This article is the first in a series of articles documenting the most iconic sports stadiums in the world. The introductory piece can be found here.
America. The land of the free and the home of the brave. Home to the third largest population in the world, and the world’s foremost superpowers. Home also, to a sports-crazy population, with a notably distinct landscape of sports invented in the country itself. And because of these factors, it has an impressive array of stadiums to showcase their American passion for the sports that they so pride themselves on.
All of these stadiums are impressive feats of engineering, and many of them provide an incredible sporting experience, combining awe-inspiring architecture with years of storied past. This article aims to list some of these stadiums, that have earned the status of being “iconic”.
You may have noticed that the opening paragraph belies the title of this article – but it is undeniable that most of the great stadiums that are found on the North American continent are located in the United States, and all bar one of the stadiums on this list are in the U.S.A.
So let’s get to it!
Disclaimer : This article only includes outdoor stadiums, NOT indoor sports arenas. So, unfortunately, arenas like the Bell Centre in Montreal, home to the Montreal Canadiens, Staples Center in Los Angeles, home to the LA Lakers, and Madison Square Garden in New York City, home to the New York Knicks, miss out.
Sports Authority Field at Mile High
Location : Denver, Colorado, USA.
Sport : American Football
Replacing the Denver Broncos’ old Mile High Stadium in 2001, the Sports Authority Field at Mile High, formerly known as the INVESCO field at Mile High, is one of the most intimidating places for opposing NFL teams to visit. Set against the backdrop of the Rocky mountains, Mile High is located at 5,280 feet above sea level. The old Mile High stadium was one of the loudest in the NFL, with the steel flooring giving it an acoustical quirk. The Sports Authority Field retained the use of steel flooring, and fans in the upper decks stamp their feet to create the “Mile High Thunder” that reverberates throughout the stadium .
Broncos fans also get under the skin of their opponents with the “Incomplete Chant” that sees the announcer state “Pass thrown by [the opposing quarterback] intended for [the opposing intended receiver] is…” at which time the fans complete the chant by saying “IN-COM-PLETE!” and is followed by the “sad trombone” sound effect.
Like the Mile High Stadium, Sports Authority Field has sold out every home game since its usage in 2001 (Mile High Stadium sold out every home game from 1970 onwards). Oftentimes people don’t show up at games, however, and the stadium announcer will announce the number of “no-shows” at half-time or towards the end of the game. If the number is over 1000, the fans roundly boo the no-shows.
It is no surprise that with such boisterous home support, and with such imposing home conditions, the Denver Broncos have a formidable home record. The Broncos had the best home record in pro football over a 32-year span from 1974–2006 (191–65–1) and in their over fifty years of existence, the Broncos have never been shut out at home, a streak of over 400 games as of the 2014 season.
A truly remarkable sports venue.
Location : Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.
Sport : American Football
Situated on the banks of the Ohio river, Heinz Field has one of the best settings for a sports stadium. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ home ground came into existence after the Steelers ownership decided that sharing a stadium with the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team will not be beneficial to them anymore, especially since the other three teams in the Steelers’ division had built new stadiums.
The stadium was designed keeping the history of the city in mind, especially Pittsburgh’s steel production. The stadium has 10,000 tons of steel incorporated into its structure. Configured in the shape of a horseshoe, the south end is completely open to the river, except for the beautiful scoreboard display of Daktronics LEDs. This display measures approximately 28 feet high by 96 feet wide.
Heinz field’s playing surface has been the subject of much controversy, with its short grass and slippery field leading to many experts deriding the playing conditions. However, players and coaches from both the Steelers and opponents have backed the grass surface.
Like the previous entry on the list, the stadium has been sold out for each game since its inception, and Steelers fans turn the place bright yellow with their “Terrible Towels”. The “Great Hall” is also one of the best concourses in the League.
One of the most lively sporting venues in America during the NFL season.
Location : Seattle, Washington, USA.
Sports : American Football, soccer.
“The Clink”, as it is called by fans, is the spectacularly loud and stunning home of the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL, and the Seattle Sounders in the MLS. This impressive structure has one of the best skyline views in all of sports. Set in downtown Seattle, the split ceiling stadium provides a nice view of the city, and an intimate atmosphere.
Talking about atmosphere, probably the most defining feature of Centurylink Field is the sheer amount of noise in the stadium generated by the fans. Seahawks fans have, on two separate occasions, broken the Guinness World Record for loudest roar in an outdoor stadium. This has led to many false start penalties for the Seahawks’ opponents as players may miss the snap count.
From 2002 to 2012, there were a whopping 143 false start penalties against visiting teams to Seattle, next only to the Minnesota Vikings. The New York Giants once committed 11 false start penalties in 2005, which led to them raising a stink about the Seahawks having added artificial noise through the speakers, allegations that were denied by the Seahawks.
Quite the rambunctious fanbase. Quite the stunning stadium to go with it.
Location : Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Sport: American Football, soccer
Unlike the previous entrants on our list, Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs and formerly of MLS franchise Kansas City Wizards, is one of the older stadiums still active in the NFL. Opened in August 1972, Arrowhead Stadium is the largest sports facility by capacity in the state of Missouri, and is the fifth largest stadium by capacity in the NFL.
