The NFL’s regular season is officially underway, and for the first time in league history, teams will be playing 17 games in the regular season. This means many of the teams will be playing nine games in their home stadiums.
The role of the stadium has evolved to provide more than homefield advantage. It’s an entertainment experience cultivated by crowds, screens, music and food. The enormous arenas have become part of city skylines. They’re a team’s home, and a stadium’s condition can be vital to a franchise’s business.
The NFL’s own Buffalo Bills are looking to build a new home. The proposed stadium would cost $1.4 billion, hold 60,000 seats and need to be completed by no later than 2027, the Associated Press reported. State and local governments would likely pay more than 50% of the total project cost.
In July 2020, after 31 months of construction, a Mortenson-McCarthy joint venture completed Allegiant Stadium (pictured above), now the home of the Las Vegas Raiders. The stadium cost $1.97 billion, and the JV included more than 200 engineering firms, subcontractors and other businesses required to build the structure on time, on top of battling COVID-19 outbreaks toward the end of the project’s deadline.
The Texas Rangers Globe Life Field cost $1.1 billion, and was nearly delayed when a fire broke out on the jobsite in late 2019. Had the fire been worse, it could have thrown the entire project’s schedule off kilter and impacted the planned entertainment district surrounding the stadium, which was being constructed concurrently.
Building a stadium is a herculean task. From the sheer skill required to plan and execute the construction, to the scrutiny from ownership and the public, to an immovable completion deadline on top of mountains of money, it’s no surprise that there are so few stadium builders in the U.S., said Greg McClure, senior vice president at Manhattan Construction Company. At Manhattan, McClure worked on the Globe Life Field project.
Still, while the high stakes and public nature of the projects can be a challenge, it’s also incredibly rewarding, said Adam Hardy, market director at Mortenson.
The owner relationship
Most stadiums are built under the construction manager at risk (CMAR) approach, said McClure, which requires the contractor to deliver the project under a guaranteed maximum price, which is selected based off of bids and estimates from numerous subcontractors.
As a result, a lot of extra work must be done upfront. It is imperative that all members of the building team know the costs or issues they would face and the design team should finalize plans early so that there are no hiccups or delays, McClure said.
With no stadiums there can be no games, and therefore no business for the teams. As a result, most project owners are hands-on in stadium projects.
“In our experiences, the owners we have worked for were very involved from the beginning and knew what they wanted from the start,” McClure said. “We always establish key milestone dates with our owners so that they know early on any key decisions, that only they can make, must be maintained in order to achieve their goals.”
While construction managers are listening to the needs of their subcontractors, the owners are listening to their teams, Hardy said.
“In addition to the owners’ requirements for stadiums, [the] administration has their needs; sales and marketing have theirs; coaches want the best facility to create that home field advantage; training staff needs are vital to keep the players performing at their best; and then concessionaires, security, ticketing, not to mention the stadium operator who is required to sell the building for events beyond the team’s home games,” Hardy said. Mixing the complexities of a large organization, along with the fact that most owners only build one stadium in their lifetime, means each arena is a unique building experience.
An incredibly public endeavor
From start to finish, stadium building is an incredibly public endeavor, not just due to the massive costs, but also because of the pressure from fans and the team alike. It can feel like there are more people than usual breathing down your neck, McClure said.
“We have even had projects where a complete page to a fan website is dedicated to nothing but asking why we are doing something a particular way,” McClure said. “Really fun when you answer and people outside of the project question why you would ever do it that way.”
Nevertheless, the public nature of the projects can often be rewarding, as long as everything is going well. McClure said he takes pride in seeing reports from outlets like ESPN focusing on the work he and his team have completed.
“These are the homes where legends are made and experiences are etched forever in the fun memories of people’s lives,” Hardy said.
Entering the field
Like any project type, there’s risk tied into construction, but the array of builders and subs that have worked on stadium construction is larger than many people realize. Smaller stadiums for minor league teams and colleges provide places for other builders to gain experience, McClure said.
“No matter the size, each one comes with a special set of circumstances and risk that you will have to overcome,” he said. “$100k to $1 [billion], construction is construction.”
Still, the work required is often more daunting than other builds, and the risk almost always falls on the contractor. Both McClure and Hardy said hiring the best subcontractors and workers is the only way to get the job done. A small mistake could throw the entire timeline off and become a make or break for a stadium’s opening day — thereby damaging that necessarily strict construction timeline, Hardy said.
Nevertheless, when the builder can pull it off, it’s more rewarding than an average build, Hardy said.
“The reward is when you are part of one of these builds and dedicate years of your life to its success and get to show up for the first game and see the smile on the owner’s face and the excitement of the fans. The roar of the crowd as the team leaves the tunnel for the first time in a new stadium is amazing.”