Petco Park is among the crown jewels in the sports industry. Every stadium built since has used the Padres home as a learning tool. As a venue, it is nearly without equal, but it did not start that way.
When the park first opened in 2004, it had none of the local food and beer options that grace it today. The operators tested an idea that allowed local groups to fundraise by manning concession stands, which helped philanthropy in the city at the expense of efficiency and quality of service. Over time, the field dimensions, scoreboards, signage, unique group seating areas, and a host of other improvements were added to create what San Diego experienced when Juan Soto made his Padres debut.
Snapdragon Stadium opens in 22 days. Oak View Group (OVG 360), the company SDSU hired to operate its new home, has learned the lessons provided by the Padres over the last 18 years. What Petco has grown to become is where OVG 360 plans for Snapdragon to start.
“First of all, it’s a fantastic stadium,” OVG 360 General Manager Adam Millar told the East Village Times in an exclusive interview when asked if Petco Park has served as an operational model for Snapdragon. “It is really a special place to watch a ballgame and San Diego is very fortunate to have it. … they have really done a great job. They do a lot of special events down there. We have a lot of respect for what they’ve done. So, yes. ….(the Padres) have provided a great model. They do a fabulous job. I have nothing but respect for them. We’re going to do some similar stuff. San Diego’s such a great place, everyone wants to come here, so there’s plenty of business for them, plenty of business for us.”
OVG 360 has witnessed firsthand Petco’s transformation from a baseball stadium to an entertainment center. The number and variety of events hosted at the park is nothing short of remarkable. The vision for Snapdragon is to be utilized in a similar way. Whether that is as a concert venue, a convention extension site, or hosting smaller, private gatherings at the unique areas incorporated into its design, Millar plans to host as many events as possible.
“This was really JD Wicker’s vision,” Millar said. “He wanted to create something that was 60% San Diego and 40% stadium. … it was really important to everybody as we went through this process to make sure that not only were we building an incredible college stadium, but one that the community would embrace, that when you walk in, you’re very, very comfortable. You’re seeing some familiar names. You’re going to see Best Pizza in here, Hodad’s and Crack Shack and Taco Stand, and Cali-BBQ. We’re going to roll out shortly a number of very familiar beer brands. You’re really going to feel that you’re in a San Diego venue. To walk through the venue, you’re going to feel different vibes – North Park vibes, Barrio Logan vibes – different vibes as you walk through the building. That was really important.”
Where Snapdragon looks to distinguish itself from its neighbor downtown is the Aztecs’ home was built from the ground up with events other than football in mind. Petco Park is a baseball stadium first, which makes for awkward vantage points, obstructed seating, and other peculiarities when the venue hosts non-baseball functions. In the competition for events, Snapdragon has another built-in advantage. From April through November its primary tenant does not command as many dates.
When the rest of SDSU Mission Valley is built, Snapdragon will be adjacent to the Innovation District. That proximity has already attracted multiple technology companies as partners to the site. The stadium is tech-forward.
“The Wifi coming into the building. (There’s been) a lot of focus on that for the fan experience,” Millar said. “We got 10 gigs that bursts up to 40 gigs. That’s some robust stuff, so people are going to be able to access what they want to access.“
Snapdragon will have its own app separate from the current one SDSU offers. Through it, some sections will be able to order food from their seats and purchase merchandise. Everyone will be able to enjoy watching replays, accessing and transferring tickets, and a host of other features. Down the road, the app could be used by Qualcomm to bring more innovations to the patrons of Snapdragon.
One major change from SDCCU Stadium is Snapdragon will be a cashless and ticketless venue. OVG 360 has operated numerous stadiums during the transition away from physical money and tickets. Their experience has taught them that the anxiety before such a move is high for some, but that people adapt relatively easily.
For fans who want paper tickets, the Aztec ticket office will print a season set of tickets and mail them for $25 per seat. The ticket office told EVT that many fans have requested this feature because they want a memento from the 100th season of Aztec Football.
On game days, any fan having trouble accessing their tickets can go to the “Snapdragon Stadium Box Office ticket resolution window” for assistance. Entry into the game on that day will be provided at no extra cost for patrons with or without a smartphone.
The technological innovation goes way beyond a phone app. When entering the facility, fans will pass through a revolutionary weapons detection system called CEIA Opengate.
Gone are the days of patrons emptying their pockets to pass through a metal detector with security rummaging through their bags. Opengate is able to distinguish normal personal items from dangerous items. Snapdragon promises to be just as safe without the invasive searches performed at nearly every stadium.
