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New stadiums are pulling out all the stops

Take a quick spin around the web site devoted to the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium, and you can't help but be overwhelmed by the size and scope of the structure.

By the size: 3 million square feet and tall enough to fit the Statue of Liberty and the Gateway Arch.

By the amenities: 15,000 club seats, eight different suite levels.

By the retractable roof: Closes in 12 minutes and maintains the trademark opening above the field that made Texas Stadium so recognizable.

And by the innovation: "It's about the future. It's about the role of technology in sports," says Dallas owner Jerry Jones at one stop on the computer tour.

There is likely no place in the world where the future of stadium design and technology are on display more completely than the Cowboys' new home. Scheduled to open in 2009, it is a colossal monument to the ability to bring sports to fans and sponsors in the most advanced way possible and is in the vanguard of the movement to give teams a greater opportunity to maximize their relationships with customers while also providing a unique viewing experience.

"The design of the project has been thought out to appeal to our customers," says Jack Hill, the stadium general manager. "This is about how our message is seen by sponsors and fans."

The Cowboys' stadium is three times larger than Texas Stadium and boasts some cutting edge features and innovation. The most dramatic is the design, which incorporates a pair of massive arches, each spanning a quarter mile. The ability to begin with that concept and work around it in the completion of the structure demonstrates how far design technology has progressed.

The same type of innovation is evident in the architecture of Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts' new home that opened this season. The brick, glass and steel structure allows for tremendous amounts of natural light to flood the facility. Like the coming Cowboys' facility, Lucas Oil Stadium features a retractable roof and large windows in the end zones that can be opened to let in more light and natural air. "We're trying to create as much of an outdoor-game feel as possible," says Pete Ward, senior executive VP of the Colts.

That's true, but there are few outdoor stadiums that can match the scoreboard that will be hanging over the field in Dallas. The first of their kind, the 180-foot long high-definition screens (there are also smaller boards facing the end zones) will provide fans with unparalleled views of game action, replays and other information.

"Mr. Jones said, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could suspend the scoreboard from the middle of the field,' and the design team said, 'It's very possible,'" Hill says.

The Colts don't have anything as dramatic as that, although their video boards feature the absolute latest in HD technology. That doesn't mean Lucas Oil Stadium is wanting for amenities. Take the suite experience. Yes, Colts fans and local businesses can watch the team play from traditional locations, but there are also suites on the ground level behind the goal posts in the south end of the stadium. "When the action is at that end, it's pretty amazing," Ward says. "The suites are just 20 feet behind the end line."

The Cowboys will be offering a similar option along the sidelines. In essence, they have created dugouts for fans that will be behind the team's bench. They'll see the action the way the team does, with plenty of HD monitors available should the players be obscuring their view.

The fans in the main viewing areas of both stadiums can enjoy wider seats and far more concession options than they had in the old facilities. The restrooms are more plentiful. Concourses are wider, and the pre-game experience is enhanced. For instance, Cowboys fans will walk through large outdoor pavilions at either end of the stadium. There they'll be able to watch games on big screens, take part in various entertainment activities, eat and drink and interact with sponsors. In Indianapolis, the end zone areas -- upper and lower -- are plaza areas designed to offer the same pre-game feeling.

Another interesting component of the new stadiums is their versatility. During the 1970s, cities built "multi-purpose" facilities, designed to house football and baseball teams. Neither of these new buildings could comfortably stage a baseball game, but that doesn't mean they can't accommodate other sports. For instance, the Cowboys' new home has already landed the 2010 NBA All-Star game and the 2014 NCAA men's Final Four. Lucas Oil Stadium can handle a Final Four, NBA event or a high school playoff game, thanks to the ability to move the north end zone stands the length of the field. That makes the space more intimate.

"The stadium is very flexible," Ward says.

One final bit of innovation found in Dallas is the field itself. It's an artificial surface. Or, should we say, three artificial surfaces. There is an NFL football field, a college field (the Cotton Bowl is relocating in 2010) and a soccer field. Each can be rolled up in sections and stored to make room for another.

It's all part of the new stadium revolution. Of course, in five years, it could all be obsolete, as technology marches ever onward.

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