Ready for Some Football? Better Use Design-Build

Andrew Ausel  |  September 15, 2015

Interested in building an NFL Stadium these days? Well, it will likely cost you upwards of $1 billion. And that’s just the baseline price; if you want to really get a picture of what it will cost, you’d have to figure in financing interest, which I will not venture into. The most recently constructed NFL venue, MetLife Stadium (pictured above), cost the New York Giants a whopping $1.6 billion to construct. Followed by the Cowboy’s AT&T stadium (costing $1.2 billion), these two projects have raised the bar for what NFL owners expect when constructing a new home for their NFL franchises. Understanding this, NFL owners would be wise to consider the testament of design-build project delivery (Los Angeles, listen up). The complexities and size of stadium development inevitably incur uncalculated costs, many of which are often avoided by design-build. Let’s take a look:

Construction costs of NFL stadiums have grown at a record pace over the past 10 years, but topping them all is MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ at $1.6 billion. Wisely, the stadium was done design-build. The stadium boasts seating for over 82,000 fans and Wi-Fi for those in the seats while maintaining a commitment to sustainability. Besides being constructed from mostly recycled steel and concrete, the stadium was found to have reduced its carbon footprint in its first two years by the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 48,924 vehicles. But most impressive of all was the fact that the stadium opened four months ahead of schedule and on budget. The feat of completing such a monumental project ahead of schedule and on budget undoubtedly flowed from the owner’s decision to use design-build and embrace a more collaborative view of construction.

Over the entire life of the project, the owners and design-builder maintained a collaborative relationship that aided the project to exceed its delivery expectations. By choosing design-build firm Skanska to deliver the project, the owners of MetLife Stadium gained an experienced ally that had previously constructed the stadiums of the New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans. According to Skanska, the project team utilized advanced technologies including, “building information modeling (BIM) throughout the planning stages, radio frequency identification for material tracking, as well as prefabrication to ensure completion of the project in the most efficient manner possible.” And as the stadium was to host both of New York’s football teams (the Jets and Giants) the stadium needed the ability to change team colors between weeks. Skanska developed an innovative solution for this problem during the design phase by utilizing screens for the lights projected on the outside of the stadium to highlight the appropriate color of the team playing each week.

“The collaborative nature of a design-build team is the best way this project could have been delivered given its size and complexity,” said Lisa Washington, Executive Director and CEO of DBIA. “The owner was really two team owners [Jets and Giants] who came into the project with different ideas and different mindsets. By having the designer and builder working together from the beginning, and a single point of contact throughout the project, you can work through those differences more easily.”

Design-build represents the highest level of collaboration in the project delivery world. And while other delivery methods such as CM@R are definitely more collaborative than traditional design-bid-build (D-B-B), under a CM@R contract less of the design is included from the purview of the builder than in a design-build contract. As such, a project structured under a CM@R contract is less integrated. Research has shown that project integration plays a role in eventual project success. In a study done by the Charles Pankow Foundation and the Construction Industry Institute the researchers found “more integrated teams had less schedule growth (4.4 percent less by project duration).” The research concluded that “consideration of three decision points – organization, payment terms, and team assembly – will increase an owner’s likelihood of success.” The evidence is clear that design-build and increased integration of builders into the design of a project helps to improve project outcomes.

Design-build has served as the delivery method for 3 of the last 5 stadiums constructed for NFL teams. Owners have begun to flock to the delivery method as it effectively remedies cost overruns and disputes that often arise in the delivery of large projects. And although stadium construction has slowed from the breakneck pace of the 1990’s and early 2000’s, large projects remain on the horizon in cities such as Los Angeles and St. Louis. As stadium-centered development is promised to grow with the NFL, which grossed $11.2 billion in 2014, the potential for design-build to leave its mark on the NFL and the cities that house its teams is worth note for NFL owners everywhere.