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22 October 2006

Deconstructing the Coliseum, Part II: Stadium Height

In the first installment of this series, I wrote about how the round multipurpose bowl shape was ill-suited for baseball. This time, the discussion topic is height. In this case, I can proudly say that the Coliseum has far more positives than negatives. There's much that works well in the Coliseum when it comes to vertical circulation. The few negative aspects stem from the fact that the venue was built decades before the implementation of ADA rules. Unfortunately, much of what works for the Coliseum can't be used in new ballparks because of specific feature requirements.

You may have noticed that the drawings I posted on Thursday did not show the eastside stands, or "Mt. Davis" as it's typically called. Since the addition was built almost solely for football, it's nearly pointless to use it as part of the discussion. However, Mt. Davis provides a good reference point as it showcases huge differences between how ballparks and football stadia are designed.

Mt. Davis has a lot more in common with Gillette Stadium or Heinz Field than any ballpark, past or present. There are three levels of luxury suites, all having seats safely encased in climate controlled spaces. The plaza or mezzanine level is an exclusive club seating area. Cantilevered decks or overhangs are largely non-existent. The first row of the upper deck on Mt. Davis is roughly the same height as the top row of the upper deck in the original bowl. I've always wondered why the Raiders never placed sherpas at the base of each upper deck tunnel.

One thing rarely discussed about the Coliseum is how easy it is to travel between the three decks in the original seating bowl. Plaza level seats can be reached using either the lower or upper concourses. The upper concourse also serves the View level. Anyone sitting in the upper deck could get to the lower deck in 5 minutes by simply descending a few sets of stairs. Undoubtedly, this encouraged the informal seat trade-up policy so frequently used by upper deck dwellers (and conversely reviled by ownership). This practice was so frowned upon that at least one modern stadium, New Comiskey Park (US Cellular Field), was designed to segregate fans by seating level. Recently, teams and architects have started to see the value in allowing fans to circulate more throughout a concourse - the better to expose fans to concessions. Vertical circulation is still somewhat difficult due to exclusive club and suite levels, though in the concept I'm working on their may be a solution to that dilemma - that's for another time.

The next several graphics show both the Coliseum (in color) and the concept (outlines) in profile. Two perspectives are used: behind the plate, and behind third base.

As shown in the previous set of drawings, the two models are comparable behind the plate. While the concept's seats are closer to the field horizontally, the closure of the View level makes the Coliseum's seats closer overall. Now see what happens at the hot corner:

Once again, the horizontal distance plays a huge factor. The total distance to the top row of the concept's upper deck is 213 feet, while the top row of the Coliseum's plaza level is 221 feet from third base. Worse, the overhang from the luxury suites is so bad that fans at the top of the plaza level have virtually no view of the sky. The following table compares various distances.

The overhang problem isn't limited to Plaza level seats. The back four rows of the Field level are pretty bad too, especially if you're down the foul lines a bit, say Section 106 or 128. You have to contend with the overhang and the auxiliary scoreboard, which drops another 2 feet from the bottom of the Plaza level. If you're seated in those sections it's not that bad, but stand up and suddenly everything changes. These days, a couple of changes have been made to stadium design to help. Fan complaints about these overhangs force a few extra vertical feet into the plan, but ADA design guidelines mandate more vertical space. This is because wheelchair-bound fans are supposed to be able to have a clear line of sight over standing fans two rows ahead of them. The way to do this is to elevate the wheelchair rows an extra 18-30 inches above the row in front of them. If you've ever sat in the Coliseum's bleachers, you'll see those aluminum platforms in most of the wheelchair rows. This was done exactly for the reason cited above. It can be said that the original bowl's wheelchair seating placement would not work in a modern day stadium design.


All of this may sound like nitpicking, but it all conspires to add the equivalent of one or two stories onto the height of the stadium. Inevitably, the fans who pay the biggest price are the ones in the nosebleed sections.

