The best bleachers for your field

High school athletic field managers in the market for new bleachers are finding their choices are no longer cut and dried as more stadiums take on a more personalized look and feel. Fan comfort, weighed against budget and costs, is playing a major role in the choices being made.


Newer stadiums are incorporating handicap and companion seating with larger walkways.
PHOTO COURTESY OF DANT CLAYTON.

Bleacher pricing will vary widely depending on the specifications. It is important to not only explore the newest trends and bleacher enhancements, but also to know what to look for from a quality and safety standpoint.

Specifications

Field managers should be clear on what they want to purchase and make sure the specifications reflect those requirements. The first step is for the field manager to educate himself on what questions he should ask.

“If you don’t know the difference between a well-made bleacher and a cheap one, you are going to put out a generic spec and you will not get a quality product,” said Dave York, sales consultant for Dant Clayton, who suggests getting presentations from at least two bleacher companies. Part of the process that field managers should clarify is pricing and timing.

Dave Giffen of Sightlines, Inc. in Crestwood, Ky., said grandstand pricing has evolved, and pricing per seat is no longer the most accurate method of pricing. “The majority of designers calculate grandstand seating based on a price per seat. This was correct 25 years ago when all row depths were the same and the industry was manufacturing basically the same product. Today the price should be based on cost per square foot, along with other factors including handicap requirements, rise per row, color, etc.,” Giffen explained.


In addition to conforming to International Building Code regulations, bleachers must also comply with ADA requirements, like the inclusion of wheelchair ramps.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SIGHTLINES, INC.

Especially with grandstand purchases, it is important that the field manager and/or architect build in enough time in the ordering process to ensure on-time delivery and installation, knowing that other field managers and architects are ordering on the same time line.

Safety and quality

Above all else, quality in stadium seating is paramount to ensure the safety of the fans. According to Giffen, criteria to consider when evaluating the quality of the products and the company providing them are:

Weight of the bleacher – “Many manufacturers will cut corners to reduce the amount of aluminum required to build the bleacher. If the weight is not provided or is less than comparably sized products, you know the quality of the design has been shortchanged.”

From the Field: Grandstand Selection


Avon Lake’s renovated Memorial Stadium incorporates many of the latest trends in bleacher design, including a premium section for season ticket holders (AL section) that features a wider aisle width and comfortable chairs.
PHOTO COURTESY OF DANT CLAYTON.

During football season in Avon Lake, Ohio, Memorial Stadium is the place to be on Friday nights. In 2009, bolstered by taxpayer support, the Avon Lake School District allocated approximately $3.5 million to renovate the stadium, which had not seen any major improvements since it opened in 1959. The revamped facility, which opened for the 2011 football season, included the installation of FieldTurf, new ticket windows and concessions, upgraded locker rooms and bathrooms, a 100-square-foot, state-of-the-art press box and expanded seating for 4,500 fans.

While the new turf was the centerpiece of the renovation from the athletic perspective, fan comfort played a key role in the selection and construction of the expanded home grandstand and new end zone bleachers.

“A common complaint, both from our own fans and opposing teams, had always been a lack of home-side seating,” said Greg Ludwig, director of operations. “Between season ticket holders and all of the students, we found that many of our home fans were forced to sit on the visitor’s side.”

Since the renovation added 1,800 seats, approximately doubling the home-seating capacity, that is no longer a problem. As part of the new grandstands, Avon Lake added a premier seating section for season ticket holders, centered on the 50-yard line with wider aisles and seatbacks. The school also added larger, more durable end zone bleachers for Avon Lake and visiting band members. Because of the stadium setup, those bleachers are not permanent structures, which allows for flexibility during track season.

The expanded grandstand has given fans a whole new viewing experience, said Athletic Director Tom Barone, CAA.

“We have outstanding fan support for all of our programs, and their comfort is important,” Barone said. “We knew climbing a lot of stairs would be an issue for our older fans, so we now have a variety of seating levels, as well as dedicated handicapped seating with companion seating and larger pedestrian pathways.”

