Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Trying to toe the balance of preserving sports arenas’ quaint historical charm while ensuring things stay modern and cutting-edge enough to keep up with the day’s practical standards for an enjoyable game day experience is a tricky calculus. Fans love tradition. They admire the architectural vestiges of a bygone era. The Wrigley Field Ivy. The Green Monster at Fenway Park. Touchdown Jesus at Notre Dame Stadium. These traditional sports landmarks wouldn’t be the same without their share of antiquated and sometimes outmoded quirks. Embracing the modern age and installing Wi-Fi hotspots and turning your basketball arena into whatever this thing is, are all prudent and progressive moves, and it’s hard not to sympathize with head-scratching sports arena designers finding it harder and harder to lure fans away from their comfy home viewing confines. The modern HD flat-screen viewing experience, accompanied by a soft recliner with 45 different back reclining angles, your multi-purpose social media device of choice, in-sight kitchen convenience, free food and an unoccupied bathroom and most of all, reduced costs, are tremendously difficult to resist. Traffic stinks. Twelve-dollar popcorn tastes just as mediocre as microwave-brand bags. That screaming buffoon spilling Budweiser on your lap is really starting to bug you. I concur. I mean, even the hegemonically dominant NFL is struggling to fill the seats of its wildly popular teams’ state-of-the-art arenas.
Some sports venues are better left untouched. Their distinctive visual features makes them what they are, and any radical changes would violate the essence of their lasting attraction. They are perfect just the way they are. Gradual attendance drain isn’t an existentially dizzying structural concern, like the NFL, because fans pony up ticket money and fill seats — being there, literally, beats being there through your pixelated mini Ipad retina display no matter how you measure the costs of attendance. If you’re a college basketball fan – and if you’re reading this page, what are the chances you aren’t? – the one thought rattling through your parietal lobe when you hear the words “renovations” and “Hinkle Fieldhouse” in the same sentence is nothing positive, or even nominally encouraging. You’re downright disappointed — turn Hinkle into a sterilized, plastic, artificial husk of corporatism? How could they?!