Like Lady Gaga on her fourth costume change of the night, Denver’s stadiums are masters at the art of high-pressure, behind-the-scenes transformations. And much of it happens without the public ever noticing.
The Pepsi Center regularly goes from ice rink (for Colorado Avalanche hockey matches) to basketball court (for the Denver Nuggets games) to big-name concert venue (for artists like the Foo Fighters and Ariana Grande) overnight. Empower Field at Mile High shapeshifts from NFL football field to a monster truck show arena to concert stage and back again in a blink. And Coors Field transforms, too, from live music venue to the Colorado Rockies’ home baseball field, in two days’ time.
Ever wondered how the heck they do that?
Turns out that behind every Denver arena are vast teams of pros who are responsible for assembling, disassembling and reassembling the pieces that make the settings for these high-profile events.
The Pepsi Center recently pulled off one of the more dramatic “flips” — the first of its kind in over a dozen years. In January of 2019, the arena hosted three games in 24 hours: The Avalanche played hockey at 1 p.m. on Saturday, the Nuggets took to the court at 8 p.m. that same day and the Colorado Mammoth lacrosse team competed at 1 p.m. the following day.
It took 111 employees a combined 785 hours to ensure the center was ready for the televised events. For the Saturday doubleheader, the Pepsi Center conversion team had a nail-biting 90-minute window to cover the ice rink and prep the basketball court. They practiced twice ahead of the big day to ensure that they could pull it off within the time limits.
It’s a big job: 600 pieces of flooring are laid down to cover the temperature-controlled ice, which remains installed at the Pepsi Center mid-September to mid-spring, and then 233 pieces of hardwood are laid on top.
This summer, Coors Field will take a break from back-to-back Rockies games to host two epic concerts — Billy Joel (Aug. 8, 2019) and Zac Brown Band (Aug. 9, 2019) — which will require the construction of large-scale rock stage sets without harming the Rockies’ pristine emerald baseball diamond. Between the tour crews and the Coors Field staff, everything will be back in place and ready to host the Arizona Diamondbacks by Tuesday evening.
Empower Field also undergoes a radical transformation when they host springtime Monster Energy Supercross (April 13, 2019) and Monster Jam (April 27, 2019) events, each of which requires the field to be covered in millions of pounds of dirt to create obstacle-filled motorcycle and truck courses for the competitors.
Tim Phend, director of Supercross operations for Feld Entertainment, detailed the setup process for the Monster Energy Supercross track.
At a stadium like Denver’s, they first have to carefully cover the football turf with a highly durable PVC membrane. Then begins the process of unloading and shaping 500 truckloads — about 26 million pounds — of specialized dirt to create the 2,000-foot-long track. The dirt that’s trucked into any given stadium on the Supercross tour is typically sourced from within five or 10 miles away, with a few exceptions if the local earth is silty or sandy. If the stadium field is wet, they actually build a road base beneath, constructed from local road grindings, to better support the Supercross dirt track that’s then laid on top.
Once built, the track is like a small city, with hills, valleys and seven structures (including the starting gate, scoring tower, observation deck and podium) — plus there’s a huge FanFest pavilion, where guests can get competitors’ autographs before the event.
The job takes 20 crew members about 60 hours to complete. And that’s if things go smoothly. Phend says, “You have a challenge in every city. It’s not ‘if’ something is going to challenge you, it’s ‘what do we have to get through this week?’”
Weather is the biggest factor. The crew has to take extraordinary measures to avoid a muddy mess if rain threatens. And at a recent event in Minnesota, a semi trucks’ brake lines froze, thanks to -20-degree temperatures, and had to be manually thawed with portable heaters for the production to go on.
When it’s time for teardown, things go quickly, with the added help of 40 or so temporary laborers. “At the end,” Phend says, “you can’t even tell we were there.”
And with Empower Field hosting a lineup of football games, lacrosse matches, motorized sports competitions, concerts, food festivals and the CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer match (June 19, 2019), there’s always another crew getting ready behind the scenes to make sure the next epic event goes off without a hitch.