Speaking of nosebleeds, whoever decided that the first row should be wide enough for circulation deserves a tongue lashing. It's one thing to to have a rail as an obstruction, but traffic should not be another. That's probably another reason why the View level was closed. I remember seeing staff that were directed to sell the seats above row 4 first because they had fewer obstructions. I can't think of another stadium in the country in which the first row is also used for circulation, and I've been to dozens of them.

Suiteholders pay a price too, though it's not as steep. In the Coliseum's case, suites in the original bowl are inferior to most other Bay Area venues' suites. They don't have separate restrooms. They're cramped. They don't have their own entries, concourses, or elevators. Problem is, if you design a separate concourse into the plan, that easy vertical circulation is eliminated. Then again, maybe that's what they want...

The Coliseum may have plenty of warts, but it's fantastic when it comes to height conservation and vertical circulation. The seats aren't too steep. It's easy to move between levels. Sadly, it doesn't work well in today's MLB. Don't expect this to carry over into the new ballpark.

30 comments:

Oakland Sí said...

This is an interesting and enjoyable series of articles. I just wanted to add that the overhang seats at the much-praised Giants' ballpark aren't very good either. I sat there during a game last season and wasn't too impressed.

Anonymous said...

You are wrong about the ease of access among the seating levels at the Coliseum. Please check you info.

Marine Layer said...

Care to elaborate, anon? I mean, I've only gone there dozens of times per year since I was 10 and I've sat in every section, the press box, been in the locker rooms, etc.

Mike said...

Suites in original bowl don't have their own rest rooms?

Not sure which ones you have researched but I have had access to a suite in the original first bowl right behind section 116 and it most certainly had it's own restroom. Not a big deal but this fact seems incorrect.

Marine Layer said...

I haven't been in any of the Westside club level suites, so I can't comment on that. If those have bathrooms, that accounts for a handful out of 64. The remaining suites on the loge level (up the stairs) don't.

Anonymous said...

I've sat in luxury boxes a few times, always the older ones just above Plaza level. They were exactly as ML described them. Same with the access between seating levels. I'm not sure what anon 8:31 has experienced, but I've never had trouble moving around any section of the coliseum. Although I seem to remember in the old days the bleachers were separated.

Anonymous said...

I've been to skyboxes on the Mt.Davis side and every one had a bathroom

Anonymous said...

There you go. As ML said, Mt. Davis is up to snuff with modern day football stadia. The vast majority of the Coliseum, however, is not.

Anonymous said...

It isn't accurate to say that Heinz Field is as unfriendly as Gillette Stadium or Mount Davis. Heinz Field has a respectable cantilever and only two levels of suites between the lower level and the upper deck.

Marine Layer said...

I didn't say Heinz Field was unfriendly. I just said that Mt Davis has more in common with it than any ballpark. It's too bad that PNC Park and Heinz Field aren't right next to each other - the contrast would be stark.

I personally like Heinz Field - for football. I was in PIT on business a few years ago when it first opened. The Steelers were away that week but I got to see a Monday night game in the stadium for free on one of the magnificent video boards there. They had concession stands open, and I sat in a field level seat.

Anonymous said...

Marine Layer, I want thank you for posting all this info and analysis at this blog on the new ballpark process for our A's.

Since you have brought up Heinz Field, I have a question for you base on your knowledge of stadium designs and similar structures: Would it be difficult and costly to transform the current Oakland Coliseum into a football stadium similar to a Heinz Field or the stadium the Tennessee Titans play in? I would appreciate your feedback on this.

Marine Layer said...

Should the A's announce plans to leave in the next year, the Raiders should move towards renovating the Coliseum further. It could be $300-500 million cheaper than building a new stadium. Unless Al Davis or his family sell the team to interests in LA, the team won't be moving south. Then again, if the Niners continue to have trouble putting together a viable stadium plan, it's not hard to see one of the Bay Area teams leaving the area.

The whole project would be a teardown and rebuild with the Raiders being displaced for at least one season. I'm certain there's enough space to build a similar grandstand with modern locker rooms, press facilities, and other amenities.

