In December, we featured Selbert Perkins Design's wayfinding system at U.S. Bank Stadium. In this companion piece, we examine the stadium’s brand integration by Infinite Scale.
Looking back over eighteen months of brand integration work for the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium, both Jim Baehr, the project's principal and Zach Norman, the project's design director, are excited about what Infinite Scale(Salt Lake City) achieved in the new $1.1 billion venue. They consulted on the stadium's name signage and they worked closely with the Vikings in-house marketing and design staff to create and install permanent and seasonal Vikings branding throughout the stadium. Most challenging, they consulted on, programmed or designed signage and graphics systems for the Vikings 14+ partners (aka sponsors) that successfully reflected each partner's brand while complementing the building's architecture and--most importantly--integrating seamlessly with the Vikings brand.
Infinite Scale found working with the Vikings particularly gratifying. Yes, the design challenges were complex, the construction timeline was compressed, and the collaboration and approval processes were multi-layered. But that's the norm in almost all Infinite Scale's projects. The firm's sharp focus on sports resulted in executed designs that are appreciated by the Vikings, their brand partners and fans alike.
Infinite Scale's U.S. Bank Stadium work is distinguished for a number of reasons. For one thing, this stadium is dedicated to public of the region, who partially funded its construction, with the Vikings its primary tenant and major funding source. While the stadium is designed for multiple uses, the Vikings enlisted Infinite Scale to create a decidedly home field advantage through rich Vikings branding and storylines. Here, the Viking's story could be richly interpreted in the designs and the Vikings have a great story to tell.
That story started with the Vikings' core values. Jim Baehr points out that the Vikings’ values are easy to understand. They're about being family owned, having many longtime employees, recognizing the history of the team and its players, valuing their fans and the team's Norse legacy, and a distinctly regional focus. The fans' love for the team is also part of the story. It's easier to understand the huge investment in a new stadium when you are part of the experience—the game, pregame, halftime and in-game entertainment—live or through broadcast. "I was there for the opening, sitting with the Vikings’ new stadium Project Team. Here's this football game, being played and won against the Vikings' big rival—the Green Bay Packers—in a beautiful venue, and 65,000 people are chanting 'skol skol skol' with a Gjallarhorn sounding and fireworks going off. It was a magical, one of a kind experience for all these people."
Branding, Brand Integration and the Design Process
Infinite Scale is proud to have had some role in defining that experience and in how those core values manifest to the fans. Baehr says it was a great multi-faceted project for Infinite Scale. Brought to the table for their partner integration expertise, they also designed most of the Vikings brandings: things like the Ring of Honor (retired players), game day player banners and more. Their experience with new venues let them play an additional role in facilitating coordination on aspects of the construction that hadn't been thought about. "Conceptually," says Zack Norman, "The design process starts by understanding the building and how people will move through it, where and how things will be attached, and whether they will be permanently fixed or temporary." The designers look at architectural plans, colors, finishes, lighting, site lines, touch points, and then locate all potentially competing wayfinding and concession signage, sprinklers, speakers, antennas, conduits, IPTV systems and other elements to understand how they'll coexist in the stadium and if they will compete. In the U.S. Bank Stadium, there is also $4-$6 million worth of art installations to consider. "We brought something different and special to this project and, while it is part of the business, that layer doesn't usually hit the project description as a discussion point."
"I'm most proud of what we were able to execute graphically for the Vikings brand layer," says Zach Norman. "The spaces were very stark when we came onboard. Now with Vikings-specific representations, you easily get the sense of being in the Vikings stadium and nowhere else."
For instance, Vikings team history was integrated into many graphic touch points around the stadium, such as team and legacy banners throughout the concourse and a Vikings historical timeline. Infinite Scale's work with the partners assured that unique spaces like a Polaris Indian Motorcycle experience and Ecolab Gate combined their own brand with the Vikings brand in a meaningful way that showcase their brand while also enhancing the Viking fan experience.
Although based in traditional advertising, partner integration in sports venues is no longer about space on a wall or more square footage. Motivated by the Vikings' values, Infinite Scale looked for overlapping concepts among the partners to help integrate their messages with the Vikings' brand (family? Vikings fans? regional impact?) or worked with the partner to alter their brand concepts. "For the partners, this is a special opportunity to present their brand. We provide a platform for them to tell a unique story," says Baehr. "We talk about a holistic approach where each element—location, finishes, products down to the napkins and cups in the club space—fits into the partnership family. We want an immersive experience with a different kind of messaging than they may be used to. It has to be thought through carefully."
Because Infinite Scale understood the sometimes conflicting goals of U.S. Bank Stadium's many stakeholders (the Vikings, the partners, the Stadium Authority appointed by the Governor to be responsible for the public money invested, the board of directors, etc.) they were well positioned to facilitate a collaboration with the goal of assuring everyone came away a winner in the experiential graphic designs.
Challenges of Sports Venue Design
One of the challenges of any sports venue project is how very technical and public facing it is, especially in a new stadium. Even though the building may be used only 10 times a year, the stadium accommodates up to 70,000 people and games are televised throughout the world, making the value of the products shown many times the value of products shown in a place that gets a steady but much smaller audience. This makes it especially important that the graphics be seen in a meaningful way.
Another challenge is that although different projects may share a strategic perspective, each is entirely unique because their story is different. So, there is no execution that can be repeated for multiple projects, even if the same partner firm appears in different venues. Of course, the Vikings have a different brand strategy from another team and each has a distinct and unique story that needs to be told; each is a unique project coming from the expression of that story.
In addition, these venues are very expensive to build and the value of the partner agreements alone is very high. To help understand the size of Infinite Scale's role at U.S. Bank Stadium, Baehr puts the value of the total scope under their management at upwards of $10 million, or triple what even an airport wayfinding system might be. This puts high stakes and big value on assuring that the graphics are seen in a meaningful way.
So would they trade their work in sports venues for any other branch of experiential graphic design? Never.
Project Name: U.S. Bank Stadium
Client: Minnesota Vikings
Open Date: Fall 2016
Project Area: 1,750,000 sq. ft. (70,000 seats)
Project Budget: $1.1 billion
Experiential Graphics Budget: approx. $10,000,000
Architect: HKS Dallas
Experiential Graphic Design Team: Molly Mazzolini (partner and director of brand integration); Cameron Smith (partner and creative director); Jim Baehr (principal and project director); Zach Norman (design director); Kyle Skunta, Ryan Francis (designers)
Fabricators: Archetype, Lawrence Signs, Serigraphic Sign Systems and Encompass Sign Systems
Photos by: Jannah Din, Infinite Scale