Sky's the limit for fearless fans Sightlines: By and large, NFL followers are a red-blooded bunch, but the Ravens loyalists' first views from the upper deck could leave many green around the gills

Stadium Watch

July 28, 1998|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Your new upper-deck seats at the Ravens' stadium don't just seem close to the stratosphere. They really are.

Although stadium designers boast that the park will have sightlines as good as any in football, a number of compromises had to be made to accommodate all the elements the team wanted. The result is an upper deck that is among the highest in sports and tilted at an angle some patrons may find a bit steep.

The reason is chiefly luxury seating. The team wanted to have 108 skyboxes and 7,900 club seats. That lucrative premium seating is all the rage in sports now, and is the primary reason so many old stadiums are being torn down and replaced.

The sweet seats had to go somewhere. Generally, as in the case of the Ravens' stadium, they are wedged between the upper and lower deck. Double-decking the suites, something the Ravens did to eliminate hard-to-sell end zone boxes, pushed the upper deck up even higher.

How high? The stadium architects, HOK Sport Facilities Group, say it's the second-highest they know of, exceeded only by Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in Landover. Cooke Stadium also has two levels of suites, but almost twice as many club seats as in Baltimore.

All of which underscores a sad fact of modern football: Though the new class of stadiums is better for viewing football than the old in just about every respect, cheap seats have been pushed farther from the action than in some older venues such as Giants Stadium in New Jersey.

The best views are now reserved for the high-rolling club and skybox patrons.

If you have a coveted front-row seat in Baltimore's upper deck at the 50-yard-line, you will be 96 feet, 2 inches higher than the field. A friend in the uppermost row, behind you, will be 156 feet, 4 inches above field level -- and will be more than the length of a football field from the officials when they flip the coin at midfield.

That's much higher than stadiums built before extensive club levels and skyboxes were in vogue. The upper deck at the Ravens' stadium is nearly 40 feet higher than that at Memorial Stadium. And it's 30 feet higher than both Giants Stadium, opened in 1976, and Miami's Pro Player Stadium, opened in 1987 -- two well-regarded football parks.

Jeff Spear, HOK's project designer for the Ravens' stadium, said the sightlines will still be "equal or better than anything out there."

"I've been up in Ravens stadium, and I don't think that's a big deal. It's all relative to what people's experience is" with other stadiums, Spear said.

The height may be deceiving because other dimensions are better for fans, putting them directly over the action, he said. As a single-purpose NFL stadium, the new Ravens facility puts many fans closer to the action than at multi-sport venues.

The lower deck, for example, is 50 feet from the sideline at the 50-yard-line, compared with 100 feet at Memorial. Memorial's decks bowed out at midfield to accommodate first and third base in a baseball configuration.

Other design features will also be fan-pleasing, Spear said. The seating bowl is tapered around the field, so seats will roughly face the midpoint of the field -- a lesson learned the hard way. Oriole Park opened with some seats down the third-base line facing the outfield; they had to be repositioned.

The Ravens' seats will also be wider than what fans are accustomed to, with more leg room.

But in terms of distance, the evolution of stadium design has not been kind to patrons in the upper deck, where about half the people sit.

Measured on the diagonal, a fan in the first row of the upper deck at the 50-yard line will be 280 feet from the midpoint of the field at Ravens stadium.

That "sightline" measurement compares with 231 at Giants Stadium, 255 at the Carolina Panthers' Ericsson Stadium and 291 at Jack Kent Cooke. It is much better than Memorial, at 320 feet, because of its midfield bulge.

Walter Lynch, the Redskins' project manager for their stadium, said the viewing angle there is much preferable to that found in most older stadiums. Fans are looking down on the game rather than looking in from the side, as they did at RFK Stadium in Washington, the team's old home.

"You're on top of the game. At RFK, the angle was less," Lynch said.

Heidi Edwards, a consulting architect for the Ravens on the stadium, said a desire to avoid columns also pushed the upper deck farther from the field. At Memorial Stadium, the lower deck was cluttered with columns supporting the upper, obstructing the view.

"Just because you are farther away doesn't mean they don't have a great view," Edwards said. "I've been in every seat in the stadium, and I think the view is great."

Spear said several factors have conspired to push fans higher into the air in modern stadiums.

Besides the new levels of premium seating, laws requiring access for disabled patrons require rows of special seats that take up more space than conventional ones. The cumulative effect, throughout a stadium, is to raise the upper deck.

The angle of the upper deck at the Ravens' new facility is also steeper than what fans are used to. The deck rises at a pitch of 33.7 degrees.

That will be a shock to fans accustomed to the gentle, 29-degree slope of Oriole Park. But it will be a degree or so less than the notoriously steep upper decks at Comiskey Park in Chicago.

A steeper deck gets fans in the higher rows closer to the field, but it also can be a bit unnerving. Spear said many arenas feature steep upper decks, but aren't as uncomfortable because they are smaller and indoors.

Designers were able to provide relief for end-zone fans in Baltimore. The upper deck in both end zones is separate from the sideline decks. This allowed them to be brought down and in closer to the field: They are both 13 1/2 feet lower and 10 horizontal feet closer.

Pub Date: 7/28/98

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