Pro Soccer: Setting a New Benchmark
Jonathan Emmett in Design For Sports, Sports, Sports and Entertainment

BMO Field

The iconic Camp Nou in Spain, the Maracanã in Brazil, Estadio Monumental in Argentina, Estadio Azteca in Mexico, Wembley Stadium in England. In Europe, Central America and South America, international stadiums have long served as revered temples for dedicated, impassioned soccer fans.

Now the U.S. and Canada are seeing a wave of new soccer-specific stadiums devoted exclusively to the sport as popularity grows for “the Beautiful Game” in North America. Gensler is looking to set new benchmarks for professional soccer stadiums—both domestically, in the U.S. and Canada, and internationally, in global markets ranging from Brazil to Spain.

Los Angeles Football Club Stadium

Here’s a look at some of these projects:

LAFC: L.A.’s new “home team”

When we were selected to design a new stadium for Major League Soccer’s expansion team, Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC), it was the fulfillment of a personal dream. While we design all manner of stadia, rarely do you get to build a professional facility of this magnitude in your city, where you will have a chance to bring your kids to a match and be a hometown fan. LAFC’s new 22,000-seat stadium will be located in Exposition Park, anchoring the Figueroa corridor to become home to the new MLS team when it debuts in 2018.

We’re building a start-up for a new team, which is located in the same city as the L.A. Galaxy, winners of three of the last five titles. So that’s our challenge: how do we start and own that and create a signature space in L.A.?

We want to make this a best-in class venue, to set a new benchmark for MLS. The intimate, European-style venue creates a more personal relationship between players and fans, giving them a closer view of the action on the pitch. This isn’t just a sports venue—it’s a destination for tourism, recreation and business. In addition to the stadium, the complex is slated to include a conference center, restaurants, office space and a museum for use beyond simply game day.

By working directly with the team and their future fans, we are realizing a design process that informs the architecture, the brand, and the character of the Club. Through crowdsourcing and town hall meetings with supporters, we’re really engaging the community to help us define the complex, reshape South Los Angeles and help us build a home for “L.A.’s team.” With easy public transportation and game-changing amenities for the local community, our new Downtown stadium recently received planning approval from the City to proceed. This venue will be a cultural anchor and destination that will further revitalize the community.

Some of my fondest memories as a child growing up in Northern England are of going to Bradford City FC football matches with my dad at Valley Parade. Nowhere was there a greater sense of a community coming together to support the team in a common cause. There was an unmistakable sense of belonging; pride in our city for our team in our home. I am so excited to play a part in creating the opportunity to now share that experience with my children—bringing the world’s game to the “world’s city.”

BMO Field Stands

BMO Field in Toronto

Gensler Sports is also renovating BMO Field in Toronto, Canada’s first soccer-specific stadium and home of the MLS’ Toronto FC. In addition to increasing capacity from 21,000 to 30,000 permanent seats, with additional temporary seating for special events to accommodate up to 40,000, we made significant upgrades to the fan experience in the way of new suites, clubs, and experiential opportunities. Areas like the Tunnel Club give fans exclusive access to get close up, personal views of the players in a club environment.

BMO Field Aerial Image

The key element in redefining the character of BMO Field is the new roof. A Premier-style canopy will protect fans on three sides from the blustery Toronto weather and insulate them from excess noise. This roof is well underway for use later in the 2016 MLS season. This current construction also makes necessary improvements to permit the use of BMO Field for Canadian Football play. This facility is the new home of the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, and will host the Grey Cup in 2016. When complete, BMO Field will truly be any international destination that the City of Toronto can be proud to call their own.

Going Global: Nou Camp Nou

FC Barcelona’s stadium, Camp Nou, is home to arguably the most important sports franchise in the world. Teamed with Carlos Ferrater and the Office of Architecture in Barcelona (OAB), Gensler Sports is one of eight international finalist teams competing to renovate the historic facility. With a goal to expand the stadium’s capacity from 98,000 to 105,000 spectators and begin construction in 2017.

Jonathan Emmett
Jonathan Emmett is a design director in Gensler’s sports practice, and a principal in the firm’s Los Angeles office. Jonathan has dedicated his career to the design of sports and entertainment venues and districts, combining his extensive technical knowledge of sports venues with his passion for great design in order to create exceptional experiences for sports fans, teams and partners. Contact him at
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