The Carolina Panthers have studied a roof retrofit at Bank of America Stadium. (Getty Images)
More teams considering additions to shelter fans, help amplify home crowd
David Tepper, owner of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, recently mentioned to local reporters the concept of building a roof at Bank of America Stadium to make the venue more attractive for concerts and potentially the NCAA Final Four.
His remarks may appear to be wishful thinking to some, but the Panthers have studied the roof issue dating to before Tepper bought the team in 2018, when Jerry Richardson was owner, said multiple sources who have consulted with the club over the past five years.
They’re not alone. At least one other NFL team is studying a roof retrofit, plus multiple MLS teams, the Indian Wells tennis complex and municipally owned stadiums competing to host 2026 FIFA World Cup games.
In baseball, two MLB teams are simultaneously looking at new stadiums and roof retrofits for their existing ballparks, sources said. Separately, the Toronto Blue Jays are searching for a solution to replace the original roof at Rogers Centre, which opened as SkyDome in 1989.
In the college space, Syracuse University plans to spend $120 million to replace the original air-supported roof with a fixed structure at the Carrier Dome, home to the Atlantic Coast Conference school’s football and basketball teams since 1980.
Fan experience is mostly driving these projects, whether the goal is providing protection from the elements during games, creating an intimidating home-field advantage or forming a more comfortable environment for stadium concerts.
On the arena side, several NBA and NHL facilities are working with structural engineers to strengthen their rooflines to accommodate touring shows that have become more sophisticated and come with heavier loads taking up a greater amount of rigging space (see related story).
“The trend in any venue type right now is to make it as versatile and flexible and multipurpose as possible,” said Bart Miller, a principal with Walter P Moore, a structural engineering firm specializing in developing roof structures for arenas and stadiums.
“Team owners are trying to maximize their return on investment by increasing revenue opportunities and event dates,” Miller said. “They’re doing anything they can to make their building accommodate events that might fit better in an indoor facility.”
For stadiums, the costs and construction sequence can be a daunting process for installing a roof at an open-air facility. Sports builders and engineers gave estimates of $100 million to $250 million to install a roof on a big league stadium, depending on the type of structure, its size and whether it can be attached to the venue or must be built independent of the facility.
The costs can rise higher depending on the building’s original infrastructure, among other factors.
In general, a roof canopy protects spectators from the elements with no cover for the field and is less costly than building a long-span fixed roof covering both the field and seating bowl, said Ryan Gedney, national design director and vice president at HNTB. The firm is designing new MLS venues in Sacramento and Columbus, and the most recent renderings of the stadiums show canopies on both.
Building a retractable roof adds a premium to the cost, architects said.
“Weather protection is a consideration and a driver depending on the climate, but even in the best of climates, the canopy is still a priority as it relates to the environmental goals of the game and creating that energy,” Gedney said.
Roof canopies are common among the newest soccer-specific stadiums in North America, and MLS teams with older facilities built without them are looking at retrofits, Miller said.
Even minor league United Soccer League teams with much smaller budgets “have a canopy on their wish for all the same reasons,” he said.
Over the past decade, the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium, the U.S. Tennis Association’s Arthur Ashe Stadium and Louis Armstrong Stadium, and B.C. Place and BMO Field in Canada have all undergone roof retrofits. Hard Rock Stadium’s roof canopy was part of a $600 million makeover of the facility.
In Vancouver’s B.C. Place, home to Canadian Football League and MLS teams, the stadium’s original air-supported roof was replaced with a retractable unit in 2011. The $514 million project had about $150 million in cost overruns.
Elsewhere, roof retrofits have been accomplished at a much lower cost. The roof canopy at BMO Field, home to MLS’s Toronto FC, was part of $150 million in work that also covered a seating expansion and other upgrades.
When Arthur Ashe Stadium, originally an open-air building, installed in 2016 a retractable roof made of PTFE, a lightweight fabric material, the price was the same. Fragile soil conditions there forced Rossetti, in conjunction with Walter P Moore and general contractor AECOM Hunt, to develop a separate structure for the roof that essentially mirrors the building.
Two years later at the tennis complex, Louis Armstrong Stadium underwent a total reconstruction with a retractable roof over the 14,000-seat venue. The project was a relative bargain at $185 million.
Things don’t always work out for retrofits. A few years ago, sports construction executive Gary Birdsall completed a study for the Texas Rangers to build a retractable roof at Globe Life Park, home of MLB’s Texas Rangers, which opened in 1994 without one. In Arlington, sweltering summers can take a toll on fans in the open-air building.
