On August 25th, New York City FC sent e-mails to a select group of fans inviting them to participate in a focus group aiming to gather feedback on the fan experience at a potential new soccer-specific stadium in New York City.
This is not the first time the team has asked fans to participate in focus groups at the NYCFC offices on 3rd Avenue. What sets this particular invitation apart is that this focus group is being run by a third party – Fusion Focus RRU – not the club itself. RRU Research’s client list includes companies like Verizon, Rolling Stone Magazine, Microsoft, Samsung, IBM, Apple…the list goes on. This is not just a weather balloon being floated by the front office, this could be one of the earliest indications that a stadium deal is close to being completed and we are seeing the first stages in the design process.
What if you, as a fan of the club, could design your dream stadium? Luckily for supporters, NYCFC has the ability to build just about anything thanks to the unlimited resources of City Football Group owner Sheikh Mansour, whose individual net worth hovers somewhere around $17 billion. Mansour famously spent $500 Million on his 427-foot yacht named Topaz. So with the sky seemingly the limit, City fans can ask themselves: what are the must-haves in a future New York City FC soccer-specific stadium? Let’s look at some trends in stadium-building, along with some of the best features at stadiums in the United States and around the world.
A Stadium with Technology
A future NYCFC soccer stadium should be the most technologically advanced stadium in the United States. For fans of any team, the most important piece of technology we use daily is our smartphone. There’s nothing worse than heading to a stadium after work with your smartphone battery running low only to have it die before you get back home. Clubs have been installing charging ports around stadiums for years now, but what if you could charge your phone at your seat? Phones like the iPhone and Samsung line use wireless charging in addition to USB ports. In fact, Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks (NBA) and New York Rangers (NHL), installed wireless charging pads in 2012 when area was renovated. Imagine if you could sit your smartphone on the arm rest or on a wireless charging pad attached to the seat in front of you. Wireless charging without the need for cables or dongles would be resistant to weather or the occasional spilled beer.
The next thing NYCFC needs to do is partner with a company like VenueNext to create an incredible in-stadium app to connect with fans and make the stadium experience more enjoyable. Through these in-stadium apps fans of the San Francisco Giants, Orlando Magic, and even the New York Yankees can enhance their experience through e-ticketing and on-demand video replays 5-7 seconds after it happens live. Want to see if there was a handball in the box? You can! An in-stadium app can be used to pre-order and pick up food or track delivery of food to your seats. Imagine not having to wait 15-20 minutes during halftime to grab a hot dog. Do you see seats closer to the field that aren’t being occupied? With in-stadium apps being created by VenueNext, fans can upgrade seats without having to go the box office. In-stadium apps can also help fans access shorter lines into the stadium and at concessions.
While we’re talking technology, if you’ve ever been to Disney World you probably know about Magic Bands. These are wristbands containing RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips that give you access to the theme parks, can be linked to a credit card for payments, and act as your hotel room keys. NYCFC could introduce the use of “City Bands” for entry into the stadium. Instead of scanning your season card you just tap an RFID reader and enter. Using the City Band would be a breeze when it comes to purchasing concessions and merchandise inside the stadium. Imagine a day when you don’t have to fumble for cash when a vendor comes down the aisle. All you have to do is tap and your next beer is automatically charged to a credit card linked to your City Band.
Speaking of beer, the future is here and NYCFC fans deserve it in our future soccer specific stadium. Companies like I Pour It have developed self-pouring beer stations. You no longer have to wait in a long line for a beer. Instead your City Band, linked to your credit card, is also linked to your drivers license or other form of ID. Tap your City Band and pour another pint!