Memorial Stadium is home not just to Shoremen football, but also to the school’s soccer, lacrosse, and track and field teams. It is important to make sure everyone who has a vested interest in the stadium’s use is part of the conversation.

“You have to involve the key people who will be using the facility and see what their needs are. Seventy-five percent of the adjustments we made in the selection process came from them. It’s important, though, that they look beyond their individual needs for the greater good,” Ludwig said.

As an example, when the new grandstands were built, the new handicapped seating section compromised the sight lines for a few of the track lanes. It wasn’t ideal, but neither was the alternative: “We would have had to spend $500,000 to make the adjustment. We had to look at the bigger picture to see what we would have to give up for those lanes to be visible,” he said.

Manufactured to code – Bleachers must comply with the International Building Code. “The liability risk a buyer takes on by purchasing bleachers that do not meet code is significant, especially since the savings is usually less than 10 percent.” ADA compliance must also be taken into consideration.

Weld sites – Spot welding, in which the weld appears only on one side of the connecting pieces, are common for lower-quality bleachers. The more reliable weld, Giffen says, is a seam weld, which completely surrounds the connecting pieces. “It provides a more secure and long-lasting product.”

Product line and warranty – For the smaller, non-grandstand bleachers, Giffen says more field managers are purchasing via the Internet. While it provides convenience and the ability to find the best pricing, “it also comes with pitfalls that must be avoided.” Check the financial stability of the company, whether it has a complete line of bleachers, and that it can provide drawings, photos and clear specifications, as well as pricing and delivery information.

Features and trends

Learning the right questions to ask will help make the buying process less stressful and ensure the best products are selected to meet the needs of the facility’s users and their fans.

Capacity – The first step is determining whether to purchase permanent grandstands or temporary bleachers. Giffen says a seating capacity of 1,000 or less can be achieved with temporary bleachers, which can be installed on a concrete platform for a raised view. Anything over 1,000, he says, and a permanent custom grandstand is recommended. York said facilities that don’t need much in the way of seating can consider the smaller bleachers (which are about half the cost of grandstand seating), but advocates bolting down anything over a five-row bleacher for safety and to prevent damage.

Premium seating – The biggest trend in bleacher design is customization with school colors and the addition of more spacious seating with either built-in chairs or seatbacks and larger walk space. “Schools have found that there is a big market and a willingness to pay for comfortable grandstand seating,” York said. “With the deeper row spaces, the feel is more similar to a seating experience at a professional stadium.”

Garrett Pettus of Southern Bleacher in Graham, Texas, said that even if stadium chairs or backrests aren’t currently in the budget, “it is vital to build the grandstand for comfort to have a wide tread depth to meet building code requirements should they be added in the future.”

Color – Another prominent trend is to enhance the customization of the stadium by pulling in school colors, whether on riser boards or on the chairs or seatbacks.

Advertising opportunities – York said one trend he is seeing more of is schools building advertising panels into the grandstands that can be seen from outside the stadium. “Just like in real estate, it is all about location, location, location,” he said. “Everyone coming to the game and anyone driving by is going to see it.”

Sight lines – Pettus said higher risers for better sight lines are being requested. York cautions, however, that deeper risers require a change in the stair aisle to ensure it meets code.

Space-saving designs – If space is at a premium, Pettus said concessions, locker rooms and restrooms are being built under the grandstand.


Many stadiums are incorporating school colors into the riser boards and seats. In addition, skid-resistant decking is becoming the standard.
PHOTO COURTESY OF DANT CLAYTON.

While stadium seating is one of the most noticeable (and expensive) investments, field managers have some considerations to make when purchasing new benches.

Like the smaller bleacher setups, portability is a key consideration. Some schools anchor the benches, while others want them to be removed depending on field setup and sport season. Know what works best for your setup. The other key consideration is construction. Aluminum is the most popular choice for durability. In keeping with the color trend for bleachers, some field managers may consider powder-coated colors for their benches to match the stadium’s aesthetics.

Cheryl Higley is a freelance writer based in Cleveland. She also is editorial director for Snow Business magazine, the official publication of the Snow & Ice Management Association. Contact her at chigley@mooserivermedia.com.