Used to be, going to a ballgame meant buying a ticket, finding your seat and settling in with a ballpark frank to watch the action. Not so much in the 21st century. As fans become more sophisticated -- or maybe have shorter attention spans -- sports venues are doing their best to offer more than just a game.
When the Final Four tips off at Houston's NRG Stadium, fans will be able to sip designer coffee, chow down on local barbeque, log onto their devices, catch a glimpse of the old Houston Astrodome or check out the speedway. The 350-acre venue encompasses five venues, including a full-scale convention center.
But Houston's nod to technology and creative food options isn't the most interesting thing you'll find in a pro stadium these days. From art to amusement rides to swimming pools, there's plenty to do across the country besides just watch the game (which you can do with a cheerleader at a Falcons game). Can't wait to see if the Braves manage to include a zip line at their new ballpark, but in the meantime, check out these attractions:
If you want to add a little culture to your pro football or baseball experience, make sure to check out the art galleries at AT&T Stadium (Dallas Cowboys), baseball's Marlins Field or Levi's Stadium (San Francisco 49ers, pictured here). Cowboys owner Jerry Jones personally selected the stunning contemporary art that makes the interior of AT&T Stadium a visual buffet. Jones commissioned 16 specific pieces and purchased an additional 42 that dot the concourses. Marlins Park is studded with colorful, contemporary art pieces from such well-known artists as Roy Lichtenstein and Joan Miro. The collection ranges from canvases to sculptures to a color-coded walkway leading into the stadium. In Santa Clara, the 49ers pay tribute to local artists and the 49ers history with several galleries filled with sports art.
Disney Meets Baseball
A ballpark in Anaheim wouldn't be complete with a touch of Disney. Thirty-one years after ‘The Big A' opened and Disney became the dominant owner, Angels fans were treated to a little Disney magic. During a 1997 renovation, the team removed a section of seats behind the outfield to open the view and added what looks like a pile of rocks. OK, it's not just a pile of rocks -- the feature, called “California Spectacular,” has a replica stream running down a mountain and real trees. Geysers erupt from the rocks and fireworks shoot out of the display before the start of every game and after every Angels home run and victory.
Everbank Field in Jacksonville may have done it best -- the Jaguars' stadium has two pools in the north end zone, complete with cabanas, scantily clad servers and a two-level pool deck to hang out on -- but it's not the only field in pro sports with a pool inside the stadium. More than a decade before the Jags unveiled their pool, the Diamondbacks installed an 8,500-gallon pool behind the right-center outfield fence. When the pool debuted in 1998, D-backs president and CEO Derrick Hall told Sports Illustrated, "We want the stadium to resemble features we have at our own homes." The pool deck has, of course, a bar area and plenty of televisions. And much to the Diamondbacks' chagrin, Dodgers players availed themselves of the pool after clinching the NL West in 2013. The Jaguars' pool debuted in 2014, just two years after the Miami Marlins opened a Clevelander nightclub inside the park, featuring a covered pool with views onto the field.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
OK, so just one train. But nowhere else in pro sports -- or maybe even anywhere besides an amusement park -- can you see a 50,000-pound replica steam train. The idea was to pay homage to Houston's railway history. The train, which has a coal car filled with oranges (a nod to stadium sponsor Minute Maid), runs along an 840-foot track behind the left-field wall whenever an Astros player hits a home run or Houston wins a game. The locomotive doesn't run on its own -- it's driven by a real conductor. In addition, one of the entrances to the park is Houston's original Union Station.
Ride an Amusement Park Ride
You might feel like you're roasting on a hot summer day, but the Ferris wheel at Detroit's Comerica Park is one-of-a-kind. The Fly Ball Ferris Wheel, which features metal cars in the shape and design of baseballs, gives riders a unique view of the city and the ball field. Located inside the park, the Ferris wheel isn't Comerica's only nod to be family friendly -- there is also a merry-go-round and batting cages.
Slide Down a Coke Bottle
That iconic soda bottle that dominates the AT&T Park landscape in San Francisco? Well, there are giant slides in there, including two 56-foot curvy slides. But even better than the slides is the view from the top, which provides a panorama of the bay and the city skyline beyond the field. In addition, there is a 26-foot tall four-fingered baseball glove to climb on and a replica of the park in which small children can run the bases and hit balls. So, you know, have a Coke and a smile.