Stadiums of the Future

Posted on Thursday, August 25, 2022

By Troy Newport

Tailgaters decked out in their team’s colors stream into the stadium, tickets in hand, ready for an action-packed afternoon. The air is thick with excitement and food vendor aromas. Impromptu team chants can be heard bouncing from the steel girders above as fans exit the tunnels, scan the field for a moment, and then begin to squeeze into seats seemingly designed for children. These fans are about to see the game of their lifetimes, but we aren’t here to enjoy the show. We’re here to learn about the amazing architecture of this gigantic sports complex and how powder coatings are used in this modern feat of engineering.

Stadiums and arenas are complex, multipurpose structures used for sporting events, concerts, and even special events like monster truck rallies and professional wrestling. In the early 20th century in the U.S., stadium construction was comprised of mostly wood, concrete, and steel, and stadiums were almost exclusively used for sporting events. By the 1960s, stadium structures were mostly concrete and designed to look pedestrian so non-sporting events could also be held in the venue. The Oakland Coliseum is one of the last remaining stadiums still in use from that era.

Through the 1970s and 80s, architects embraced sport- specific stadium designs and started to flex their engineering muscles by reducing the number of support poles blocking spectator views, designing dome stadiums, and eventually developing retractable roof technology in the case of Toronto’s SkyDome.

In stride with other 1990s and early 2000s trends, stadiums became super-sized, approaching capacities of 80,000 spectators for NFL venues and 45,000 for MLB venues. College football venues continued expanding, becoming capable of hosting over 100,000 spectators.

Does Size or Experience Matter Most?
Besides housing the events for which the stadium is designed, the primary duty of a venue is to cater to the fan experience. As technology and society evolves, the fan experience will continue to evolve too. Of course, we’ll have to wade through gimmicks like haptic feedback chairs to get to the good stuff. Advancements in technology will eventually allow for improved security, refined ticketless entry, ‘smart seats’ with integrated TVs, grab-and-go concessions based on Amazon technology, and the ability to order food delivery to your seat… or even while tailgating! Efforts have even been made to develop VR experiences for those who want a fan experience from the comfort of their home.

Indeed, cultural changes are forcing stadium designers to rethink their approach to these monolithic projects. As New York Islanders owner Jon Ledecky quipped after the $1B UBS arena opened, “We’re competing against the 80-inch television in your living room.” He later added, “All these new arenas will have to give fans a reason to get up, go to their car, and come to the event. If we don’t have a first-class experience, they’re going to watch the game at home.”

Although there are a few stadiums in early planning stages that could cost over $10B by the time they are completed, there has been an undercurrent of discussion for years whether supersized venues are still necessary. Stadiums are a substantially risky venture and becoming even more so as trends, tastes, economics, and ecological concerns evolve.

Responsible Design
The environmental impact of stadium projects has emerged as a driving factor in design, and material and coating selection will likely be an additional consideration that reduces the size of future projects. According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) there are currently more than 30 professional sports venues in the U.S. participating in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Five of those venues achieved the highest level of LEED certification, Platinum status (80-plus points), with Atlanta’s two million square foot Mercedes-Benz Stadium becoming the world’s first LEED Platinum-certified professional sports stadium, sitting at the top of the pack with a LEED score of 88 out of a possible 110 points. In addition there are 14 LEED Gold-certified professional sports stadiums (see Figure 1).

Recycling and waste management practices, LED light fixtures, solar panels and wind turbines to mitigate electricity use, water use reduction through fixtures and sustainable landscaping, and storm water management practices are just some of the features taken into account for LEED projects. Materials and coatings are also necessary considerations for LEED projects, with powder coating becoming an increasingly important factor.

According to Kristen Blankenship, architectural specifications and sustainability lead at IFS Coatings, the architectural community’s focus on designing sustainable buildings has accelerated the specification of powder coatings. “They want buildings made from sustainable materials that are healthy for the occupants and surrounding community. And they want these buildings to have a low carbon footprint, low operational carbon, and low embodied carbon,” Kristen reveals.

While architects have become much more familiar with powder coatings over the past decade, Kristen feels there are still areas for continued education. “Most architects I speak with are aware of powder and many like it! They know it is tough and durable and specify it for interiors in addition to well-used components like railings,” states Kristen. “However,” she continues, “they often don’t realize that FEVE (fluoroethylene vinyl) based powder coatings can also be used on exterior façades, just like 70/30 liquid PVDF (polyvinylidene fluoride).”

