25 April 2009

Expanding from within

Somehow, amidst all of the NBA and NHL playoff games, A's and Giants baseball, and incessant NFL Draft coverage, I managed to carve out an hour of time to satisfy my stadium jones. This was thanks to the Science Channel, whose series, Build it Bigger, covered the construction of the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX.

The series gives solid profiles to major engineering and construction projects around the world. Two years ago, one of the subjects was University of Phoenix Stadium, the most similar existing design to what Jerry Jones is building. This week's ep covered all of the major stuff, from the massive roof and arch system to the enormous center-hung video boards and the largest sliding glass doors in the world.

On a smaller albeit similarly impactful scale, a segment was devoted to what I feel is the most innovative thing about the stadium: the seats. Made by Australian manufacturer Camatic, the seating system is notable for the way it's mounted. Most seating manufacturers mount seats directly to concrete risers. Over time, the only major innovations have been the switch from wood to plastic and the places of the mountain standards on the vertical part of the riser to facilitate easier postgame cleaning. Once seats are mounted, they can't be moved or modified except to change out hardware when it breaks. One baseball-specific innovation has been the angling of seats towards a focal point, usually home plate.

Camatic's Quantum series introduces an all new method: seats mounted on a beam. The beam is attached to the riser and seats snap into place along the beam. This allows for incredible flexibility, as seats of varying types and widths can be used, even on the same beam. They can be installed or removed quickly, creating more free space or additional capacity at a moment's notice. Watch the video below to see the system in action.

Here's an example of how this would work for the A's. Let's take a single section of seats, a matrix consisting of 18 rows of 24 19-inch seats. Each row would have to be at least 38 feet wide. To accommodate expansion, each row would be widened to 40 feet, which would allow for those 19-inch seats to take up 20-inch spaces. At the back of the section is an ADA-compliant row containing wheelchair spaces and companion seats.

Now let's consider the possibility of a playoff series or All Star game. As the stadium operator, you're obligated to keep a percentage of wheelchair spaces available for each price range. This time, unlike other stadia, you've designed the space to accommodate either wheelchair spaces or additional spaces easily. The wheelchair spaces are on a portable steel platform that can be removed and stowed out of sight. That would uncover two rows with unused beams. Ops can then bring in seats and mount them in minutes. In addition, those 20-inch seats can be turned into 19-inch seats with space remaining for an additional 25th seat per row.

The change nets an additional 51 seats per section. Projected out, that's 1,000 more seats per level or 2,000 more seats in the ballpark. That means going from 32,000 to 34,000 with little fuss, and with room remaining for standing room admissions.

Camatic, which has experience in the US (Turner Field, Qwest Field), is onto something with its new seating system. If Lew really wants to manage seat capacity and inventory on a similar micro level as he does his hotels, it's hard to ignore what Camatic brings to the table.


Zonis said...

It would be interesting to know if there was a way to pivot the seats so that fans could turn their seats, similar to an office chair. I think this would help fans get more comfortable. They can swivel their chair a bit to watch action on the field, be it Baseball or another event.

For example, sitting down the Left Field line, you are looking at Home Plate, then you can swivel to watch a flyball to the outfield, then swivel back to home.

Basically, it would eiliminate the need to lean your body over to watch action on the field, something that happens a lot in the Coliseum, though mainly because most seats are not Home Plate centered.

Marine Layer said...

It's a novel idea, although it comes with one problem: the seat's swivel mechanism. It's one more thing that would require maintenance, so it's likely that stadium operators would balk at the added cost. Considering how little time is spent with the ball in play, it'd be hard to justify.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention you would also end up losing additional seats due to the swivel space needed in between the seats.

Zonis said...

The A's are keeping seat capacity low regardless. If they are keeping capacity low on purpose, you can compensate by making them as comfortable as possible.

Anonymous said...

How hard is it to just turn your neck or your body a little to follow the ball, and what makes the current seating arrangement so uncomfortable that makes it the standard in every ballpark in the league for so many years?? What next padded seats??

