The Dolphins enter the upcoming NFL season sporting the league's most dramatic stadium alterations.
While the Vikings and Falcons await the completion of their new stadiums in the next two years (Minnesota opens U.S. Bank Stadium in 2016, followed by Atlanta's as-yet-unnamed stadium in '17), the Dolphins enter the upcoming NFL season sporting the league's most dramatic stadium alterations, the first stage of a two-year process to upgrade their 29-year-old home. But Miami is not the only place fans will notice renovations as the gates open this fall. A recap of this year's new features across the league:
Sun Life Stadium (Miami Dolphins)
Every seat in Sun Life Stadium has been replaced, complete with a fresh take on the concourse experience in the 100 and 300 levels. As part of a two-year $400 million renovation process, all the seats were ripped out of the stadium, and the lower bowl was regraded to bring the new aqua seats 24 feet closer to the field.
The venue drops from 76,000 seats to just over 65,300 and creates new “seating experiences” for different levels of ticket holders.
HOK architect Jeff Sittner tells SI.com that remodeling the seating bowl, which was originally designed for baseball and football, included redesigning the sideline to bring seats lower and closer to the field and removing upper bowl corner sections for “gathering zones that are open to the action.”
Away from the seats, fans will find new concessions and amenities on the 100 and 300 level concourses as part of this HOK-led redesign.
More dramatic changes are ahead for 2016. A new open-air canopy will shade 92% of the seats from the Florida sun, and the in-game entertainment is slated for a upgrade by way of 22,400 square feet of video board—one board in each corner—along with a new audio system.
“Coming next year will be the signature architectural element of the renovation,” Sittner says. “The new shade canopy will define the iconic nature of the vision and has been designed in conjunction with the bowl renovations to provide enhanced comfort for Dolphin fans.” The canopy is also expected to help reflect crowd noise back to the field.
Levi’s Stadium (San Francisco 49ers)
The 49ers have already made changes to the NFL's youngest venue ahead of its Super Bowl hosting duties this season.
As part of the 2015 upgrades, Levi’s Stadium tacked on an additional 1,400 seats, adding rows when possible and eliminating standing-room-only sections. The 49ers installed two new HD video boards in the northwest and southwest plazas, which will provide venue information and content to fans outside the stadium.
Smaller improvements include an in-house DJ, an update to the sound system, enhanced Wi-Fi, a children’s activity zone, concession updates and changes to improve transportation near the stadium.
The 49ers worked with the NFL to schedule more evening games during the months of August and September to address heat concerns early in the season. San Francisco's first early-afternoon home game is Oct. 4 against the Packers.
“Heading into our second year at Levi’s Stadium, we are focused on enhancing the in-venue experience and providing more value and convenience for our fans,” says 49ers COO Al Guido.
Also expect plenty of new sod this season. The 49ers had trouble with grass all season last year, as the heavily-used venue's turf struggled to hold up against the deep-cutting cleats of NFL players. San Francisco has multiple fields growing offsite and ready for installation. The team has already planned to install a new field before the start of the season, another new field in-season and a third ahead of the Super Bowl.
FirstEnergy Stadium (Cleveland Browns)
Last season, the Browns began a two-phase, $120 million project with 6,900 square feet of new video boards that included the removal of some upper-deck seating. This year, the upgrade wraps up with new general-admission concession areas, modernized premium areas and new graphics throughout the stadium.
The upgrades to the concessions include better access and a new emphasis on locally-sourced food and beverages. Fans in the fancy seats will encounter new materials and furnishings.
Bank of America Stadium (Carolina Panthers)
Last year the Panthers unveiled the longest 360-degree ribbon boards in the NFL, and this year the 150-plus luxury suites in Bank of America Stadium were revamped.
A new window-wall system allows the glass separating the suites from the rest of the fans to fully slide—frame and all—into the wall. A new heating system was installed for fans in the open-air suites.
In addition to the window alterations, all the suites received a complete overhaul on everything from televisions to furnishings.
Nissan Stadium (Tennessee Titans)
What was once LP Field is now Nissan Stadium, and the Titans have fully updated all the signage within the venue to reflect the changes.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.