Financing would be the hard part, of course. At least the NFL has money allocated towards stadium building, though they may feel that it's better spent in LA.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for answering that Marine Layer. When you say teardown, would Mt. Davis be knocked down as well or would it be incorporated into the new football stadium to save money?

I have relatives and friends who live down in Southern California and they have heard that Chargers would most likely be the team relocating to L.A. I don't think either the Raiders or 49ers would leave the Bay Area.

Marine Layer said...

Mt Davis would remain intact while the original bowl would be demolished. It would be expensive, but still cheaper than a new stadium and it wouldn't have a complicated approval process.

The Chargers are further ahead in their pursuit of a stadium than either the Niners or Raiders, though it's admittedly still early. Any of those three teams could conceivably move to LA.

Georob said...

Warning: this is an off-the-wall thought.

When the Super Bowl was held in Jacksonville two years ago, the Fresno Bee ran a piece comparing Fresno to Jacksonville and how the two cities' population and demographics are not that far apart. Obviously, the point of the article was to say that if Jacksonville could land an NFL team, why not Fresno?

Having lived in Fresno for three years, I can tell you that there is strong Raiders support here, especially amongst the Hispanic population. (Being in Southern Calif for 15 years made no difference, as Fresno is half way between Oakland and LA) In addition, Fresno is football town comparable to what you might see in places like Texas, as evidenced by support for High School teams and the Fresno State Bulldogs.

If LA can't get the Raiders back and nothing happens in Oakland, I could see some local Valley boosters trying to put something together. Lord knows there's plenty of cheap land here and the Raiders could probably play in Bulldog Stadium until something gets built.

There are lots of Raider faithful who made the trek to LA all those years who I'm sure would go to Fresno plus LA fans that would travel north.

If Al Davis wanted to pull one last stunt before he leaves this earth, moving the Raiders to Fresno would do it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again ML. It would not make much sense to teardown Mt. Davis. The Raiders have requested a 3 year extension to their current lease at the Coliseum, I don't think they are leaving. By the time their lease runs out L.A. will already have a team, most likely the Chargers as San Diego is having trouble building a new stadium. I don't think Fresno will get a team despite their growth.

murf said...

If there is any pro sports franchise that would fit in with the image that Fresno invokes, it's the Raiders.

Probably won't happen, but it's at least mildly entertaining to ponder.

Marine Layer said...

If the Central Valley (Bakersfield to Sacramento) can buy 120-150 luxury suites at Raiders games it's viable. If they can't, it's not.

Anonymous said...

There is no corridor connection between the first and second decks at the Coliseum. While this defect is probably of little importance to your interesting evaluation, I thought you might like to check me observation.

bartleby said...

Jacksonville is a horrible example. They are struggling enough that last year they tarped over nearly 10,000 seats (sound familiar)?

Jacksonville is already the third-smallest market in the NFL (42nd in metro population), ahead only of Green Bay and Buffalo. Even that is misleading in that it doesn't count Milwaukee, which really is part of Green Bay's market. But at 1.2 million people metro Jacksonville is still quite a bit larger than Fresno, which has only 900,000.

In addition to attendance issues, none of these small markets contribute very much to overall TV ratings. I very much doubt that if the NFL had it to do over again, they would put a team in Jacksonville. And you can be sure there are an awful lot of cities that will get consideration before Fresno. Aside from the obvious choice, Los Angeles, both San Jose and Sacramento (which is double the size of metro Fresno) would make more sense.

Georob said...

Well, I never intended the "Raiders to Fresno" idea to be taken seriously. However, Fresno has a lot in common with many medium sized cities across the US that crave a major league team simply for recognition sakes. Plus, in Fresno the Raiders would be the only game in town playing a game that the community supports well.

I mean, Fresno is a city that wants to upgrade Hwy 99 to an Interstate primarily so that it will no longer be the largest city in the US not served by one. if you ask me, that sounds like a town that'd build an NFL stadium with taxpayer money to me.