Anonymous said...

padded seats would be nice

dbackman said...

stadium seating should be a little uncomfortable, it keeps people on their feet

Anonymous said...

the seats wouldn't be 'adjustable swivel' just a set angle, like at petco park. seats on an angle are pretty nice, i have noticed im actually looking away from the game when seated in straight ahead seats.

each side would need its own angled seats, the left side wouldn't work on the right side. but its not really that many extra seats to buy.

this seating concept, as i think about it more, seats that aren't fixed to the stadium, is actually a great idea. ...if that one bar can hold the weight of 200lb people jumping on all the seats at once. maybe add more bolts and hold downs, i assume its been tested; have to see, easy thing to fix.

gojohn10 said...

For me, Camatic's seating innovation implemented at Cisco field would help me get fully behind the project. I love the idea of a new stadium, but cringe at the thought of one with a capacity of only 32,000. The current tarped-off coliseum is 36K and that seems just about right to me.

If the A's did use Camatic's seats, when would they increase capacity? Postseason only? How about the Red Sox, Yankees and Giants? How about during a September pennant race?

Also, how much extra is it to install these seats. In a smaller stadium would the extra cost of the seats still make sense?

bbison said...

There are already padded seats in some stadiums, those empty $500-$2600 seats at the New Yankee Stadium being one example.

The first time I was at Fenway I wish I had a swivel. Shoehorned into a 15" wide grandstand seat that faced the Monster, I had to turn my head completely sideways just to see the batter.

Brian said...

Those Cowboys seats don't look too comfortable.

gojohn10 said...

How easy are these chairs to remove? Is it possible for fans to take unlatch a chairs during games and go WWF on fans of the opposing team?

daveinsm said...

I vote for Herman Miller Aeron chairs! ;)

notsellingjeans said...

Very cool topic, thank you for posting it Marine Layer. It got my wheels spinning on a few questions:

-Realistically, what is the smallest possible seat - 16 inches?
-What's the largest we've seen in a recently-built stadium? 21-22? (I'm trying to figure out at what point would a seat be not just "comfortable" but "unnecessarily wide").

Could this technology be used to angle the adjustable seats, too, or are they restricted to only one angle on the beam?

(I ask this because, in the event of a concert or other event, you might not want the seats angled toward home plate).

Finally, am I wrong in my hunch that this type of seating could have more utility for a football stadium, where you could adjust seating from ~70-90,000, than in a baseball stadium, where the difference is only 2,000?

I am openly naive, perhaps that 2,000 is still a very significant chunk of money.

Anonymous said...

I don't think any of these gee-whiz seating arrangements are necessary at all. I think the A's and their fans would be absolutely ecstatic if they could build a carbon copy of PNC Park in Pittsburgh, which is, IMO, the best park of all. Yes, better than phone company park.

And I think limiting seating capacity to 32K is a seriously bad idea, especially if you're paying for tickets. A good product on the field would easily draw more fans than that, especially during a pennant race. Ticket prices will have to be higher to make up for that missing revenue from those 6-8K fans that might have been there. Do the math. 3M attendance is the gold standard nowadays. A park holding only 32K can't approach that.

One of the endearing aspects of MLB has been the long season. The resultant lower ticket prices has traditionally meant that fans were able to attend a lot of games without breaking the bank. You start flirting with NFL or NBA prices, you run the risk of driving the faithful and their kids away. MLB's already screwed up by televising playoff games at times too late for kids. Baseball fans are made young; if kids can't get to see games, how does anyone figure they're going to care when they're the ones buying the tickets?

Anonymous said...

the comments are incredible, i never thought replace the seats at the current multi-use ball park. thats actually probable.

how about a park within-the-park, that is an area nearer to the feild with barriers: to actually keep fans off the feild, but can be removed for football. seats (rows of current seats/rows) behind them so fans can sit down because the park within-the-park, is standing room only, with room for the dugouts too, ugh.

Pudge said...

To my knowledge, the new Soldier Field was the first stadium in the U.S. to use this design.

The design allows for easy seat replacement, but for long-term changes. Changing rows seats for single events would not be practical.