Total overhaul of Bank of America Stadium

Video: Charlotte FC (YouTube)

Bank of America Stadium’s (US) is playing host to another professional sports team soon. That requires some changes to the 26-year-old building, from the ground up.

‘Carolina Panthers’ stated that with the addition of Charlotte Football Club, which will begin Major League Soccer (MLS) play next Spring, there could be up to 30 professional games a year played in the arena.

The 75,412-capacity Bank of America Stadium is a 75,523-seat football stadium located on 33 acres (13 ha) in uptown Charlotte, North Carolina, United States. It is the home facility and headquarters of the Carolina Panthers of the National Football League (NFL), and is planned to be the home of Charlotte FC of Major League Soccer (MLS).

The Carolina Panthers are a professional American football team based in Charlotte, North Carolina (US). The Panthers compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the League’s National Football Conference South Division.

The Charlotte Football Club is a planned Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion team that is expected to begin play in 2022. The club will play at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. The team is owned by David Tepper, who was awarded the expansion franchise on December 17th, 2019.

‘Carolina Panthers’ further stated that based on that increased activity, Tepper Sports & Entertainment Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) Mark Hart acknowledged that the organization is making the switch to FieldTurf in order to provide a consistent playing surface.

In addition to a full slate of NFL and MLS games next year, there are more college football games (Appalachian State-ECU on September 2nd and Clemson-Georgia on September 4th as well as the ACC Championship and Duke’s Mayo Bowl) on the docket, along with the potential for high school football games, Charlotte FC Academy matches and plans for many more events. There are already holds for concert dates into 2022, when the music industry expects to be back into action in full swing after being shut down during COVID-19 which had hounded the United States for quite a while and wiped away more than half a million population.

There are discussions about many other events (sports and otherwise) in the future as well, and the facility has already been used for early voting, mass vaccination events and festivals.

Remarked Hart, “[David Tepper’s] vision is for the building to be a community asset. With two major professional sports franchises using Bank of America Stadium, and more events upcoming, having a natural grass surface is going to be a heavy lift. We believe a synthetic surface provides the best solution.”

To keep grass, they would have to resod continuously. For instance, the bench areas of an NFL field are hard to keep grass growing on, and those areas are in the field of play for MLS. When they get to the time of year when the schedules overlap, that’s difficult to maintain.

The venue’s grass surface was consistently ranked among the top in the NFL in surveys done by the NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA). Historically, the players’ union are not open to the idea of artificial surfaces.

NFLPA President JC Tretter wrote last year that the union would prefer that every team switch to natural surfaces, for health and safety reasons.

Of course, weather and geography make that difficult to maintain. Currently, 17 teams play on some degree of natural surface, with 15 teams on artificial turf (including the shared stadia in New York and Los Angeles). The Panthers’ divisional foes Atlanta and New Orleans both play on artificial turf.

The organization reached out to players from both the Panthers and Charlotte FC before the decision was announced to update them on the change.

Added Hart, “We have conveyed our commitment to the players to maintain this field at a level consistent with the highest standards.”

Even though some stadia have figured out how to use both natural and artificial surfaces (such as Arizona and the new Tottenham Stadium in London), 26-year-old Bank of America Stadium isn’t built to accommodate such a “tray system” to roll in a second surface, nor is there enough real estate at the corner of Mint and Morehead to store a large patch of grass when it’s not being used.

While some might not agree that it is an ideal decision, it’s a practical one, giving them the ability to flip the facility for a high school game on Friday, a college game on Saturday, an NFL game on Sunday, and a midweek soccer match. There have been calls for years for the arena to be more accessible beyond NFL contests and a few college football games each year. There’s also an aesthetic element, as an artificial surface eliminates the problems of painted lines on the field for different sports, meaning Charlotte FC won’t have to play on top of faded Panthers logos or hashmarks in the middle of the field, and vice versa.

FieldTurf products are already used in five other NFL stadia (Atlanta, Detroit, New England, Seattle, and New York Giants/Jets) and 11 other NFL practice facilities (those six teams plus Green Bay, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, and Washington).

Setting up a FieldTurf product will also be consistent with what the Panthers practice on in the Atrium Health Dome behind the stadium.

The team still does most of its practicing on grass, and the new practice facility in Rock Hill (scheduled to open in 2023) will feature three full-size grass fields outdoors, one outdoor artificial turf surface and one full-size indoor artificial field.

