Updated: 6:22 p.m.
The removal of thousands of seats at FedEx field is part of a multi-million dollar renovation project ordered by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder that will include two “party decks” and is designed to alter the game-day experience for Washington fans.
As you’ve seen on the D.C. Sports Bog, the first stages of the project are underway. Several thousand seats have been removed from the 400 level at one end of the stadium. Another couple thousand seats will be removed from the opposite end.
In those areas, two party decks will be erected where fans will be able to participate in pre- and post-game festivities and buy standing room viewing tickets, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because plans are still being finalized.
“It’s keeping up with the Joneses,” one source said. “The modifications, and the party decks, are keeping with a trend of what Jerry Jones did in Dallas, and what Tampa Bay has. [The decks] are affordable, fun areas where people like to hang out before, during and after games.”
The renovation project isn’t expected to be completed until just in time for the start of the 2012 season. At Redskins games this season, spectators will notice the elimination of those 400-level seats, and that the stadium is more open at each end.
Cranes arrived at FedEx Field Monday to begin removing the concrete areas that had served as a foundation for those upper-level end zone seats. According to a “commercial interior permit” issued by the Prince George’s County Department of Environmental Resources, the Redskins requested to “install club level platform structure.” The supports for the party deck will be above the club level, the sources said.
The exact capacity reduction is not yet known, the sources said, because architects are still finalizing details of the stadium’s new look. But FedEx Field, with a capacity of 91,704, still is expected to be one of the largest stadiums in the NFL. (Dallas’s new stadium seats 80,000 fans during the regular season, but has the ability to expand to 111,000.)
The sources said the Redskins are still expected to fit sellout crowds of roughly 85,000 fans into the stadium this season.
Jones opened the new Cowboys Stadium in 2009. It features a total of six party decks located in the end zone areas. The Cowboys’ party deck area holds between 15,000 and 35,000 fans at a price of $29 a head. In addition to concessions and television monitors, the decks provide an overlooking view of the field, but no seats.
The Redskins are expected to offer a similarly-priced, standing view package for their party decks.
Rumblings about the removal of seats sparked concern among fans who had to renew their tickets for the coming season months ago. The sources said the Redskins have moved fans with seats in those areas using their annual relocation process.
When ticket holders with better seats do not renew season tickets, fans with seats in the 400-level end zone areas are moved into better seats – closer to the field, or closer to the 50-yard-line, depending on the fan’s preference. Fans on the season ticket waiting list are then given seats in the upper level end zone areas.
The Redskins have long maintained that the team has a season ticket waiting list comprised of tens of thousands of fans and that it takes years for new season tickets to become available. The party deck construction project means those fans will not get off the waiting list this year.
One source said that Redskins officials knew the decision to rip out thousands of seats rather than offer them to waiting list fans could create a backlash. But the team also faced the uncertainty that the NFL lockout has cast on the 2011 season.
“The concern was that fans that had been on the waiting list for 16 seasons were suddenly up, but were being asked to pay for a season that might not happen,” the source said. “The feeling was that it would be unfair.”
Ultimately, the source said, Snyder and team officials elected not to aggressively pursue sales to fans on the waiting list, and to begin the renovation project. Next offseason, however, waiting list sales will resume and fans will remain in the same spots on the list.
Ticket holders whose seats were removed will be relocated either closer to the field or closer to the 50-yard line at no additional charge, the sources said. The Redskins were able to move several thousand seats to other areas because the uncertainty of the NFL lockout persuaded officials not to aggressively pursue the sale of tickets to waiting list fans this spring. Next offseason, however, waiting list sales will resume and fans will remain in the same spots on the list.
The party decks are part of a renovation project that actually began last year. The Redskins in 2010 installed two 30-foot-tall by 100-foot-wide high-definition video screens in each end zone. Team officials and designers also are planning several new wrinkles to enhance FedEx Field’s lower levels this season and next.
“[The Redskins] are trying to make the stadium more attractive,” one source said. “In addition to making the experience better for their fans, it also will help attract more non-football events.”
FedEx Field hosted a Kenny Chesney concert Saturday that drew 52,000 fans. In July, the stadium will host European soccer powers FC Barcelona vs. Manchester United.
Staff writers Dan Steinberg and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.