Kristen explains that while FEVE and PDVF can both be used to make powder or liquid paints, FEVE has a unique copolymer chemistry that makes it more user friendly in formulating powder coatings. Using a FEVE based powder coating for architectural projects comes with added benefits beyond its superior scratch and mar resistance. “Architects can meet the AAMA 2605 standard for coating performance using either PVDF liquid or FEVE powder, but FEVE powder also lowers the embodied carbon of the design. Powder coatings are considered low emitting materials and often come with EPD (Environmental Product Declaration) points allowing their use to contribute to LEED credits.” In addition, “FEVE resins also inherently are transparent and glossy, allowing a wider range of sheen compared to PVDF, which is typically limited to 50 gloss units or less.”

Significant efforts have been made by powder manufacturers and industry trade groups to promote education to architects about various powder coatings and their uses. IFS offers a Powder for Architectural Applications training course approved by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) that earns attendees continuing education credits. Even so, Kristen posits there are still some misconceptions about powder to resolve. “The biggest misconception I hear about powder coatings is that there is only one type of powder.” Kristen reveals she typically explains powder by using a more familiar frame of reference, liquid paint. “Everyone knows what liquid paint is because they have used it at some point in their lives. Architects know they wouldn’t specify an interior wall paint for an exterior curtain wall,” Kristen expounds. “I explain that this is because of the polymer chemistry of each of those paints. Once they realize that powder has a range of performance levels based on various polymer chemistries, something clicks, and everything starts to make sense.”

When it comes to potential uses for powder in a stadium or arena project, Kristen says architects have lots of potential places where powder coatings can be specified. “Façade, signage, seating, goal posts, windows, handrails… really any metal can be specified for powder.” Kristen points to an arena project near this author’s hometown where powder coatings were used. “Amalie Arena in Tampa underwent an extensive renovation in 2011. New façade and windows were installed to refresh the exterior,” she explains. “An IFS fluoropolymer powder coating based on FEVE resin technology was used for both the windows and curtain wall.” In addition to their performance capabilities, powder coatings were also chosen for the Amalie project because they offer superior color and gloss retention, which is extremely important for a structure that sits on a Florida waterway.

While the primary benefits of powder are excellent durability and enhanced scratch and mar resistance properties, Kristen says that special properties like anti-graffiti and anti- microbial are becoming increasingly important for large, public venues. Powder coating formulators have also gotten much better at color matching capabilities than a decade ago.

Custom Coater Opportunities
Powder coating long aluminum extrusions necessitates a sizable production space and specialized equipment. While it is possible to coat extrusions and other longer pieces with a horizontal conveyor system, vertical powder lines can promote up to two to three times more throughput, have better powder reclamation capabilities, and require fewer staff to manage. In addition to powder coaters building or upgrading their lines to serve the architectural industry, Kristen says she has seen an acceleration of liquid coaters who either add a powder line or convert to powder, and when they do so, they see immediate benefits. “What we are seeing is that liquid coaters who add a powder line typically see increased throughput, lower reject rates, and overall lower operational costs. We also find that liquid coaters who have thermal oxidizers nearing expiration will opt to invest that capital for a new powder line.” She adds, “Powder is ultra-low VOC and is really the future of paint; they want to invest in the future.”

If a company wants to pursue the architectural market, Kristen says the first step should be to reach out to their paint suppliers regarding certification programs for performance powder coatings. From there decisions can be made regarding equipment and physical plant upgrades needed. Finally, third party quality programs such as the PCI Certification program can help to foster a continuous improvement culture and prevent complacency. Because the stakes are so high with these types of projects, having the right equipment, training, documentation, and quality control processes are essential for success. If done right, “A custom coater will see great margins and a lot of volume opportunity if they can apply performance powder coatings,” Kristen says.

Stadium and arena design will continue to evolve as fan demands evolve and we continue to invent more efficient and eco-friendly materials and processes to reduce our footprint on planet Earth. Powder coatings are almost assuredly a part of that evolution.

Troy Newport is publisher, Powder Coated Tough.