As seen in the image above, Arrowhead is one of the few remaining “bowl” venues in the United States. Renovations were completed in 2010, amounting to a total cost of $375 million. The Kansas City Wizards called Arrowhead home from their inception in 1996 till 2007, although they played one friendly (and won) at the stadium against Manchester United in 2010.
One of its standout features is the amazing tailgating facilities – there just isn’t a pre-game eating and drinking landscape like Arrowhead. The huge parking lot, dubbed the “Asphalt Jungle”, is filled with food, grills and alcohol in the hours before kick-off. It is a food-and-sports-lover’s paradise.
Once inside, the fans make Arrowhead a “Sea of Red”. Kansas City Chiefs fans love their team like no other, and they make an almighty din on third downs, cheering their team on defense, while on offence the fans scream “WE’RE GONNA BEAT THE HELL OUT OF YOU!” at the opposition. Arrowhead Stadium holds the Guinness World Record for the loudest stadium roar, hitting 142.2 decibels on a Monday night game versus the New England Patriots, beating our previous entrant on the list, CenturyLink Field for the honour.
An amazing experience for all the senses, guaranteed.
Location : Chicago, Illinois, USA
Sport : American Football, soccer, rugby union.
There is a certain charm to old things that pulls at our hearts’ chords, as was alluded to in the introductory article. Soldier Field in Chicago has that old-world charm to it. The home of the Chicago Bears since 1971, after they moved from Wrigley Field, Soldier Field is the oldest stadium in the NFL, having been built in 1924. With a capacity of 61,500, Soldier Field is the third smallest stadium in the NFL, even though that number is quite large by itself.
Soldier field has a touch of the vintage about it. Dedicated to World War 1 veterans, a whopping 110,000 fans turned up to watch the Army-Navy game in 1926. The connection between Soldier Field and the army has always been strong. The Memorial Water Wall (north entry into the stadium) and the Doughboy statue (near Gate O) stand out from the rest of the stadium, and a walk through some of the quieter areas of the upper concourse will reveal little-known tributes like lines from an anti-war poem by Gwendolyn Brooks.
The renovation in 2003 saw a giant saucer type structure of steel and glass get erected between the stadium’s iconic colonnades. This was controversial, with many people criticizing the renovation, while the stadium was stripped of its landmark status. However, over time favorable reviews have emerged, and people have once again accepted Soldier Field as one of their cherished venues. The stadium has also, apart from NFL, hosted matches in the 1994 soccer World Cup, and also hosted the first ever rugby union test match played by the legendary All Blacks vs the USA last year. This year will see the Australian rugby team, the Wallabies play a test match against the USA in the lead-up to the Rugby World Cup.
A blast from the past, but in keeping with the times.
Location : Mexico City, Mexico
Sport : Soccer
This is the first of the stadiums on the list outside the United States. And after a host of American Football venues, we finally have some representation for the other, arguably more popular form of football. And what a reputed stadium it is too. Few venues have hosted as many prestigious events as the Aztec Stadium.
Built in 1966, the stadium’s name is an ode to the Aztec heritage of Mexico City . The Azteca has a seating capacity of 95,500, making it the third largest football (soccer) stadium in the world. Two years after its opening, the stadium played host to a friendly between Brazil and Mexico, that saw a whopping 119,168 people turn out. The stadium has also hosted boxing bouts, and also the first ever international regular season NFL game, that drew a then-record crowd for an NFL match.
But the Azteca is remembered more for hosting the FIFA World Cups of 1970 and 1986. It also hosted the football tournament of the 1968 Summer Olympics, but the events at the two World Cups gave the Azteca world-wide recognition. The 1970 World Cup was the first to be broadcast in colour, and worldwide audiences were treated to a dazzling display of attacking football. The winning Brazilian team is generally regarded as the greatest World Cup winning team, with players like Pele, Jairzinho, Tostao, Gerson and Rivellino. The semi-final between West Germany and Italy, won 4-3 after extra time by the Italians, was dubbed “The Game of the Century”. The 1986 World Cup saw Diego Maradona stamp his authority on the tournament, and the stadium was the venue for the “Hand of God” and “Goal of the Century” both scored by Maradona, who went on to lift the trophy at the Azteca.
This stadium has seen many iconic moments. A fitting venue for those moments too.
Location : Arlington, Texas, USA
Sports : American Football, basketball, soccer.
A truly “modern” sports entertainment venue, few stadiums in the world hold a candle to the 85,000-seat capacity AT&T stadium in terms of grandeur and lavishness. Built at an enormous cost of $1.15 billion (yes, billion), the stadium is sardonically referred to as “Jerry’s World” after owner Jerry Jones’ vision of building an entertainment mecca. And it’s hard to argue that he has gone on and done just that.
Formerly called Cowboys Stadium, it was completed in 2009. The amount of stunning features is staggering. Replete with a retractable roof, a massive 60-yard high definition video screen or jumbotron that stretches from one 20-yard line to the other, a column-free interior that is the largest in the world, and a stadium capacity that is expandable to a whopping 105,000 including standing room, the AT&T stadium is a modern-day architectural marvel.