Lines to get into Aztec games in the past could be very long especially as kickoff approached. At Petco Park, entry lines snake down Park Blvd at nearly every game. Without the normal stadium song and dance, entrance to Snapdragon promises to be a much shorter experience.
Once inside, Aztec Nation will enjoy a huge concourse as they walk around the stadium. Televisions are “everywhere” according to Millar. They utilize IPTV instead of traditional television inputs giving Snapdragon’s operators more control over what is on each set throughout the venue.
Two huge video boards will greet fans as they enter the main seating areas. Millar promises the resolution on them will be outstanding even in the brightest of sunlight. September 3 might be the first time instant replays of a football game have ever been seen in San Diego during the day. With the sun overhead, at the old stadium, the Jumbotron could have been turned off and provided the same viewing experiences as when it was functioning.
Closer to the action
Another noticeable improvement will be the intimacy of the stadium. In the past, Aztec fans could buy a ticket and basically sit wherever they wanted. With half the number of seats as SDCCU, this unique feature of past games will be gone. More than just fewer seats, football and soccer fans will notice how close to the action they are compared to Jack Murphy Stadium, which was designed for two sports with widely different field dimensions. Offensive line coach Mike Goff said the seats are so close to the sidelines that he expects to hear some “choice words” from the fans if the line does not produce.
“Another thing I think is unique in the stadium is the sightlines are unbelievable,” Millar said. “You talk to every building manager in the country and they’re going to tell you, ‘Hey, our sightlines are amazing. There’s not a bad seat in the house.’ We all say that, but the funny thing is I can say it with confidence in this building. There is not a bad seat. The upper deck, corner, whatever. It’s a very vertical building, an intimate building.”
Snapdragon’s architects produced these great vantage points by building the stadium higher than the old venue while limiting the section size compared to the old stadium. Field Level at Qualcomm Stadium had around forty rows with the iconic walking area between the end of the field and the beginning of the Plaza Level. SDSU’s new home has 28 rows on the field level and no walking area, meaning the second deck starts far closer to the field of play. A fair comparison of the worst seats in the house would be to the Loge Level at the old stadium or the Toyota Terrance at Petco making the nose bleed at Snapdragon premium seating anywhere else.
On time, on budget
Following the Padres 1998 season, San Diego voters chose to build Petco Park. Scheduled to open in 2002, financial issues stopped construction in 2000. It took a $166 million bond in 2001 to get the project going again. The stadium opened in 2004 failing to meet its promise as a project that would pay for itself.
Many in good faith argued that Snapdragon was headed towards a similar fate with delays and budget issues making the project longer and more costly than the backers of SDSU Mission Valley promised in their pitch to the voters. Not only on time but on budget, the stadium has redefined what is possible in San Diego and California.
“I do think this is huge for the alumni of San Diego State, but I also think this is huge for the entire community of San Diego,” Millar, an SDSU class of 1987 alum, said. “The last new venue, an amazing venue, Petco Park, 2004. It’s been a minute. Between that stadium opening and this stadium opening, there’s been a lot of heartache in San Diego with the Chargers and that situation and them leaving the market and leaving their fans behind.”
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“There was a lot of chatter, ‘San Diego State is never going to get this done. They’ll never get a building done in San Diego.’ Look what San Diego State has accomplished in 24 months. It’s incredible.”
“I give a lot of credit to JD Wicker and Derek Grice and the San Diego State Athletic Department, (and) the CSU System for proving a lot of people wrong and building an unbelievable stadium. It’s exciting for San Diego State, but this is not just a venue for San Diego State. When people come to this venue, they are going to understand that this is a uniquely San Diego venue. … I think there’s going to be a lot of pride in the community once they experience it.”
Millar said the construction is complete and only the finishing touches remain. America’s Finest City is only eight days away from finally getting a look inside. On August 20th, the Aztecs are playing a scrimmage at the venue. The soft opening will allow OVG 360 to test all of the major systems.
Two weeks later, CBS will broadcast to the nation the Aztecs’ first home game since 2019. September 3, 2022, the Snapdragon Era begins.
My earliest sport’s memory involve tailgating at the Murph, running down the circular exit ramps, and seeing the Padres, Chargers and Aztecs play. As a second generation Aztec, I am passionate about all things SDSU. Other interests include raising my four children, being a great husband and teaching high school.