Souhan: Seattle offers all we really need in a stadium

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 4, 2012 - 7:14 AM

Those planning the next Vikings stadium should heed what was done there in creating a wonderful atmosphere.

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The Seahawks and Falcons take the field at CenturyLink Field before an NFL game last season.

Photo: Elaine Thompson, Associated Press

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This weekend the Vikings will fly to Seattle, adapt to a different time zone, alter their watches for Daylight Savings Time, and set their calendars ahead to 2016.

Sunday the Vikings will play in what might be the best football stadium in the country, one combining shrewd architecture, rampant crowd noise, a dramatic sense of place and passionate fan involvement.

CenturyLink Field, nee Qwest Field and Seahawks Stadium, is what the architects for tentatively named Vikings Stadium should aspire to. In Twin Cities terms, it's as intimate as Target Field and as fan-friendly as Xcel Energy Center.

"I know it was a long, ugly fight in the Twin Cities, but the Vikings have a grand chance to build something special now,'' said former Seahawks and Wild executive Tod Leiweke.

"The atmosphere in that stadium is so good that I still have season tickets, and I moved here [to Minnesota] in 2007," John Carlson of St. Paul wrote in an e-mail.

"As far as I can tell, it probably is the loudest outdoor stadium in the NFL," said longtime Seattle sports columnist Art Thiel.

It was Seahawks Stadium when it opened in 2002. It features 67,000 seats. Like Target Field, it is built on a remarkably small site. Like Target Field, CenturyLink takes advantage of the magic of cantilevering to keep fans close to the action.

In baseball, proximity creates intimacy. In the NFL, proximity creates waves of noise and a marked home-field advantage.

The Seahawks are 3-0 at home and 1-4 on the road. According to the Seahawks, they lead the NFL in false-start penalties by opposing offenses during home games since 2005, with 113. (The Metrodome ranks third, with 108.)

"The Seahawks knew they had a great audio advantage in the Kingdome and didn't want to lose it, even moving outdoors," said Thiel, co-founder of Sportspress Northwest. "When the bond measure passed and they designed the stadium, they kept in mind a design that would capture noise.

"When it opened, there were people who said they were enhancing the noise with audio blasted through the speakers. That's not happening. It's loud because of the reverb that's created by the lower-bowl grandstands and captured by the degree of overhang in the upper-deck roof."

Leiweke, now CEO of Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment, has worked as the Seahawks' CEO and the Wild's president. He remembers seeing the construction of the Xcel Energy Center. "I thought, 'Wow, this place is going to have a soul,'" he said. "Buildings with soul capture the imagination of the fans, and that feeds on itself."

The Wild has survived many poor seasons by making fans comfortable and feeling like they are part of the team. In the Kingdome, Seahawks fans were so loud that, in 1985, they prompted the NFL to install a rule penalizing home crowds if opposing quarterbacks couldn't call plays at the line of scrimmage.

Their home-field advantage became known, predictably enough, as the "12th Man." At CenturyLink, a fan raises the "12th Man" flag before every game.

Thiel credits Leiweke with engaging a fan base that tired of former owner Ken Behring.

"Tod took over when the Seahawks were at low ebb," Thiel said. "He really grasped the need to get the team much more connected to the community in so many ways. He was the creator of, and the guy who pushed, the '12th Man' concept.

"I think you would find it unanimous among the sportswriters who dealt with him here that Tod was the best sports executive Seattle has had in its modern history. He saw around corners.''

CenturyLink also is home to the Seattle Sounders, which leads North America soccer clubs with an average attendance of about 38,000.

Leiweke raved about the sports fans of the Twin Cities, fondly remembering his days with the Wild. He envisions the Vikings playing in a stadium that could rival the Seahawks'.

"I know a lot of promises get made about sports facilities, and they don't always come true," Leiweke said. "The ones in Seattle came true, just like the ones in St. Paul. The baseball stadium and football stadium in Seattle changed the neighborhood. These places have a soul."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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