Talk to anyone working in stadium design and construction, and you’re sure to hear one phrase: fan experience. American sports fans may have been content to find a ticket and head to a cookie-cutter, multiuse stadium to watch their favorite team face off against a division rival from an obstructed view or nosebleed seats 40 years ago, but the 1970s ushered in a new trend of dedicated stadiums. This led to developed urban sports districts, and technology and social factors have only conditioned modern fans to expect more. Today, sports stadiums must meet those expectations by providing a great fan experience—and with competition high and revenue dollars on the line, there’s a lot at stake. In Denver, Zach Myhra is helping the Denver Broncos attract NFL fans to Empower Field at Mile High.
As a former maintenance officer in the United States Air Force, Myhra is accustomed to working on high-value assets in high-pressure situations. He spent most of his seven-year career leading large teams to sustain combat readiness of B-52s. Later, as a program manager, he worked to design and execute engineering projects on time and on budget. Today, as director of facilities, construction, and planning for the Denver Broncos, he leads the team that is responsible for operations, maintenance, and new construction at Empower Field at Mile High
The stadium, which opened in 2001 at a cost of $400.7 million, boasts a capacity of 76,125 and covers more than 1,800,000 square feet. It was the first stadium to utilize design-build construction and has ten public entrance gates; six levels; 7,500 parking spaces; and two light rail stations.
More than 600,000 NFL fans visit the stadium each season, but the venue is more than just a football arena. Empower Field at Mile High is a community asset that hosts banquets, blood drives, and meetings ranging in size from 50 to 3,000 people. It’s also home to monster truck rallies, barbecue festivals, and concerts. Myhra and his team work throughout the year to make sure Empower Field at Mile High is ready to deliver amazing experiences for football fans, players, performers, and guests.
“The Broncos, their fans, this stadium, and this city are all intertwined,” says Myhra. “We do everything we can to honor that connection. Our job is to have Empower Field at Mile High ready for every possible function and to extend its useful life.”
While major capital projects and upgrades are important, the facilities team completes more than 150 smaller projects each and every year. Prioritization is key, and communication is foundational. Each Sunday during the football season, Myhra walks every inch of the stadium hours before kickoff. Are concession stands stocked? Are restrooms clean? Is signage clear? How can his team improve the stadium? As fans start to arrive, he’s communicating via walkie talkie to game day employees scattered all across the property.
Those employees have been instructed and encouraged to interact with fans as much as possible to identify issues and solicit feedback. “We listen to what our fans are saying in real time, and we respond as fast as we can,” Myhra says. Staff members fix minor problems on the spot. Bigger issues go on a list for discussion in a weekly debrief meeting. More feedback comes from regular user surveys or informal conversations with football operations staff and players.
In 2020, Empower Field celebrated its 20th anniversary, but Myhra says it shouldn’t look two decades old. “Fan expectations are always changing, and we have to keep up. We are always looking to improve the stadium because it was built to be used,” he explains.
Before opening day in 2013, the stadium invested $32 million in improvement projects, including new video components and concourse upgrades. Teams replaced three outdated video displays with HD boards from Daktronics. The largest display, located in the South End, is 220 feet long and 40 feet high— at the time, one of the biggest outdoor video displays in the NFL. The Broncos also installed approximately 1,500 flat-screen televisions throughout the stadium. Each monitor ties into a central control hub to give fans access to replay views as they navigate the concourse.
As in any modern facility, connectivity is key. Fans and employees need to stay connected to cell towers and Wi-Fi networks. Myhra and his staff members monitor HVAC, lighting, security, and other building systems remotely. They’re also using software and technology to gather data and track concessions, sales, energy consumption, and other functions. Facilities teams work closely with IT staff to enable cash-free payments and implement other steps to reduce wait times and improve the visitor experience at games, concerts, and other events.
On any given Sunday in the fall, Broncos fans make the trek to Empower Field at Mile High. They park, tailgate, find their seats, buy concessions, check fantasy football scores, cheer for their team, and take in the NFL action. As they do, they may never fully appreciate the countless hours of work that have gone into creating a thrilling and seamless fan experience. But Myhra is okay with the anonymity. For him, it’s a sign of success.
“When the ball flies at kick off, if we’ve done our jobs well, Broncos fans and our guests can just sit back and enjoy the game.”
Preferred Painting would like to congratulate Zach Myhra on this well-deserved honor! We are proud to partner with Zach and The Denver Broncos. Preferred Painting has been serving the greater front range for over 25 years and specializes in interior/exterior painting and specialized coatings for both floors and roofs. We take pride in working closely with asset managers, property managers, and facility managers to find solve any problem and find the most cost-effective solutions for every job, both large and small. To learn more or to contact us, please visit preferredpainting.com.