Back in March, when there was still a Deadspin, I wrote an article for them about vaportecture, my term for the dreamlike renderings that sports team owners (and other developers) use to sell their visions of publicly supported buildings to the public they need to support them. It was one of my most enjoyable pieces to write, not just because I got to take a microscope to hastily designed renderings to see just how crazy their details are — why is that man at the Tampa Bay Rays game pointing at the sky? why are so many people and trees translucent? why is the sun setting in the north? — but because it got at the point of all this madness:
There are a couple of ways of understanding these fantastical images. The simplest is that they’re ways to try to bypass all the qualms and intellectual objections we may have about whether a new building is necessary—visual information is much easier to process than textual, and therefore tends to sink into our cerebral cortexes without stopping to see if it makes any goddamn sense.
But the best explanation for all this—certainly the moat surfers, but really the entire Vaportecture package—is as misdirection. If you’re talking about moats or lens flare, you’re not debating who’s going to pay for the damn thing or why your team even needs a new stadium at all when the last one was only 22 years old.
Sadly, this conclusion did not cause the stadium-rendering industry to instantly dissolve in a fit of embarrassment at having its curtain ripped off. But as a consolation prize, it means we have another year’s worth of vaportecture to point and laugh at, while playing Where’s Waldo for Mitch Moreland’s engagement photos.
This rendering from the Halifax Schooners wannabe CFL team is possibly my favorite vaportecture image ever, featuring a near-empty stadium where soccer and football are being played at the same time, on a field where the few fans present could wander right into the game if they wanted. They show no interest in doing so, however, with one attempting to hail a cab that exists only in her mind, while another ignores the multisport mashup going on mere yards away to instead take a photo of the sky.
The Schooners owners later issued revised renderings, which were somewhat more realistic but remained a little unclear on what actual football being played looks like, or why it might not be a good idea to force fans in the end zone to walk onto the actual field to get to and from their seats.
I learned from the commenters on my Deadspin article, some of whom were actually employed in the renderings industry, that the people clip-arted into these images are known as “entourage,” and are indeed pasted in from image libraries to fill out scenes. If your scene is too crowded, though, you may run out of entourage and have to reuse them, which is why every picture of the Indiana Pacers‘ renovated arena plans seems to include the same couple with a baby in the exact same position.
Similarly, don’t spend too much time wondering why a stadium full of Oklahomans has shown up to watch players who appear to exist only on a video board, or you’ll miss the woman and her four clones who have seated themselves in the second at bottom right while wearing identical floppy hats. The future is truly wondrous.
Sometimes, as in the above image from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office of a new train station to support a new Islanders arena, the renderers aren’t too careful about where they drop their human Colorforms, resulting in a woman carefully leading her young child along the very edge of the tracks. Or, more disturbingly, contemplating jumping onto the tracks after learning that hundreds of millions of her tax dollars went to building this station a few hundred feet from the next station just so the Islanders could build a new arena.
“This image is boring, our clients will hate it.” “What if I add some men admiring each other’s fashionable suits?” “I dunno…” “And a cute kid wearing a souvenir jersey of some kind?” “Okay, but put him in the extreme foreground so as to obscure as much of the rest of the shot as possible.” “You got it.”
The most notable feature of the Oakland A’s new Howard Terminal stadium is how even after it displaces waterfront shipping, it will still be surrounded by shipping cranes for some reason.
Philadelphia’s new $50 million esports arena hasn’t broken ground yet at last report, but given how excited Philly esports fans are to look at empty chairs, maybe the owners can just set up some card tables in a parking lot in the interim and hand out flags.
And finally, if that bizarro Halifax image up top has any competition for vaportecture of the year, it’s from the Worcester Red Sox, who followed up last year’s bonkers stadium renderings with ones featuring blank-faced fans wandering through mostly empty spaces — the bottom one is supposedly a “street fair” offering “year-round and nightly activities” — and no sense of perspective at all, making people in the background appear monstrously tall. Maybe the team ran out of marketing budget and was forced to design its stadium in Minecraft? Until some rendering whistleblowers show up in comments to explain things, it will likely remain a mystery — a joyous, schadenfreude-y mystery, to savor while remembering that all this is meant to distract you from all the money at stake, and how much of it is yours.