PHILADELPHIA - It would be easy to compare Lincoln Financial Field, the Philadelphia Eagles' new $520 million playground, to M&T Bank Stadium.
Both are state-of-the-art football-only stadiums, built with impeccable sight lines, huge video replay boards and wide concourses.
More importantly to the Eagles' and Ravens' bottom lines, both have lots of revenue-generating club seats and suites - which both franchises sorely missed in their old stadiums.
But a better comparison might be to Camden Yards.
While "The Linc," is no better than 5-year-old M&T Bank Stadium when it comes to simply watching and enjoying the game, it exceeds it in the sort of "wow" factor that Baltimore's baseball stadium generated when it opened in 1992.
Inga Saffron, architecture critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote in her review of the stadium last month that The Linc "forges far beyond the wood-paneled world of conservative Philadelphia and looks boldly into a dynamic future."
Sitting just 200 feet from Interstate 95 in South Philadelphia, 69,030-seat Lincoln Financial Field will get its first national TV exposure Monday night when the Eagles play host to the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It is the latest creation of Dan Meis, design partner at Marina Del Ray, Calif.-based NBBJ Sports & Entertainment.
When Meis and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie began the project in 1999, they started by looking not only at other stadiums, but in places you wouldn't have imagined.
"We looked at Ian Schrager's W Hotels, which are real design-driven hotels, a lot," said Meis, 42, who also was the architect for Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Staples Center in Los Angeles, Safeco Field in Seattle and Miller Park in Milwaukee. "The public areas are a lot more sophisticated than in typical hotels."
Indeed, the signature design element of The Linc may well become the HeadHouse Plaza, an area of more than 100,000 square feet that spans the stadium's north end.
Think Eutaw Street - on steroids.
"The HeadHouse Plaza notion is something that came out of train stations," Meis said. "I have used it in baseball stadiums as a place where you sort of meet and greet people."
The street-level plaza is named for the free-standing building that serves as the north end of the stadium and as the base for five sections of the upper deck. The HeadHouse, complete with terrazzo floors and a photographic tribute to the Eagles' history, contains the team's ticket offices and - more importantly to its bottom line - a 6,000-square-foot retail store.
At Veterans Stadium, which the team shared with the Phillies since the stadium opened in 1971, the Eagles had no concession rights and were forced to sell their merchandise outside.
At last week's preseason game against the New York Jets, people were lined up 30 deep at the registers at halftime (and 15 deep in the middle of the second quarter) to buy merchandise ranging from $229.99 authentic Donovan McNabb jerseys to $54.99 sweat shirts and $12.99 Eagles cheerleader calendars.
The Eagles figure that 60 percent of their ticket holders will enter The Linc from this plaza.
Across 11th Street sit both the Wachovia Center, where the Flyers and 76ers now play, and the Wachovia Spectrum, home to minor league hockey and indoor soccer teams. Less than a half-mile to the north are the Vet and the under-construction Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies will play next season.
For kids of all ages
The HeadHouse Plaza features food tents - pit beef, beer, smoothies - as well as tents for a band, the team's pre-game radio show, merchandise and private parties. Underneath a 25-foot-long by 14-foot-high video screen are interactive kids' games (like the Ravens have on the promenade between the baseball and football stadiums).
John Long, 39, was watching his 8-year-old son, Johnny, play one of the games last week during the second quarter of the Jets game. Long and his son, dressed in matching green McNabb jerseys, had made the hour and 15-minute drive from their home in Sea Isle City on the Jersey shore in time to be at the stadium by 4 p.m.
"I love it," said Long, who owns a restaurant in Ocean City, N.J., and shares a dozen season tickets in the north end zone with a business partner.
"It's big, it's clean, it's open," he said. "It's very fan-friendly. There are TVs everywhere, there are bathrooms everywhere, there's beer everywhere."
From the plaza, fans climb 40 steps to get to the main concourse level, and when they make the ascent, they have an unobstructed view of the field from what the Eagles, in one of their many sponsorship deals, call "Chrysler-Jeep Corner." It's a 7,600-square-foot area where buddies with seats on opposite sides of the stadium can meet for a $7.50 beer and not miss any of the game. (There's a similar, 11,500-square-foot space at the stadium's southwest corner.)
On the concourse is a five-story stair tower to the end-zone upper deck, with landings that afford four other inviting places to stand and watch the game.