Friday March 13th, 2015

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Creating North America’s largest outdoor bar at Avaya Stadium wasn’t the goal. It just worked out like that for architect Brad Schrock and the San Jose Earthquakes.

“How it became the largest bar in North America I don’t know,” Schrock, director of Sports + Recreation + Entertainment for HOK, told SI.com. “We didn’t set out to make it that, but the nature of the size of the opening and the desire to create this really active dynamic space it turned out to be that.”

With the bar playing a key role on the open end of the horseshoe at the brand-new stadium two miles from downtown San Jose and a Beers of the Worlds section at the south end, Schrock says the real focus of Avaya Stadium, though, centers around its European-style roof capturing the energy from the league’s steepest seating bowl.

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With a single seating bowl starting 10.5 feet above the field-level suites and party decks and at an angle of 30 degrees, no MLS stadium has a steeper rake, which means the last row of the 18,000-seat venue sits closer to the natural grass pitch than others of a similar size.

Fans will experience that Sunday night (7 p.m. ET, FoxSports1), when the Earthquakes host the Chicago Fire in the stadium's grand unveiling.

“We wanted a strong, but simple solution,” Schrock said.

Instead of placing the 16 suites mid-level and breaking up the bowl—and fan noise—he dropped the suites down low, off the concourse and pulled them toward the pitch, cranking up the rake of the bowl without going so high that fans would freak out near the top.

“All the sightline programs all of us designers use to design these seating bowls would tell you that you don’t need to be that steep,” he said. But forget the programs. “The steeper it gets the more people feel like they are on top of the action.”

Keeping the premium seating on the field allowed the Quakes to give close-to-the-action seating for premium payers and the general bowl.

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But if the Quakes can fill Avaya Stadium with 18,000 raucous fans–the club announced this week that the maximum 12,000 season-ticket packages have been sold–Schrock wanted that to mean something from an energy standpoint. And while the stripped-down venue (his words) was an “exercise in putting the money where the fans and players benefited most” one place the ownership group did spend money on was the 90-foot canopy extending to the first row of seats.

“It is incredibly intimate and captures the energy of the fan,” Schrock said. “It harkens back to great European soccer venues, really tight, steep seating bowl with big overhangs to amplify the crowd noise.”

The roof connects to the back of the seating bowl so there’s no noise leakage and uses a metal deck and structural steel—the angularity of the steel on the sides of the stadium are to support the roof, even if a future façade will eventually put a covering on them—to capture fan energy and reflect acoustics back toward the pitch.

The canopy also helps from a fan comfort standpoint, providing shade for the folks not meandering the bar.

“It was an exercise in best value,” Schrock says. “Where do we put the dollars to get the most value out of it? The return on that is going to pay dividends in terms of fan experiences. It is one of those things that a lot of stadiums have not invested in in the past. It is not an inexpensive component, so you really have to believe it creates an incredible benefit to the fan experience.”

Designers kept the roof as flat as possible to capture more noise, but the roofing material pulls back at the end to ensure the entire pitch gets the sun it needs to grow.

The ends, though, that is where Avaya Stadium offers up some beer-centric culture. The south bowl has a tiered standing area for supporters near the Beers of the World concession. The first standing platform sits at field level and steps up from there.

The story behind the bar on the north end didn’t start with a bar.

“The only negative with a horseshoe is without something in that end, the experience tends to bleed,” Schrock said. “We proposed an LED board and a bar that stretched across from stand to stand to not only help enclose that end, but create this dynamic space that would become a focal point. It is funny, it immediately got some traction.”

The 3,647-square-foot bar was designed 55 feet behind the north goal under open slots in the underside of the scoreboard so from the view from Coleman Avenue on the outside it looked transparent, but coupled with the board and “Epicenter” fan space, there was “massing” in the north end that helped complete the Avaya Stadium experience.

Even if it took North America’s largest outdoor bar to make it happen.

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb

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