The study showed that it would cost $350 million to build the movable roof. The higher cost was tied to constructing a second exterior skin on the ballpark because of its configuration, which includes the pedestrian ramps taking fans to the upper levels of the facility.
“It became cost prohibitive,” said Birdsall, a vice president with PCL Sports. “If you put an entire roof on it, you have to enclose the building and it becomes a conditioning issue. By the time you do that, you’re three-quarters of the way for what it’s going to cost to build the whole stadium.”
The Rangers ultimately decided to build a new ballpark. Globe Life Field, a $1 billion facility with a retractable roof, will open next year.
The Panthers won’t discuss a potential roof retrofit beyond Tepper’s comments. At the NFL league meetings in March, Tepper said he’s leaning toward a retrofit of Bank of America Stadium to accommodate a potential MLS expansion team, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Tom Glick, president of business operations, and Scott Paul, vice president of stadium operations, did not reply to multiple emails. The Panthers have talked with several sports architects about the roof issue, including Rossetti, which did the retractable roof designs for Arthur Ashe Stadium and Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Matt Rossetti, president of the Detroit firm, said he approached the Panthers a few years ago about developing a roof canopy for Bank of America Stadium. The estimate ran up to $250 million, extending to lighting, sound, broadcast production and catwalks that go with installing a roof.
“It was an idea we floated by them … but they weren’t really interested,” Rossetti said. “There’s a reason why places like CenturyLink Field (in Seattle) are loud and boisterous. Canopies hold sound in and it reverberates back to the field. It doesn’t dissipate.”
Three years ago, the Panthers consulted with another group of architects and engineers that included HOK, which designed the roof canopy at Hard Rock Stadium. The retrofit resulted in the NFL putting the stadium back in the Super Bowl rotation after a steady rain soaked fans at the 2007 Super Bowl there. Next year the game returns to the South Florida facility.
Under Richardson’s ownership, the Panthers were concerned with heat issues from fans facing the sun on the stadium’s east side, said one source involved in those discussions who signed a confidentiality agreement.
“People would sit there and sweat and it was such an uncomfortable experience that they were really more concerned with losing their fan base,” the source said.
Most recently, sources said, the Panthers have consulted with HKS, designer of AT&T Stadium, home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, which features a retractable roof. As Birdsall mentioned, though, the Panthers must weigh the retrofit vs. building an MLS stadium for the same cost.
“Unless you think you’re going to draw like Seattle and Atlanta, 40,000 to 50,000 fans a game, the league would prefer that you build a 20,000- to 25,000-seat MLS stadium, and to do that, you could build the entire facility with a 360-degree canopy for $250 million,” said Dale Koger, vice president and general manager of PCL Sports. “You might as well do a soccer-specific venue instead of retrofitting an NFL stadium.”
At Indian Wells, home of the BNP Paribas Open tennis event, owner Larry Ellison is considering a roof for the No. 1 court to protect fans from the harsh sun in the California desert, Rossetti said. Ellison is familiar with the roof retrofits at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, home to the U.S. Open. The roofs at both Arthur Ashe Stadium and Louis Armstrong Stadium cover the court but are open on the sides for air circulation.
“You can put a roof over these facilities and not have to incur the massive cost of HVAC to keep them cool so you don’t swelter inside of them in the summertime,” Rossetti said.
At Camping World Stadium, officials would consider a roof retrofit if the stadium is selected for the 2026 World Cup. Tournament organizer FIFA requires open-air venues for competition and prefers a canopy to protect fans, but it’s not a requirement, said Allen Johnson, the city of Orlando’s chief venues officer.
To date, the city has not conducted any studies on the potential retrofit. Five to seven years ago, architects and engineers looked at the possibility during the stadium’s $207 million renovation and came up with a “guesstimate” of $100 million to build a canopy, Johnson said.
At the time, the city was talking to Orlando City SC, then a minor league team but now an MLS club, about continuing to play at Camping World Stadium. Orlando City chose to build its own stadium.
“Cost is a concern and we want to make the right decisions. They don’t announce sites until 2021,” Johnson said of the 2026 World Cup. “If the money’s available and we can do it in a manner that’s aesthetically pleasing, obviously that would be our priority.”
Long term, a roof structure could help Orlando secure more events, Johnson said.
“It wouldn’t hurt,” he said. “It’s the newest trend if you look at Hard Rock Stadium. It could improve opportunities for us to continue to host the Pro Bowl, if that’s the desire of team owners and the league.”