When Jimmy Haslam became the principle owner of the Cleveland Browns last October, he set out to achieve two goals: to build a consistent winning football team and enhance the fans’ experience at FirstEnergy Stadium.
And while the team fights for position within the AFC North Division, the organization is taking steps to improve the fan experience while they are at FirstEnergy Stadium by announcing a $120-million plan for stadium modernization on Wednesday.
“It’s exceptionally important, and it’s all a part of creating a world-class organization,” Haslam said. “It starts with people, and then, it goes to the facilities. A lot of people have seen what we did in Berea to make Berea a better place for our players and team members to work. Now, we’re taking the most significant step in giving our fans a great place to watch football.”
The proposed plan will be a two-phase, two-year project, starting at the end of the 2013 season, once funding is agreed upon by the organization, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, the Cleveland City Council and the Design Review Advisory Committee.
During phase one, which will take place after this season, the Browns will install two new video boards that are three times the size of the existing boards in each end zone, and will move them both closer to the fans and nearer to the playing field. The LED video boards will feature in-game statistics, scores and more information, and will be coupled with a new audio system throughout the entire facility.
“They create a compelling and dramatic visual experience, and we also think it’s going to make a more intimate bowl,” Browns chief executive officer Joe Banner said. “The loudness and the impact of our fans at the game should be even greater. In addition to that, there’s going to be an entirely new audio system throughout the stadium, so the sound that goes with the scoreboard, pre-game music as well as announcements, all of the things during the game should be dramatically different.
“I’m sure some of you have had the benefit of going on the road and seeing some of the things going on in today’s stadiums. We’re now going to have that here in Cleveland for the fans.”
By moving the scoreboards, the Browns will take the seating capacity of FirstEnergy Stadium from more than 71,000 to just over 68,000, but more seats will be added to the lower bowl, which will bring more fans closer to the action.
The Browns will also take steps to improve access to the seats by increasing the number of operational escalators to 12, and they will provide fans the opportunity to get to all levels of the stadium.
“Currently, we have the lowest percentage of seats in the lower bowl of any stadium in the country, so we’re really excited about being able to move and relocate some of the seats that are now in the upper levels of the stadium to the lower levels of the stadium to have a higher percentage of the people having a dramatically better experience closer to the field,” Banner said.
During phase two of the proposed project, the Browns will improve general concession areas, upgrade food offerings with a local flavor and points-of-sale. They will also upgrade suite/club suite areas for the first time since 1999, add a few more hospitality areas, feature dynamic graphics of former Browns and improve lighting in the concourses.
The Browns will also keep looking at the technology for mobile device services, which the team spent $10 million to improve before the 2013 NFL season.
“We’re optimistic that this will put us on that path,” Browns president Alec Scheiner said of comparing FirstEnergy Stadium to the top facilities in the league. “I think we’ve got something special here. Bringing our fans closer, bringing the boards closer will really help with our home-field advantage. I think it’s going to be a great experience.”
One thing that will not change, however, is the Browns’ playing surface, as their games will continue to be played on grass.
“Football is an outdoor game played on grass,” Banner said. “We did some evaluations into whether or not we thought that was an investment that makes sense. It’s an extremely expensive endeavor, and we decided it wouldn’t be the best use of dollars.”