March Madness: “Elite Eight” Stadium Surprises That Enhance Student, Fan and Campus Experience

Behind the scenes of March Madness, an estimated $5 billion industry is busy building new college and professional-level stadiums, with 25% more development in the first half of 2017 than at the same time in 2016. This is partly due to increased spending on onsite technology.

Over the coming years, investment in college stadiums and convocation centers has increased. Student-athletes, campuses, and their surrounding communities could see upsides from this.

2016 survey by AECOM and Ohio University of 87 NCAA athletic directors from 25 Division I conferences discovered that almost all (99 percent) of athletic directors reported planning to invest over $500,000 in athletic facilities in the next five years, while half (50%) plan to invest at least $25 million throughout the same time frame.

Wallethub estimates that hourly corporate losses from distractions due to March Madness can be roughly valued at $1.9 billion. But for facility managers who want to be productive while they absorb some March Madness, here’s a look at some of the surprises planned for those coming stadiums.

Engineering and Equipment: An elaborate cooling system keeps the sheet of hockey ice beneath many basketball courts from melting during basketball games while preventing condensation on the court.

For example, the Capital One Arena keeps a crew of 27 onsite engineers, and sometimes more than that, to keep tournaments on track at its facility in Washington D.C. These engineers run over 600 pieces of equipment that control everything from the sound system to the ice.

Immersive Fan Experiences Through Tech: Technology is pervasive in massive arenas, hiding in floors, walls and handrails. Tech spending is expected to increase from $1 million per build a few years ago to over $50 million now.

Integrated Online and In-Person Experiences: Advanced tech includes built-in systems including wireless networking antennas in the rails, and built-in seating technologies that let you order nachos from your chair, or even see how long the line is outside the bathroom. Over 2,000 wireless boosters have been installed under the seats of the Capital One Arena so fans can Tweet, post on Facebook, research stats and more.

Tech Creates Better Security Response Times: Tech is driving a communications system and network that can rack every seat in the arena, and get security personnel to any problem site within seconds.

Entertainment Center-style Locker rooms: Locker rooms and athlete lounges aren’t like what you may know from high school sports. These are wired up with charging stations, big screen gaming lounges, and media centers in new college and university stadiums that are well beyond standard. For example, Auburn University’s Jordan-Hare Stadium boasts one of the biggest digital screens in the country. Such amenities, which include tutors onsite, are used to aid recruiting efforts.

Greater energy efficiency: Campuses are lining up their stadium design with broader sustainability goals through installing equipment such as smart LED lighting, solar panels, electric car charging stations, and recycling programs.

More Experiential Variety: Research such as a 2012 discovery that over half (57% of sports fans would rather watch a game at home is part of what inspired the introduction of immersive tech experiences  that can’t be matched at home.

Premium packages shift from box seats: Air-conditioned sky-high box seats weren’t offering the authentic experience big spenders wanted, so premium VIP seating now includes VIP access to amenities such as a dedicated bar, buffet and covered viewing in these college and university stadiums.

The Impact on Surrounding Communities

Communities will also benefit from the growth in the mega stadium economy. Nearby offices and neighborhoods begin to see the stadium as an amenity.  To return to the example of Capital One Arena, the leasing team for a nearby office has had enormous success, opening up the possibility of new jobs and economic growth spreading out from these stadiums.