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2017-10-25 19:15:02
More Than Sports: Stadiums Try Video Games and Surfing

The adrenaline of a live show, the thrill of sharing air with a superstar performer and thousands of passionate fans, is difficult to replicate on a screen.

But technology is trying. Images are getting sharper, speakers subtler and streaming faster. Viewers can customize and interact with real-time content while relaxing on their couches next to snacks and a clean restroom.

Compared with the $92.98 average ticket price for a National Football League game or $200 for good seats at a Katy Perry concert, ordering in for entertainment is getting ever more appealing to consumers. And if the most important words for developers working on the next generation of arenas are location, location location, they’re followed closely by diversify, diversify, diversify.

The English soccer club Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium, set to open next year in London, will accommodate multiple sports with a field that can retract to reveal artificial turf to host N.F.L. games. T-Mobile Arena, the home of the N.H.L.’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, has two towers jutting from the interior, each serving as part-time viewing platforms and, occasionally, nightclubs. And plans for a 60,000-seat football stadium for the Washington Redskins include a recreational moat that can be used for kayaking and surfing in the summer and ice-skating in the winter, while its external skin could double as a climbing or rappelling wall.

“People have so many opportunities at their fingertips to seek out the type of entertainment they want,” said Brian Mirakian, senior principal at Populous Activate, a firm that helped design the new Yankee Stadium and several Olympic stadiums. “Having the drawing power necessary to pull those people into our buildings has never been more critical.”

Jewel box venues like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field have survived on the charm they bring to baseball, but large single-purpose sites had mostly fallen out of favor by the mid-1960s. The concrete doughnuts that followed — which tried to mash baseball and football fields into the same space — struggled to effectively exhibit either sport, and single-purpose designs returned to the norm in the 1990s.

But the same concerns that led to the development of those rarely mourned multipurpose stadiums persist today. Single-sports structures can often lie fallow for much the year, in some cases marooned by sprawling parking lots on the outskirts of cities.

Although the cost of some new stadiums has pushed beyond the $1 billion mark, a key revenue stream shows signs it might not be the reliable income generator it once was: Weekly attendance at N.F.L. games has been mostly down this year (even before players began protesting comments by President Trump), and attendance at Major League Baseball games, while still high, has also declined slightly in recent years.

That has only intensified the need for new buildings to do double (or more) duty. Some large venues are increasingly catering to nontraditional events such as monster truck rallies, marathons, black-tie banquets and conferences. MetLife Stadium, the home of the Jets and the Giants, hosted a Bollywood awards show in July.

But event planners often find that convention centers are better suited to their needs, with superior lighting and audiovisual options, extensive catering facilities and the ability to partition off floor space into multiple rooms, said Jack W. Plunkett, chief executive of Plunkett Research.

Industrywide tracking of supplemental revenue from one-off events is patchy at best. Still, “stadium managers want to maximize ancillary income from stadium event rental, but there are a lot of challenges and the competition is fierce for those dollars,” he said.

Last month, Barclays Center in Brooklyn hosted a video game tournament — a championship showdown using the first-person shooter game “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.” In the same space that has played host to Beyoncé and the hometown Nets, enormous screens conveyed the action to an audience of thousands, accompanied by pounding music, a light show and smoke effects.

“It’s super awesome — they’re putting a lot of time and money into making this a good show, taking it mainstream,” said Joseph Nelson, 18, who traveled from Scotch Plains, N.J. “I could watch this streamed at home, but I come here to be with people and enjoy the production.”

“Hyperconnectivity” of the digital sort is important, especially for younger fans, according to a report from Deloitte last year. That could take the form of virtual assistants guiding customers through team shops or informing event organizers what highlights the crowd wants to see.

Companies like VenueNext, which has worked with Super Bowl host stadiums and Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby, create custom apps to help fans track which bathrooms have the shortest waits, order food to be delivered to their seats and watch replays on their phones. Avaya Stadium, home to the San Jose Earthquakes soccer team, erected a wall of screens nearly 7 feet tall to aggregate real-time statistics, social media chatter, YouTube videos and other fan-generated content.

Still, designers are worried that visitors, accustomed to a spread of entertainment options at home, will get restless at a live event. So they’re considering novel ways to connect fans to the live experience.

Designers envision using biometric data and motion effects to sync an entertainer’s heartbeat with pulses sent into spectators’ seats. Augmented reality stations could offer guests a digital backstage tour.

One rentable suite at Petco Park, home of baseball’s San Diego Padres, allows fans to play the video game “MLB: The Show” on PlayStation video game consoles while overlooking the field.

“The traditional arena was fundamentally designed around a static in-seat experience,” Mr. Mirakian said. “But the behavioral patterns for this next-generation visitor are dramatically different — they want to come into the building and have the ability to choose their own adventure.”

Another bonus: Flexible venues are easier to finance at a time when taxpayers are less inclined to pick up part of the tab. Last year, voters in San Diego rejected a ballot measure that would have raised hotel taxes to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars toward helping erect a new football stadium for the Chargers. (The team opted to move to Los Angeles.)

Most economic experts believe that the benefits of stadiums are likely to be outweighed by the costs to the taxpayers who fund the projects, according to a survey this year from the Initiative on Global Markets at Chicago Booth. After all, even with a full slate of events, many of those taxpayers may never set foot in the building, which the neighborhood may end up seeing as a hulking, self-contained island, siloed from the rest of the community.

That is a criticism that new venues are trying to address by better blending into their surroundings and encouraging more visitors. Stadium and arena planners are trying to integrate hotels, lakes, parks, office buildings and other meeting places into their designs. Plans for venues like the Chase Center — a privately financed arena being built in San Francisco for the reigning N.B.A. champion Golden State Warriors that will include a waterfront park, restaurants and retail — refer to the complexes as “districts.”

Half of the concourse area used for the Little Caesars Arena, which opened last month in Detroit as the new home of the Red Wings and the Pistons, is accessible year-round, regardless of whether an event is scheduled in the main bowl. Retailers and restaurants open on to both the street and the clear-roofed concourse.

“This way, we don’t have these massively long runs of inactive street frontage when there’s no game or concert,” said Ryan Gedney, a senior project designer at HOK, the architecture firm behind the arena. “It becomes a much harder-working venue day to day.”