New Texas sports facilities like BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston and Circuit of the Americas race track in Austin are on the cutting edge of design and spectator comfort.
While the rest of the sports nation was sitting on rickety wooden bleachers in the early part of the 20th century, Texas unveiled the country’s first stadium made from concrete. When others tried to modernize their sports facilities in the 1960s, Texas topped them all with a structure in Houston so amazing it was dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World. And as sports and technology have merged in the 21st century, the Lone Star State once again is creating venues on the cutting edge of design and spectator comfort.
From the concrete-clad Jones Stadium in El Paso to the space-age inspired Astrodome in Houston to the billion dollar Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas has consistently led the way in innovative sports facilities. And as Texas has built it, the rest of the world has come, turning many of the structures into tourist attractions as well.
“When they say everything is bigger in Texas, they don’t just mean size. They also mean groundbreaking initiatives and making things the best they can be,” says Ali Putnam, media relations manager for the new Circuit of The Americas race track in Austin. “We’ve done a lot of great things here, and every new (facility) only adds to that reputation.”
A New Direction With Compass
In many ways, Houston truly set the tone for this trend in 1965 with the opening of the Astrodome, the world’s first domed stadium. More recently, the city has transformed its sports landscape with the construction of new facilities for professional football, baseball and basketball.
Professional soccer joined that list in 2012 with the opening of BBVA Compass Stadium, a soccer-specific facility built for the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer. Instead of playing in a large football stadium ill-equipped for soccer, the Dynamo now has a cozy 22,000-seat stadium to call home.
Fans responded by doubling the team’s season-ticket sales to 12,000. And since the stadium is located downtown near two other new sports facilities (Minute Maid Park and the Toyota Center), the area has become a sports-and-entertainment district.
“Sports facilities in the downtown footprint create that critical mass that brings people into the city,” says Doug Hall, general manager of BBVA Compass Stadium. “Then you get the surrounding benefits from bars, restaurants and entertainment districts.”
Circuit of The Americas
One of the state’s most ambitious new sports facilities, the Circuit of The Americas race track, opened in 2012 just outside of Austin. It is the only track in the United States designed specifically to handle the high speeds and premium performance of Formula 1 racing, which is extremely popular in Europe, Asia and South America.
The 1,000-acre facility hosts five major racing circuits in 2013, highlighted by the United States Grand Prix F-1 race in November. There is also an outdoor amphitheater that brings in national music acts. Approximately 800,000 to 1.2 million people are expected to attend events at Circuit of The Americas annually, with an economic impact estimated at $400 million to $500 million.
“We have a variety of different types of events drawing all sorts of crowds, including that live music component,” Putnam says. “Being in Austin, we realize how important that is. So there’s the race track, but there are also a whole lot of other events taking place.”
How ‘Bout That Cowboys Stadium?
Probably no sports facility in the state since the Astrodome has garnered as much attention as the new Cowboys Stadium, which opened in 2009 as home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The 3 million-square-foot structure is the largest domed stadium in the world and is equipped with so many state-of-the-art amenities that the price tag reached approximately $1.2 billion.
In addition to Cowboys games, the stadium hosts a college football games and other sporting events, including the 2010 NBA All-Star Game and championship boxing matches. Temporary seating and standing-room-only areas increase the stadium’s total capacity to more than 100,000.
“Between all the new venues and the great cities we have here,” Hall says, “there are just so many options for (sports events) in the state of Texas.”