Oh, and BTW, guess what the largest city in the US without a PRIMARY Interstate is? .........

...It's San Jose, Tony!

That's right, 280, 680, and 880
may be 10 lane interstates, but they're all considered merely spurs and loops of I-80, which still only go as far as Oakland and SF.

Marine Layer said...

Rob - please cease with the SJ baiting. It adds nothing to the discussion.

anon - there are ramps that connect the outfield BART plaza gates (LL/MM) to the main gates (C/D). They're underutilized because it's easier to take the stairs. The renovation removed the ramps behind the plate out of circulation. At just about any other stadium you're forced to take a lengthy set of ramps, although other stadia usually have an escalator or two handy.

Georob said...

You know, I rarely see you publicly admonish many of the other outlandish posts on this blog, but you've chosen to do so with me.

Thats your perogative, it's your blog. I'm sorry if I've offended anyone and I thank you for listening to me.

I won't be contributing here any more.

Marine Layer said...

I've let commenters run free for a while, but I've had to delete several inflammatory or potentially inflammatory comments in the last week. And I've noticed you've had a pattern of trying to bait Tony, even though I haven't had a post on San Jose in months. Is that really necessary? You and everyone else who wishes to comment are welcome to contribute here, but when it starts to become grossly off topic I have to step in. If there's a chance of a flame war I'll try to head it off. If there are personal attacks I'll delete them. If you feel you've been singled out, you haven't. Trust me on this.

Anonymous said...

Don't leave Rob. You add a lot to the discussion. ML, I've always seen his comments toward Tony as friendly ribbing. And based on his replies, I've always assumed Tony did too. I guess only Tony can say for sure. I guess my only point is that this is a great and informative blog, and Rob is a good contributor. I'd hate to see that change as a result of a misunderstanding.

bartleby said...

I agree with anon 8:34am. Although I can't speak for Tony, as a fellow SJ advocate I took no offense at Rob's comment.

At the same time, Rob shouldn't feel singled out here. As ML noted, If you go back and re-read the posts over the last week or so, an uglier tone emerged and many were deleted or admonished.

It can be difficult to capture the right tone when posting. It's not like when you're having a conversation at the pub, and a wink or a nudge can signal gentle ribbing. It's not an easy task for a moderator to decide where to draw the line, so we should all cut ML some slack and try not to be too sensitive about these things.

I echo anon's hope that Rob will stick around. Although we frequently disagree, he has raised many points that stimulated interesting discussion, and I appreciate his respectful tone. So I also think his departure would be a loss for the board.

anthony dominguez said...

As of right now, I'm gonna start lobbying for San Jose to be the western terminus to Interstate 40! Across the central valley through Bakersfield, to 101 on the Central Coast and north to the SC Valley! HA HA! ROB, PLEASE DON'T GO! I'm cool with your SJ ribbing (I'm just thankful SJ at least has freeway's). And Rhamesis, thanks for looking out! I realize you got to keep this blog professional and on point! And I apologize to anyone I might have offended in the past (OAFC or pro-soccer crowd)...no ones perfect. Let us all move on peacefully and focus on the issue at hand...A NEW A'S BALLPARK!

Jeff said...

Hey Rob,

I have to echo everyone elses sentiments. I hope you reconsider and decide to stick around. I don't think ML was singling you out. He puts a tremendous amount of effort into this blog, and he was probably concerned that this thread was going to get hijacked with flaming comments. I doubt if he meant to antagonize you on a personal level. I also enjoy the bantering between you and Tony and have always felt it was reciprocal. I enjoy your comments and have even altered some of my views based on your arguments. Just my two cents worth. And by the way, I got a kick out of your Fresno Raider suggestion. If there was ever a sport this town would support in droves, you nailed it.

Anonymous said...

the interstate highway remark was funny, cmon.

bartleby said...

ML: How tall is Heinz Field relative to Mt. Davis?