Think of FirstEnergy Stadium as a house. It shouldn't be hard. After all, for 10 days a year, it’s the home away from home for thousands and thousands of devoted Browns fans.
Those who attended one or more of the Browns' 10 home games in 2014 saw the result of the investment made to improve the exterior of a house. Massive, uniquely shaped video boards, escalators that helped eliminate congestion and a cranked-up audio system were among the noticeable upgrades fans enjoyed in 2014 after the completion of Phase I of the stadium's two-year modernization project.
Consider Phase II, which has begun in earnest and will be completed in time for the 2015 season, as the long-awaited touch-up to everything inside of the Dawg Pound’s house.
"I think that from the very beginning when we got here and when (Browns owner Jimmy Haslam) bought the team, we talked about engaging the fan," Browns President Alec Scheiner said. "When we talk about that, we're really talking about the Dawg Pound as a whole. I thought we started to do that last year and I thought they saw the benefits of it. We'll continue to do that through Phase II. If our fans don't buy in, we're left with nothing. The stadium is nothing without our fans. We started that process. I think you start it culturally as well as an infrastructure perspective. When those two things come together, you've got a really good fan experience. We listened to our fans."
"We are dedicated to creating the best experience in the NFL both on the field and through every connection we have with our deserving fans and the City of Cleveland. Many of the improvements in the Phase II modernization are a direct result of continuing to listen to our fans and creating a more enjoyable and memorable environment throughout FirstEnergy Stadium."
Starting with the drive into the area, the walk to the seat and the food and drink enjoyed throughout the game, the importance of this second phase of refurbishing will be felt in every step of a fan's arrival and departure from FirstEnergy Stadium.
"We are dedicated to creating the best experience in the NFL both on the field and through every connection we have with our deserving fans and the City of Cleveland," Haslam said. "Many of the improvements in the Phase II modernization are a direct result of continuing to listen to our fans and creating a more enjoyable and memorable environment throughout FirstEnergy Stadium."
"We should have really good food in our stadium everywhere for everyone. We have all of those things available to us, why not take advantage of it?"
When Scheiner, a self-professed "foodie," moved to Cleveland in 2012, he made daily trips to some of the area's most famous restaurants and tasted the food crafted by its most notable chefs. The feedback from Browns fans matched Scheiner's philosophy: This kind of food needed to be readily available at all parts of FirstEnergy Stadium.
The stadium’s internal and external features will receive similar treatment.
The lights will be brighter, the signage and way-finding throughout the concourse will be spruced up and easier to read and high-definition graphics of Browns players, legends and the Dawg Pound will be displayed inside and outside of the stadium. The graphics on the outside will be big enough to see from the road as fans drive toward Lake Erie for the big game.
Every inch of the stadium’s premium areas will be revitalized while the Grille Club, north and south clubs and upper- and lower-level suites will be restructured and refurbished. A field-level hospitality location will be added opposite of the Browns' locker room. There, fans will be able to enjoy food, drink and warmth as they watch the players run out of the tunnel and onto the field at the start of the game and after halftime.
Both phases combined to cost $125 million with Gensler - an architecture firm that’s helped upgrade NFL stadiums across the country - once again handling the designs and concepts and Turner Construction making it all come together. The funding was completely fronted by Haslam while the city of Cleveland will reimburse the Browns with $2 million per year over the next 15 years.
Without Haslam's initial investment, "this renovation could not have happened," Scheiner said. "It was 15 years where the stadium essentially wasn't touched. This was to make up for those 15 years," Scheiner said. "When you talk about Phase III or what comes next, now we just have to keep investing every year to keep the fan experience up. I know Jimmy will do that. Jimmy's committed to winning and a great fan experience."