unique features from around the world of sports that might be fun to see incorporated into Buffalo’s new digs.
What will follow is a combination of pipe dreams and more realistic suggestions from football, soccer and other stadiums throughout North America and the rest of the world. Think of this as stadium a la carte.
We know the new stadium will have a covered stand of some sort. A wise choice with a full roof ruled out. Covered seats will make for a more comfortable fan experience if the weather turns nasty while still allowing the game to be played in the elements. Covering the seats will add a prominent visual feature to the stadium. So the design of the partial roof will have a lot to do with the overall look of Buffalo’s new digs.
Think about the roof on Hard Rock Stadium. It’s a recent addition and it’s painfully unattractive. It looks ridiculous. Full stop. Meanwhile, Seattle’s Lumen Field also features covered seats, but theirs was part of the original design of the building. Both are effective in their function but Seattle’s integrates into the building so much better. The 70% coverage in Seattle would be a good figure to aim for here in Buffalo and the sound amplifying design would be a nice fringe benefit.
With phrases like “built for Buffalo” floating around, I’m not expecting too many high-end features when the new stadium is complete. I’m working on the assumption that while the stadium will be an impressive feat, it may be more utilitarian in overall design. But a mock stadium wouldn’t be much fun if we didn’t explore some of the cooler features out there in the world of sports.
Aviva Stadium in Dublin has one of the coolest roof structures I’ve ever seen. Really, it’s just part of the building’s entire facade, but the design is striking. It’s sweeping and sleek and it’s a prominent aspect of Dublin’s skyline. That blended roof and façade seems to be a popular feature for soccer stadiums in general, something a little different than what we tend to see in North America. The undulating shape gives it a sense of movement, something that I think would look especially cool here in Buffalo. If there’s one version of a partial roof/covered stand I’d pick for the Bills, it would be something in this neighborhood.
Other fun roof structures you may find interesting? Wembley Stadium, the Bird’s Nest, BC Place and Stade Velodrome. Each of those are far more involved but offer a bit of variety to the mix. One of the key features of so many stadiums, especially in Europe, is the focus put on allowing additional natural light into the stadium by adjusting either the roof line or the shape of the upper deck. It will be interesting if that’s something that can be incorporated with the plans to have a covered stand.
Of the many drastic evolutions of stadium design since Highmark Stadium was built is the inclusion of striking, innovative facades. Modern stadiums need to look good form every angle. Think of the grand entrance at AT&T Stadium or basically any viewable angle of SoFi Stadium. They need to make a statement. Even the Populous renderings from a few years ago for the Bills stadium features a building meant to look good from every angle.
One of my favorite stadiums is Allianz Arena. Having the capability to light up the entire exterior of the building is an awesome feature and it allows for some very cool applications. It’s not a feature that could be fully replicated here, but a toned down example would be cool to include. An external, visual feature that could make the building pop in overhead shots during night games and could enhance the pregame experience. Maybe it’s something that can display messages prior to and during the games. Maybe they take some of the 3D billboard effects being used in Times Square and implement that sort of treatment out in Orchard Park. You wouldn’t miss it if they didn’t chase this sort of feature, but it might be more interesting that the typical glass and steel curtain wall.
This is the one area that I think would be realistic to see included in the final design. Denver has a small logo built into their seats in the upper deck at Empower Field. Similarly, Red Bull Arena features the iconic Red Bull logo at mid-field. You can find this sort of treatment all over the sports world and a gigantic charging buffalo spread across one side of the stadium’s seating bowl. I’d challenge them to feature “Bills Mafia” across the opposite sideline.
Another seating feature that could be interesting additions to the new Highmark design is safe standing. Most new NFL stadiums put a larger focus on fancy amenities and even some of Kim Pegula’s comments lead me to believe that will be the focus here. But knowing the ferocity of the fanbase and the ability to amplify noise through clever architectural choices, why not explore including something that would give part of the stadium a student section feel?
Safe standing isn’t really something that’s ever been prominent in North America, so I doubt that would gain much traction here. But a cool design being built into the seating bowl? I think that’s extremely achievable. Naturally you don’t see these designs when the stadium is full, but I can tell you that the cannon in the seats at Emirates Stadium is so cool when you walk into the bowl, even on a simple stadium tour. I’m certain a similar addition at the new Highmark Stadium would make for a very popular photo op for fans.
Given the climate I’m not sure if the Bills would opt to incorporate an open concourse design into the new stadium as offering extra shelter from the elements is a valuable commodity. However, an open concourse design – think PNC Park – does add more to the atmosphere in the stadium. You pick up the noise from the field and the crowd as you enter the stadium or run to get a beer. You can catch glimpses of the field as you walk through the concourses. Particularly at PNC, the layers you pick up as you look out through the concourse makes for a great visual. But the real benefit is the added atmosphere. Being able to really feel the energy up from the field even while you’re running for a beer or food makes for a great addition to the game day experience.
The crown jewel of virtually every new stadium or arena project are the exclusive clubs that get built into the facilities. These are huge money makers and the blank slate of a new stadium build lets the team and architects get creative.
Fancy bars and restaurants are going to be part of this project no matter what. I’m not overly concerned with what route the Bills take in that regard. I’m sure there will be some cool partner activations like a Southern Tier microbrew bar or a New Amsterdam cocktail lounge. There will be party decks and other standing room areas with fun features to them as well. Those are basically givens. I’m interested in something special to the Bills.
A Bills Hall of Fame or museum would be excellent. Plus it would make the stadium an off-day destination for fans. I’ve discussed this idea for the Sabres in the past and the same premise holds for the Bills. Celebrate the team’s impressive history with a host of interactive exhibits and displays. Bring people to the stadium throughout the summer and drive extra traffic into your store on game days with museum visitors (maybe you get free admission with your ticket).
I’m also a sucker for cool statues and a big plaza with statues of franchise legends that served as a walkway to the stadium’s “front door” would be a big winner for me. Imagine a wide pedestrian walkway coming up from Abbott Rd. with statues of Thurman, Bruce, Reed, DeLamielleure, Kemp and others lining both sides of the walkway. Once again, it’s a great amplifier for the game day experience and is another feature fans would find their way to throughout the offseason.