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Here’s How One Kansas City Architecture Firm Stays Winning At The Super Bowl

Bo Baumgartner
Raymond James Stadium is home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it's also familiar to the Kansas City firm Populous. It will host the Super Bowl on Feb. 7.

The Kansas City Chiefs face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Super Bowl Sunday in a stadium designed by a Kansas City firm.

Brady Spencer grew up in northwest Arkansas, and after earning a bachelor's degree in architecture from the University of Arkansas, he set his sights on Kansas City.

“It’s the home of sports architecture,” he said, thinking he might try it for a few years. “And 25 years later, I’m still at it.”

Spencer joined the architectural design firm Populous in 1996. Now a senior architect and principal, he specializes in National Football League and collegiate football projects. He’s served as lead project architect for renovations at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, and project architect for four other NFL stadiums.

His first project with Populous: the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, which opened in 1998. The Kansas City Chiefs will take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers there in Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7.

“Of the 17 Super Bowls that I’ve been a part of, this is obviously the most unique,” Spencer said, referring to the changes in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. But for him, it’s also a full-circle moment.

“The first Super Bowl I was part of was 20 years ago here at Raymond James Stadium," Spencer said. That 2001 Super Bowl was the first for the stadium as well.

Populous has been involved with nearly 40 Super Bowls. The firm has designed 16 NFL stadiums — including the Miami area's Hard Rock Stadium, site in 2020 of the Chiefs' first appearance in a Super Bowl in 50 years.

The Raymond James Stadium was designed to host large and smaller events. The 2021 Super Bowl will be its third and will mark the first time an NFL team competed in a Super Bowl in its home stadium.

Steve Nesius
A recognizable feature of the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa is a 103-foot, 43-ton steel and concrete replica pirate ship.

The Raymond James Stadium is defined by open end zone plazas, which Spencer says were created as “social spots for the stadium where people could gather with their friends in an area that wasn't their seats and hang out and, you know, enjoy the game and socialize.”

The stadium's most distinctive feature is a pirate cove in one of those social spaces in the north end zone, with a 103-foot long replica pirate ship.

“It also has cannons that fire during the game,” Spencer said. “So as the Buccaneers get to the red zone, or they score a touchdown, they fire the cannons.”

The stadium can accommodate 65,000 to 70,000 people for larger events, such as a Super Bowl. But this year's crowd will be much smaller.

Due to safety concerns related to the pandemic, the NFL consulted with public health authorities to limit seating to approximately 22,000 fans. This includes about 7,500 vaccinated health workers invited as guests of the NFL.

Masks will be required. And fans will be spaced in physically distanced seating pods.

Spencer plans to attend the Super Bowl, but he said he won't just be kicking back and cheering for the Chiefs. During the game, he'll be part of the team supporting operations and monitoring the venue to make sure everything goes smoothly.

“They don’t believe it, but I have to tell my friends I don’t get to see the game,” he said, with a laugh. “We’re too busy working. We’re running around making sure that the people that have purchased the tickets are having the experience that they deserve.” The average ticket price is about $2,500.

Spencer has a backup plan for making sure he catches all the action: “So I have my family record the game every year and I'll watch it when I get home afterward.”

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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