Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, designed by Populous’ London office, opened in April. (Courtesy Populous Events)

Populous Events prepares new urban stadium for Bears-Raiders

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium plays host to its first NFL game Sunday when the Chicago Bears meet the Oakland Raiders. For Populous Events, the league’s logistics partner, the challenge is managing crowd flow at the new facility, which is squeezed into an urban North London setting.

It’s a gritty environment similar to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, said Todd Barnes, senior event architect and senior principal for the firm’s Denver-based events group. Retail shops are reinforced with shutters that close after hours to prevent break-ins and low-income housing is close by. Down the street, mass transit lines move masses of people back and forth from downtown London, Barnes said.

It’s a familiar setting for Tottenham Hotspur’s 3 million supporters, among England’s largest fan bases for a Premier League team. The 62,000-seat stadium was built next to White Hart Lane, the Spurs’ old facility, a much smaller venue that stood for more than 100 years before it was demolished in 2017. 

The new stadium, a partnership between the NFL and Tottenham Hotspur, opened in April at a cost of $1.5 billion. The neighborhood mix isn’t a challenge as much as where the stadium sits in relationship to it, Barnes said.

“The challenge has to do with the expanse of the stadium, between the four city streets that surround it,” he said. “The NFL goes big with all of their events, this one included. MetLife Stadium, for example, has a giant parking lot with lots of tailgating. Here in London, you don’t have that because you’re literally on top of those streets.”

To compensate for the lack of space, and create a pregame hospitality experience for the sellout crowd, street closures allow the NFL to build a hospitality village of sorts next to the stadium, Barnes said.

As part of event production, the NFL and Populous adopted many of the same best practices tied to security measures for regular-season games in North America. The procedures aren’t as restrictive as those at the Super Bowl, but, for example, a secured perimeter extends 100 feet from the stadium walls, he said.

As the first NFL game at the new stadium, it will be the first trip there for many fans after 12 years of NFL regular-season games at Wembley Stadium. Wembley, which went through a five-year rebuild and reopened in 2007, was home to Tottenham Hotspur for two years while their new digs were being built. 

“Six months ago when the Spurs opened the stadium, fans didn’t know where the entrances were and how to access their seats,” Barnes said. “All those things we’re expecting to happen with the NFL. We’re reverting back to the Spurs’ first few matches and the NFL is upgrading wayfinding (signs) around the stadium. It’s a strong program to ensure a good experience going in and out of the building.” 

Sunday’s game marks the second year the NFL will feature walk-through metal detectors at the gates for games in London, but British soccer fans are accustomed to the extensive process of going through security as are the American football fans traveling from the U.S. Everything else is standard for keeping everyone safe, including hundreds of security cameras at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Barnes said.

Populous’ architecture group in London designed the stadium, which benefited the events division as it prepared the facility for Sunday’s event and the Carolina Panthers-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game Oct. 13.

“It helps with the relationship building, depending on whatever sport it is,” Barnes said. “It’s similar to all the stadiums we go into for all-star games and the Super Bowl. Our architecture group has been there before us and our relationship with the Spurs is extended as a result of the planning completed by our London office.”