Designing College Athletics Facilities to Enhance the Fan Experience  

Oct 16 2023
Fans gathering at ECU football game. Dowdy-Ficklen stadium at ECU was designed to enhance the overall fan experience at a college athletic event.

Millions of people across the country look forward to watching their favorite college sports teams each year. The traditions, long-time rivalries, tailgating, and the athleticism of the players, create a fun experience for fans, bring communities together, and play a role in the culture of the campus and in recruiting students.  

According to the most recent Learfield Intercollegiate Fan Report, there are more college sports fans in the United States than there are fans of any other professional league, with over 538 million households having viewed the NCAA college football and men’s basketball on TV during the 2020-2021 season and a combined 69 million fans who attended games in 2019.  

Despite their teams’ popularity, college and university athletic departments are always looking for opportunities to improve the game day experience for fans in the stadium and watching at home. Academic institutions know that the game itself is no longer the only attraction and are looking towards designers to create more comfortable and amenity-rich athletic facilities that will enhance the fan experience and draw in new fans and students to their school.  

Designing College Athletic Facilities with Access to Comfortable Seating and Amenities

Fans are craving social experiences at sporting events. A few ways designers can help facilitate more socialization at sporting events using design is by offering multiple types of comfortable seating options and access to an array of amenities 


A key ingredient to selecting seating in a sporting arena is offering fans comfort, good views, and plenty of options to choose from. Affordability and the quality of seating are major factors fans consider when purchasing tickets for a live sporting event. Options for seating include bleachers, grandstands, lawn seating, standing-room-only (SRO) options, courtside, box seating, and more.  

Not only is it valuable for venues to provide a variety of seating options, but it is also recommended for outdoor arenas to invest in shelters over the seats in the stadium. Games will commence despite rain, sunshine, and even snow and fans must be comfortable and safe when sitting outdoors for prolonged periods. These shelters will protect viewers from the sun and precipitation so that they stay at the game regardless of the weather.  

New purple seating at East Carolina University's (ECU) Dowdy Ficklen football stadium. These comfortable seats were installed to enhance the college athletics fan experience and provide more options for fans to choose from. When designing a college athletic facility, comfortable seating is an important element to incorporate.


College athletics stadiums offer far more than just a space for fans to watch their favorite teams play, they serve as central spaces on campus that house a variety of dining and concession options, student activities and private events, classrooms, locker rooms, training facilities, and much more. 

As colleges continue to grow their campus and athletic departments, amenities offered at the stadium are a great way to bring both fans and non-fans together. Many spectators at college games attend as an opportunity to socialize and to support the players. The amenities give visitors spaces to socialize before, during, and after the game and give them something else to focus on and enjoy besides the game.  

Outside of the season, these amenities also allow for the stadium space to remain in use throughout the school year and during the summer. For example, many college sports venues host concerts and serve as a hub for student organizations and other events during the off-season and on non-game days. 

Universal Design

In planning any sport and recreation facility, it is important to plan out the space so that it supports and enables the area to be used by everyone. One way that designers can ensure that all fans are able to enjoy sports arenas is through incorporating universal design principles. The National Disability Authority defines universal design as the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed and used by all people regardless of their size, age, ability, or disability.  

The key to universally designed sports facilities is that everyone is afforded the same opportunities to participate in all aspects of the facility. This can include ensuring equitable access to entrances and exits, restrooms, amenities, pathways, spectator areas, and wayfinding and information systems. The goal of designing equitable spaces is to make sure that the space is not only accessible but that no users are isolated.  

School Spirit

Every college football fan knows the importance of school spirit at games. Every school has its unique traditions, rivalries, and cheers and songs that make their school games unique. It is essential for designers to not only ensure that there is the proper space for universities to continue these events and traditions, but it is also beneficial for designers to translate this experience on camera to those watching at home.  

Incorporating University Tailgate Culture  

The tailgate before the game begins is an event in and of itself. Thousands of people will be flocking to the parking lots surrounding the stadium to hang out hours before the game even begins. It is crucial to choose a site for an athletic stadium that can not only support the stadium and its many amenities but can also safely allow visitors to park and tailgate during events and games.  

Designing College Athletic Facilities Using University Branding  

A university’s brand identity needs to be translated into all spaces so that students, faculty, and visitors feel like they are on campus whether they are in a building, walking outside, at an athletic event, or seeing your campus in a picture or video. Incorporation of university colors, mascots, signage, and other unique branding aspects into the design of athletic facilities is a great way to show school spirit and promote the university.  

To learn more about the importance of campus branding, check out our article written by MHAworks Principal, Amy Spruill.  

Elizabeth City State University's (ECSU) Roebuck Stadium was designed to enhance the college sports fan experience by giving fans and players a new stadium to come to.

Project Spotlights:

Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) Roebuck Stadium Master Plan  

ECSU hired MHAworks to perform a conceptual-level evaluation of the property where the existing Roebuck Football Stadium resides to determine the possibility of providing new facilities and infrastructure to support collegiate-level sports programs. The evaluation of the property included a new field with a logo, rubber track, grandstand seating with a press and chancellor’s box, concession stand, ticket booth, restrooms, stadium entry experience, a field house with event space, and vehicular circulation. 

ECSU Roebuck Stadium is being designed to enhance the fan experience for all attendees with comfortable seating and an entirely new facility. To design college athletic facilities like this, is it important for architects to work closely with the university to incorporate each of their unique needs into the design.

East Carolina University (ECU) Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Projects

Over the years, ECU has hired MHAworks to complete several renovations at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium including the installation of 11,000 folding seats on the south and north sides of the stadium, restroom renovations, and a renovation of the broadcast booth. Also, our team has completed a full ADA survey and updates to ECU’s campus athletic signage.  

ECU Dowdy Ficklen Stadium signing. This welcome sign indicates to fans that they have arrived at the stadium and advertises future events at ECU. The design of this college athletics facility ensure that fans were able to easily navigate the venue.