It Might Get Loud

How CenturyLink Field became the noisiest stadium in the NFL.

By James Ross Gardner September 3, 2013 Published in the September 2013 issue of Seattle Met

Rain is a force that binds us. And rain, says Kelly Kerns, helped make CenturyLink Field one of the loudest in the land. When Kerns and his fellow architects from Midwest-based Ellerbe Becket began designing the stadium in 2000, team owner Paul Allen mandated that canopies cover the crowd. But the half shells would do more than keep spectators dry: They’d hug in the sound, like two steel parentheses. “They make for a great, noisy fan experience,” says the architect.

On September 15, Kerns’s Temple of Boom will be put to the sonic test, when the Seahawks host the reigning NFC champion San Francisco 49ers. Led by former Hawks defensive end Joe Tafoya, fans will attempt to break the Guinness World Record for Loudest Crowd Roar at a Sports Stadium—a title held by a soccer stadium in Turkey after fans blew 131.76 dbA (A-weighted decibels) during a 2011 match.

Before Tafoya Googled to learn who held the title, he assumed it belonged to an NFL stadium. And the truth ignited his natural competitiveness. He filed an online application with Guinness and was soon fielding a call from the organization, which asked if he’d be willing to pony up the fee—around $8,000—to fly a Guinness judge out to CenturyLink to witness and certify the attempt. 

NFL regulations forbid use of the South African vuvuzela—the horn that made your eardrums bleed during the 2010 World Cup—and other horns and drums, all of which were allowed in the Turkish crowd roar. CenturyLink also has the disadvantage of being an open-air stadium, unlike the arena in Turkey, and its “horseshoe shape means you get some sound leakage out the north end,” says Kerns.

Still, those canopies create cavernous pockets that amplify the din of 67,000 people going berserk, especially in the two spots Kerns calls the loudest in the stadium: the back of the club level, under the canti-levered underside of the upper bowl; and the back of the upper bowl, in the nosebleeds. Guinness’s regulations require the microphone be placed between 1.5 and 1.6 meters above the ground, so the architect suggests as the ideal recording spot the 35- or 40-yard line on the visitors side (or the 50-yard line if wind is coming off the sound directly from west to east).

Fans will get three cracks at breaking the record during the game, broadcast on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. “I want to try right at opening kickoff,” says Tafoya, who will be standing next to the Guinness judge with a decibel meter. After that he’ll have to make some on-the-fly decisions. “God forbid the 49ers get a false start,” he jokes, “but when they do I’ll turn to the judge and say, ‘Now!’ ”

Kerns, now principal at a firm that contracts with NFL stadiums—he took a breather from updating the Buffalo Bills stadium to do our interview—says design can only go so far. 

“Mile High used to be the rowdiest, loudest in the NFL, because of the fans. It’s not like that in Denver anymore,” he says. “But it sure is in Seattle.”

Published: September 2013

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