Here's how sports teams are reinventing tailgating as coronavirus keeps fans out of the stands

Key Points
  • The Milwaukee Bucks are looking to invest in an outdoor space for fans to enjoy games safely during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Bucks President Peter Feigin said this investment isn't just for the pandemic, and will continue after things return to normal. 
  • The Miami Dolphins and Las Vegas Raiders are also offering unique tailgating and viewing options due to restrictions limiting fans in stadiums. 
Renderings showing the potential future of sports stadiums and arenas.
Source: Populous

Coronavirus has forced sports teams to rethink the way they do business once it comes time for fans to return. 

The Milwaukee Bucks are one of several sports teams preparing for the possibility of the unknown when it comes to welcoming fans back next season. As concerns about another fall or winter spike intensify, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that the NBA likely won't return until 2021. According to leading sports design and architectural firm Populous, sports executives are taking this time to make contingency plans.

One area that's of great interest: the outdoor tailgating space. Populous executives said they are working with many of their sports clients, including the Milwaukee Bucks, on creating a way for fans to watch the game outdoors in a socially distanced way utilizing parking garages, shipping containers and even creating a drive-in movie like experience. Populous said these changes can cost anywhere from the hundreds of thousands to several million dollars, depending on the scale of the project.

It's not just the Bucks looking to do this. The Miami Dolphins and Las Vegas Raiders recently introduced their own outdoor experiences. 

Peter Feigin, the Milwaukee Bucks' president, said he saw the success drive in theaters and watch parties have had during the pandemic and is looking to create a similar experience outside his sports arena.

"Humans have the innate need to be together and be apart of something," Feigin said. "We think over the next six to nine months, this is the reality of the way people can gather and experience sporting events." 

He's working with Populous, the same architecture firm that designed the $524 million Fiserv Forum two years ago, to make that a reality. 

Feigin said the Bucks hope to have an outdoor plan in place once local officials allow it. 

Renderings showing the potential future of sports stadiums and arenas.
Source: Populous

Populous is working with teams like the Bucks to create these unique outdoor viewing spaces. The global design firm is the architect of many of the most well known sports venues in the country.  They have designed stadiums for the New York Yankees (Yankee Stadium), Baltimore Oriole (Camden Yards) and most recently the Vegas Golden Knights (T-Mobile Arena). They've also helped with the design and planning of every single Super Bowl since 1985, in addition to the last 12 Olympic games.

Plans being considered by the Bucks include retrofitting a 10-acre area outside Fiserv Forum into a 360 degree outdoor viewing experience, which includes a range of visitor experiences at varying price points.

The space is organized by four focal points created by setting up large, temporary screens, similar to a drive-in movie configuration.

On the south screen, there is a live stage for entertainment and a food truck area. Up to 230 cars can be parked in this area separated with at least one empty space between each of them. 

Standard tailgating spots are the most affordable option. That includes a parking space with a view of a screen.

For fans looking for more of a premium experience, Populous developed an "opera-box" opportunity, where visitors can park their cars in a parking garage, set up their own tailgates and have an elevated view of the screens from five stories up. This option could come with food and beverages provided.

Other high end categories include an area of two-level, stacked shipping containers and modular "suite towers" in the center of the tailgate campus. Patrons could park on the lower level and walk up a set of stairs to the suite that are designed to hold 4-6 people.

"It gives us an opportunity to step back and look at creative and innovative design solutions that can carry us through not only this transitory point but beyond the end of the pandemic," said Brian Mirakian, a senior principal at Populous. 

Renderings showing the potential future of sports stadiums and arenas.
Source: Populous

When it comes to cost, Populous said the price tag comes with a big range, just like building arenas. A lot of what they worked on with the Bucks utilizes many of the existing structures and it's just a matter of paying for the shipping containers, LED screens and more. 

"I think for us, we probably would start with a smaller capital investment with the ability to scale this up," Feigin said.

The price tag to attend this tailgate depends on which space and will likely resemble the cost of a premium seat in the arena, Feigin said. 

He said if the Bucks make the investment in the outdoor experiences, it will be for the long term, meaning they will utilize the space or repurpose the shipping containers once the pandemic is under control. 

"We don't want to do this just for a Covid period of time. We think we can convert the modular shipping containers to food and beverage and cool bars, very quickly," Feigin said. 

Shawn Quill, who leads KPMG's sports practice, said if tech-related fan engagements are marketed and executed well, he can see the potential to carryover in the "new normal." 

"From enhancements such as scheduled arrival and gate entry times, to ordering concessions and facilitating contactless pick-up through an app, to creative approaches to safe tailgating, any enhancement that can encourage and bring fans back on site in a safe manner helps mitigate lost 'game day' revenue sources, which are business critical for sports teams," Quill said.

Rendering of Miami Dolphins Gameday Theater at Hard Rock Stadium
Source: Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins recently introduced an outdoor viewing experience of their own with their new Gameday Theater at Hard Rock Stadium.  Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel came up with the idea to utilize the existing in-stadium videos for a drive up theater and outdoor plaza video board. Their setup allows 386 fans to enjoy games from beanbag loungers and private cabana shells. 

Other teams like the Las Vegas Raiders are looking at outdoor tailgating as a new form of revenue. The Raiders are playing their first season in Las Vegas and announced they would not have fans this season. The club recently announced a $400 deal or $500 VIP experience where fans can watch Raiders games next to Allegiant Stadium from their vehicles. Guests will have access to two parking spots and a food and beverage package. 

Populous Design Director Byron Chambers said that the trend over time with stadiums and arenas is to offer guests an increasing number of experiences within the venue, the pandemic will accelerate that even further.

"The shift from pandemic that people are going to want to still go to games, but they're going to want high value for their experiences," Chambers said. 

But the tech changes don't stop there.

"And then the last piece is really how you get [fans] in safely," said Kim Damron, CEO of Paciolan, a live entertainment technology firm that is working with sports teams on ticketing and technology solutions.

Damron said teams are making switch to contactless tickets. Gone are the days of handing over your paper ticket or even scanning your mobile ticket.  

"This year, because of the safety factor, we're working with our clients to be able to enter the venues on a contactless basis so they are able to come in range of the scanner," she said. 

Damron said her company has over 70 clients implementing contactless technology with near-field communications (NFC) built into their mobile ticket. 

"I've never seen that kind of acceleration of adoption of technology, that pandemic has definitely impacted that," she said. 

Sports teams investing in outdoor spaces
Sports teams investing in outdoor spaces