A Stadium with Fan Comforts
In a future NYCFC stadium Supporters need a section built specifically for them. First and foremost, a new stadium needs a safe standing section. Orlando City FC has the largest safe standing section in the US at 3,800 seats. Los Angeles FC has followed suit with 3,252 seats and a private bar for supporters. Minnesota United FC’s Allianz Field, when completed, will have 2,800 safe standing seats. NYCFC should create the largest safe standing supporters’ section in Major League Soccer with at least 4,000 seats. Give our rowdiest fans a bar of their own, the ability to use smoke and flairs, and a pulley system that rivals that of the Portland Timbers’. Newer MLS stadiums are also pushing the limits when it comes to the angle of stadium seating and how close seats are to the field. LAFC’s Banc of California stadium puts fans 12 feet from the touchline, while DC United have moved fans only 8 feet from action on the field. We need our supporters section to be a wall of noise only feet away from the opposing goalie.
Orlando City’s Safe Standing Section. The first ever in the United States. Photo Credit: MajorLeagueShocker
NYCFC fans deal with snow and sleet in March, blazing heat in the summer and the occasional monsoon during the season. Most seating at Yankee Stadium is exposed to mother nature. This needs to change in the new stadium. NYCFC should look to Minnesota’s new Allianz Field and LAFC’s Banc of California stadium as their inspiration. Minnesota’s new stadium roof will cover approximately 85% of the crowd with a translucent polymer mesh rainscreen. Banc of California uses an ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) canopy that is designed to reduce sun glare and keep fans cooler while still letting sun through.
Beating the heat of the summer is great, but staying warm early and late in the season would be even better. How could NYCFC help fans during those cold spring and fall months you ask? The club could follow English Premier League Tottenham Hotspurs’ lead by installing heated seats. In a first-ever, Tottenham will be installing heated seats in all premium sections at their new venue.
A Stadium for Foodies (and those of us who like beer)
Besides the product on the field, food might be a close second when it comes to fan priorities at their local stadium. Yankee Stadium provides a variety of cuisines for any palate, but most fans would agree the quality of food prepared by Legends food service is not very good. Additionally, Yankee Stadium lacks many “local” offerings. Instead we’re left eating Papa John’s pizza, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and barbecue on King’s Hawaiian dinner rolls. Nothing screams New York like cardboard pizza made in a factory, ice cream from Vermont, and bread from California. Instead, NYCFC should look across Flushing Bay at Citi Field as the perfect example of a stadium that sells concession from local restaurants. If you want pizza you can get it from Two Boots. In the mood for some barbecue? Head over to Blue Smoke’s stand. Do your kids want ice cream? You can get it from Mister Softee. NYCFC could even think outside the box, team up with Chicken Bucket FC (a supporter group currently located in section 206 of Yankee Stadium) to open a chicken bucket concession stand.
After you get your food, you have to grab a beer. I mentioned earlier the use of self-pouring stations in a future stadium, but fans also want a place to drink. If we want to make a future stadium into a place fans want to go 365 days a year, the club needs to put in a first-class microbrewery and beer garden. NYCFC could partner with a local brewery like Bronx Brewery, Brooklyn Brewery, or Six Point to brew and serve libations to thirsty NYCFC fans. The beer garden could be used before and during home games, as a spot to watch away matches, and for off season functions.
Great food and craft beers are only as good as their price, and no one wants to pay through the nose for a meal inside a stadium. Imagine feeding a family of 4 for only $28. Well in Atlanta they’re doing just that. Mercedes Benz Stadium, which opened last year and is home to Atlanta United FC and the Falcons (NFL), introduced Fan First Menu Pricing. This includes items like $3 slices of pizza, $2 hot dogs, and $6 chicken tender baskets with fries. Fans want quality, but they also want affordability. NYCFC will be able to attract new fans and families with great food at a reasonable price.
A Stadium Where Fans Come First
Waiting more than 5 years for a soccer stadium has left NYCFC in a position to see what has worked and what hasn’t worked in soccer stadium design in the United States. With the resources the organization has, expectations should be high. City fans are a demanding group that want to proudly say they have the best stadium in the country and the world. This only happens if the team puts fans first and listens to our needs.
We want technology that puts the game in our hands and helps us navigate the stadium with ease. We want our supporters to stand up (safely) and lead the crowd. We want to be protected from the harsh NYC elements, and we want local food and drinks that are affordable. If New York City can accomplish this, they will have hit the ball out of the proverbial park.