Football season is quickly nearing its conclusion in Denver, but its end only marks the beginning of a busy offseason of work at Empower Field.
Not long after the Broncos’ Jan. 7 season finale against the Los Angeles Chargers, work will begin on more than $100 million in stadium improvements, highlighted by an expansion of the video board, an expanded team store, refurbished suites and additional concessions, team president Damani Leech told The Post.
“This will be the single-largest capital improvement in the stadium’s 22-year history,” he said. “It’s a number of different things that should immediately impact and enhance the fan experience.”
Planning has been in the works since the Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group took control of the franchise in August and hired Leech as its team president the following day. The work got the final green light Wednesday afternoon when the NFL ownership group unanimously approved Denver’s G-4 financing proposal at its league meeting in Dallas, a source told The Post. The Metropolitan Football Stadium District also approved $12 million as part of the project.
The work is slated to be completed over the upcoming offseason and does not signal any determination from the ownership group on whether to build a new stadium in the future.
“It started with the Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group, which immediately gave us the task, as soon as they secured ownership of the club, to enhance the stadium and the fan experience,” Leech said. “That was their directive. They wanted to make an immediate impact and really reinforce their commitment to the club and to the community, so that was our initial task. Then we went into the data.”
That resulted in a list of more than 30 potential improvements to make at the stadium. A small working group then set about figuring out priorities and what could be completed in a single offseason with bi-weekly input from CEO Greg Penner.
“We gave him updates on our thinking and he was giving us feedback and direction and really pushing us to just make the stadium as good as it can be,” Leech said.
The biggest item: A 70% larger video board, which will measure 31 feet taller than the current version and will check in at 225 feet wide and 72 feet tall. Stadium general manager Jay Roberts told The Post that work on the board will begin shortly after the season ends and that much of the support structure for the board needs to be reinforced. All of the video panels will be replaced and upgraded and the goal is to have the new board completed by the beginning of August.
The work schedule is built in part to accommodate a full set of summer concerts, Roberts said.
The Broncos are also expanding the team store by more than 25%, adding permanent concession stands at the south stands for the first time, expanding concessions options on the third and fifth floors, refurbishing the suite level – most of them are exactly as they were when the stadium was built, Roberts said – and adding elevators on both ends of the stadium. They are also developing a new premium area on the field level in the old Mile High Stadium Club.
“We think we have, obviously, a great, world-class stadium, but we also have a really good sense of some of the newer stadiums around the league and what their fans are expecting and the experience they’re expecting,” Leech said. “We’re incredibly blessed to have more than 70,000 fans come to our games every week, but we don’t want to take that for granted. We want to continue to provide them a great experience, give them an excuse to get off the couch – as we all know, the experience of watching games on giant screens in your living room is pretty attractive and we’ve got to compete against that and not just against the other teams in the league.”
The work at Empower Field does not mean that any long-term decision about whether to build a new stadium has been made. Instead, Leech said ownership, “has given us the ability to do two things and do them simultaneously” – make improvements now and also keep a keen eye on what’s happening around the NFL in terms of new stadiums.
“As it relates to that, we’re continuing to evaluate everything,” he said. “Continuing to take a comprehensive look at not only our current stadium but, again, looking around the league and understanding the trends of where stadiums are, what stadiums are being developed – whether that’s in Buffalo or Tennessee – and continuing to study that and keep our options open.”