(Above is a visual concept of what the new video boards at Lambeau Field would look like.)
The Green Bay Packers have a waiting list of tens of thousands of folks interested in becoming season-ticket holders at Lambeau Field should they ever get the chance.
But that hasn’t stopped the Packers from trying to improve the in-stadium experience for their fans who already have been coming to Lambeau for decades. Not when technological advances have made watching a game at home on television such a different experience now than it was just a few years ago.
That’s one driving force behind the organization’s request for money from the Green Bay/Brown County Professional Football Stadium District’s capital improvement fund to help upgrade the Lambeau Field scoreboards and sound system.
The plans, presented to the stadium district board on Tuesday, would call for the new video boards in the north and south end zones to feature state-of-the-art LED technology and higher-resolution displays, and to increase to four times their current size, incorporating the entire framework of the existing scoreboards and surrounding advertising boards. Meanwhile the sound system would change from the current single-source speaker system above the north end zone scoreboard to a distributed system with speakers surrounding the entire stadium bowl.
According to Jason Wied, the Packers’ vice president of administration who made the presentation to the board along with President/CEO Mark Murphy, the upgrades would enhance the stadium experience for everyone attending a game, from those in the bleachers to those in the club seats and suites. That’s been a point of emphasis across the NFL for the last several years, and the Packers remain focused on it as well for various reasons.
“Technology has gotten to a point where it’s great to watch a game on a high-def screen in your living room,” Wied said. “You can see the players, you can see the sweat dripping off their foreheads with current technology, and it wasn’t that way before. In many markets that has become a competitive factor for teams where people are actually choosing to stay home rather than continue to attend football games.
“We haven’t experienced that in Green Bay. We have a very loyal fan base, and people are very interested in sharing the experience with 70,000 friends, but we don’t take that for granted. We want to make sure they’re having as good a quality experience as they can have at the game.
“Some people have said you probably don’t need any video boards and you could still fill your stadium, and that might be true for a while. But we want to make sure people are getting value when they come to the games, and we think this is an area we can really add to it.”
The Packers’ original agreement with the stadium district requires the board to help fund capital improvements to keep Lambeau Field among the top quarter of NFL venues in terms of stadium technology. Roughly three-fourths of the league’s 32 teams have upgraded their scoreboards within the last five years while Lambeau Field’s are now in the bottom quarter of the league in terms of size and have used standard analog for content display since the redevelopment of the stadium in 2003.
So the Packers feel this is an appropriate request for money from the capital improvement fund, which consists of the one-time seat-license fees season-ticket holders have paid. The cost of the project is expected to be in the range of $13-$14 million.
The fund, which currently contains approximately $13 million, won’t be expected to cover the entire cost. Wied and Ann Patteson, chair of the stadium district board, said a cost-sharing arrangement is expected to be worked out within the next week before the board votes on the project at its Dec. 15 budget meeting.
“I think we would want to keep a portion of (the money) in the capital improvement fund so that if we had an urgent repair or something that involved a safety issue, to make sure we would be able to afford that,” Patteson said.
Patteson said she expected the board to approve the Packers’ request, pending an agreement on cost-sharing and other logistics, such as oversight.
“It’s important to us to see that the technology and the scoreboards and the fan experience continue to be (among) the top in the league,” Patteson said. “It’s consistent with what we had negotiated when we first entered into the contract (with the Packers).”
Patteson also addressed the potential concern that some would view a project like this as unnecessary in a stadium with nearly 300 consecutive sellouts.
“It’s kind of like do you need a new bigger TV at home? No, you don’t need it,” she said. “But when you look at the economic impact of the stadium, it is different than a personal decision you would make for your home.”
In addition, upgraded video and audio systems should help make the indoor club seats and suites more desirable to potential fans and clients, and it could open up those seating areas for other events, such as concerts, which could help Lambeau attract future non-football events.
Assuming the request is approved, Wied said construction on the project would begin in February and conclude in late July. It would not be completed in time for the Kenny Chesney concert at Lambeau Field in June, but it would be expected to be done in time for the Family Night scrimmage in August.
As for potential future renovation of the south end zone, where the Packers have discussed adding additional seating and/or a standing-room-only section, Wied said this new scoreboard project would not impact those plans. The new south end zone scoreboard would be constructed so that it could efficiently be moved above any seating renovations to that area of the stadium or be relocated appropriately.
The Packers have worked with the stadium district board on smaller capital improvements in the past, such as the security barrier constructed outside the stadium a few years ago. That cost around $1 million, and while this project comes at significantly greater expense and is by far the largest the Packers have worked with the board on, it’s an example of what the partnership was designed to do – keep Lambeau Field at the forefront in professional sports.
“Over time we’ve really gained a lot of respect for each other,” Patteson of the Packers and the stadium district board. “I think they value our input and the expertise we bring in and the consultants we hire to assist in looking at the operations and maintenance of the stadium. My expectations are they would value the input regarding this improvement.”
Wied agreed that would be the case.
“We do think it’s helpful to work with the stadium district,” he said. “It’s another set of eyes, people are interested in the same things we are, and it’s a great partnership. So maintaining that fund has been important to the Packers and important to the district as well.”