The plan is for all those artificial surfaces to be the same product, giving the Panthers a consistency from the game week to gameday. FieldTurf has also improved its product over the years, and the new Bank of America Stadium surface will feature the company’s Vertex CORE turf and CoolPlay technology, which is designed to help keep the surface cooler than older artificial surfaces.

In MLS, Charlotte FC joins five other teams playing on artificial surfaces (Atlanta United FC, New England Revolution, Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders FC, and Vancouver Whitecaps FC). The surface at Bank of America Stadium is FIFA Quality Pro-certified, and four other MLS teams already play on FieldTurf, including Seattle, Atlanta and New England, where the football and soccer teams share playing fields. There are also 13 practice facilities in MLS that feature FieldTurf.

By making the decision now, work will likely begin within days, and is expected to be completed by the summer.

While the life span of the FieldTurf surface could be up to 10 years, Hart said the plan is to replace the top layer every two or three years.

Dolling up

Construction has started on soccer-specific renovations that will transform Charlotte FC’s home into an elite venue for Major League Soccer (MLS).

The circa US$50m project includes significant improvements to the Lowe’s East Gate, an upgraded main concourse and supporters’ bar just inside the gate, soccer-specific locker rooms, a central player tunnel, and a new premium club space and field-level seating.

Hart noted, “David Tepper has invested millions in ensuring the Panthers have best-in-class facilities, and he’s doing exactly the same for Charlotte FC. The stadium enhancements are designed to provide the ideal environment for soccer. We looked at Premier League venues and many other stadiums around the world to ensure this is a truly great experience for our players and fans.”

Global design firm Populous, whose highly lauded design work includes the 62,850-capacity Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Las Vegas’ 20,000-capacity T-Mobile Arena and six FIFA World Cup™ venues, are serving as architects for the project. Rodgers Builders is the general contractor.

The Lowe’s East Gate, which is the most-used entrance at Bank of America Stadium, will be upgraded to streamline traffic flow, and will feature a striking 210 ft-wide single LED screen.

Hart added, “We felt compelled to create a very special, larger-than-life entrance gate and it will be one of the most iconic gate entries in Major League Soccer. This central gate will act as a focal point for fans in their journey to the stadium, and for us, it helps to represent the unity of the crowd. Crucially, it will also serve as the main entrance for our most loyal fans in the supporters’ section.”

The two ‘Indomitable Spirit’ Panthers statues that currently flank the Lowe’s East Gate will remain, but move further apart to improve traffic flow in and out of the facility. The new entrance will lead directly into the improved main concourse, which will house two brand-new taprooms and state-of-the-art food and beverage stations. Multiple points of sale and touchless kiosks will create a seamless experience for fans on the way to their seats. The improved concourse will lead directly to the supporters’ section behind the East goal, where Charlotte FC’s most fervent fans will be cheering the team on.

The Vault

A brand-new MLS-mandated central player entrance tunnel will be located on the north touchline, in a space currently occupied by a workshop and storage facilities. Surrounding the tunnel will be ‘The Vault’, a new premium club area. The tunnel will lead directly to the new ultramodern home locker room, ensuring Charlotte FC’s players will enjoy a short journey to the field.

The new player tunnel bisects The Vault, which will offer a unique tunnel club experience for around 250 fans and include field seating for around 125-150 fans.

Hart continued, “The Vault is our take on a concept that has had success in Major League Soccer, as well as stadiums throughout the world. In addition to field-level seating along the North sideline, fans will be at the heart of the action when the biggest stars in MLS make their way out of the locker room and onto the pitch. It’s going to be an incredible experience for both the fans and players.”

The locker room is the traditional sanctuary of a soccer team – and Charlotte FC’s inaugural roster will enjoy world-class facilities before, during and after matches. While the visiting locker rooms will be situated further from the tunnel (away teams will walk past The Gallery field suites behind the West goal to reach the tunnel), the home locker room will be lodged just a few feet from the entrance to the field.

Informed Charlotte FC Sporting Director Zoran Krneta, “The new locker room facilities put Bank of America Stadium among the world’s elite. This will bring extra motivation to our team, and in turn, offer a competitive advantage.

The renovations began in March 2021 and will be completed in time for Charlotte FC’s first kick in 2022. Additional upgrades include the transition to full color-changeable LED stadium lights, and the construction of additional camera positions to enhance the television viewing experience.

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