In the music world, we may eventually look back on 2017 as a landmark year for VR, one that saw the technology truly begin to live up to its hype and gain real traction with musical artists, concert promoters and fans alike with at least 15 tour dates and 20 headline acts streaming concerts in VR.

The emergence and sustained popularity of VR, however, has had a significant—and, in many ways, unexpected—impact that permeates beyond how fans enjoy their favorite bands. Particularly, the people who design, develop and build concert venues and arenas have taken notice and are beginning to explore new designs elements and options to improve both the in-person and VR experience for fans.

Upping the Ante IRL

At a time when concert ticket prices are on the rise and tougher than ever to come by for the public, due to the prominence of scalpers and exclusive pre-sale offers to fan club members, certain credit card holders and more, fans are looking for new and exciting ways to experience live entertainment.

VR concerts fill that void and give concert-goers the experience they desire in a unique and more accessible way. In 2017, big-time acts like Imagine Dragons, Coldplay, Big Sean and The Chainsmokers all offered VR experiences from iconic venues and events, and this trend is expected to continue and grow.

While it would seem logical to view VR and in-real-life (IRL) concerts as competitors, the fact of the matter is they are inherently connected. Musical acts feed off the energy of the crowd and vice versa, making the live crowd potentially just as important a part of the VR experience as the band. In a world where VR offers such a compelling, engaging and cost-effective alternative, live venues must up the ante for both IRL and VR attendees. As the virtual experience improves, so must the live event itself.

Consequently, attention will need to shift away from stunts, pyrotechnics and other entertainment add-ons—something the music industry has always leveraged to enhance the in-person experience—and focus on something more fundamental: the physical design of the arena.

Venues will need to be designed and built in a way that allows fans to get closer to the performers and to experience live events in surprising new ways. The next generation of concert-ready arenas should not only provide a compelling alternative to the VR experience but also accommodate those virtual elements needed to make a concert come to life both inside and outside the arena. For the individuals who design and create venues, arenas and stadiums where concerts are held, this means reconstructing how they are designed and built from the ground up.

For thousands of years, entertainment venues have utilized a model pioneered by the Romans that slopes up and away from the action. Fans have typically embraced this design because the seats furthest away from the action were also the least expensive. However, as more emphasis gets placed on proximity and fan immersion, the old model just doesn’t cut it anymore. Architects must get creative with how they design multi-use venues to accommodate the needs and desires of both IRL and virtual fans.

A New Era of Venue Design

One groundbreaking design concept that has emerged to meet the evolving needs of both IRL and VR fans is The Inverted Bowl. Instead of sloping away, The Inverted Bowl leans in with thrilling balcony seating that catapults viewers closer to the action for unparalleled, broadcast quality views as much as 50 percent closer. The design also eliminates single-use circulation concourses isolated from the bowl by creating animated and vibrant balconied seating and social spaces.

A concept like The Inverted Bowl also supercharges the social dynamic. As VR producers look to create different and exclusive content, the benefits of these design innovations become even more apparent. Additional communal and club space means new opportunities for exclusive VR tours, meet-and-greets and other extras—and the potential even exists for smaller satellite performances on different levels of the venue (think of a vertically stacked music festival). In arenas designed to accommodate the technology, VR becomes a powerful tool for accentuating the in-venue experience, as well. Whether it’s delivering currently unavailable camera views like the players’ field-level cams, performer’s stage cams and behind-the-stage perspectives. In The Inverted Bowl design, communal and club spaces–or even individual seats–could potentially be equipped with VR capability, adding a whole other layer of experiential depth to the in-venue experience.

With less infrastructure required to support the cantilevered, inward-leaning upper deck, there is more open volume in the arena concourses, and there are new opportunities for digital AR overlays on both the interior surfaces and exteriors skins of the arena. Performers like Garth Brooks have already used interior projection on the walls of the arena itself, bringing the audience “inside” the performance, transforming a passive viewing experience into something richer and more experiential. Outside the arena, LED projection can transform the venue’s exterior with logos or custom skins—even in broad daylight—turning the venue itself into a dynamic digital billboard. The right venue design offers an almost endless array of opportunities to leverage AR in a creative way to layer additional information or a fresh perspective atop the live experience. The unique design of The Inverted Bowl makes it theoretically possible to generate a projection layer in the air across the face of each balcony–overlaying virtual information or additional imagery over the view of the performers/athletes.

The bottom line is future-forward arena design has the potential to revolutionize the concert experience by making the design of the arena itself part of the immersive environment—not only onstage but backstage, offstage and pre- and post-concert, as well. In an increasingly virtual world, that’s an exciting—and very real—proposition.

About Matt Rossetti

Matt Rossetti is president of ROSSETTI and author of The Arena Revolution. ROSSETTI is one of the world’s most innovative sports and entertainment architecture firms. ROSSETTI was the design architect for notable projects, such as Arthur Ashe Stadium, Daytona International Speedway, Ford Field and the UCLA Health Training Facility/Home of the LA Lakers. To learn more about The Inverted Bowl, visit

Matt Rossetti

Matt Rossetti is president of ROSSETTI and author of The Arena Revolution. ROSSETTI is one of the world’s most innovative sports and entertainment architecture firms.