The stadium has broken numerous attendance records in its short lifespan. Field-level box suites and a lot of standing room, along with a marvelous game-day experience would be bound to attract many a fan, and the stadium set a Guinness World Record for the highest attendance at a basketball game when a crowd of 108,713 was announced during the 2010 NBA All-Star Game. A crowd of 105,121 for the Cowboys-Giants game in 2009 set the NFL attendance record. The stadium hosted Super Bowl XLV in 2011.
This is the modern world. This is Jerry’s World.
Location : Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Sport : Baseball, American Football.
“The Friendly Confines” as popularized by Chicago Cubs’ Hall of Famer and legend Ernie Banks, Wrigley Field is another one of the United States’ oldest, and iconic ballparks. Built in 1914, and used by the Cubs from 1916 onwards, Wrigley Field is one of the few stadiums, along with Fenway Park, that takes you back in time to another era.
One of the main features of Wrigley Field that adds to its charm is the ivy-covered walls. Many a time has a ball been lost in the ivy, and outfielders generally put their arms up in such cases to signal that the ball is lost. The umpires may then call it a ground-rule double. Wrigley Field is the only active professional ballpark to have an ivy-covered outfield.
There is also a long chain-link fence strip running the entire length of the outfield wall, the base of which is about two feet down from the top of the wall and the top of which projects out at an angle called “The Basket”.
From 1921 to 1970, Wrigley Field also served as the home to the Chicago Bears. The original Monsters of the Midway would stomp their authority over in the “Friendly Confines” in what was a bit of an irony. They have since moved to Soldier Field from 1970, but the Chicago Cubs have stuck around, and will celebrate 100 years at Wrigley next season.
Wrigley Field was the last MLB ballpark to install artificial lighting, waiting all the way until 1988 to do so. Clearly an old-school ballpark that holds its traditions dear.
One of the best atmospheres to catch a ballgame, Wrigley Park will always live on. Here’s hoping that it stays on for perhaps even 100 more years.
Location : Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
One of the things that appease man to no end is constancy. The times may change, but only the things that endure carve a niche for themselves in the hearts of people. Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox is one of these constants. Generations may come and go, but “America’s most beloved park” remains immutable.
Immutable only as far as staying in existence goes, for Fenway Park has seen its fair share of renovations and expansions. Many of these renovations have manifested themselves in the form of quirky features like the high left field wall known as the Green Monster. Painted green in 1947, the Green Monster is the highest among current Major League Baseball fields, and the “Monster Seats” above the wall are hugely popular among fans.
Fenway Park is the oldest ball park in the United States, and the Boston Red Sox, who have used it since 1912, have the longest home tenure of any of the teams from the four major sporting leagues in the country. The ground is the fourth smallest by seating capacity and second smallest by total capacity, being able to house only 37,673 people at a time. Yet it is one of the favourite ballparks in the country, and it is perhaps the coziness of the place that adds to its charm.
The ballpark has seen its fair share of great moments too. Legend has it that Ted Williams hit a 502-metre home run on the ground in 1946, and the seat where the ball landed has been commemorated by being painted red. It even has a website dedicated to it : TheRedSeat.com. The Red Sox have won five of their eight World Series titles at Fenway, the first being in its inaugural season in 1912, and the most recent being one year after its centennial in 2013.
Atmosphere, history, and universal appeal. Fenway Park has all of this, and much, much more.
Location : Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA.
Sport :American Football.
The Frozen Tundra. The Shrine of Pro Football. Few stadiums tend to carry that aura of greatness that Lambeau Field, the home of the Green Bay Packers does. A trip to Lambeau Field is nothing short of a footballing pilgrimage. Steeped in tradition and history, the legacy of success of the Packers makes their home ground a hallowed turf.
Tucked away in a small neighbourhood of Green Bay, the stadium’s address has been 1265 Lombardi Avenue since 1968, renamed after their legendary coach, Vince Lombardi. It was during Lombardi’s celebrated reign as head coach of the Packers that the stadium was renamed in 1965 after another of their beloved legends, founder, player and long-time head coach Curly Lambeau.
The field is famous for the “Ice Bowl” played in 1967 between the Packers and the Cowboys. The game was played in temperatures of −15 °F (−26 °C) with sharp winds. In his report of the game for Sports Illustrated, journalist Tex Maule referred to the field as a “tundra” spawning its nickname, “The Frozen Tundra”. Lambeau Field is the third largest stadium in the NFL, in terms of capacity (with standing room) – 81,435. It has been in continuous use for 58 seasons, a record in the NFL, and bested only by two others– Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
It is also the birthplace of the “Lambeau Leap”, an NFL touchdown celebration made famous by Leroy Butler in 1993. Even though the NFL has banned excessive celebrations, this one has been grandfathered as an exception.
A venerable, storied venue, Lambeau Field deserves all the respect it gets.
Join us for the next installment in this series, as we take a look at the most iconic stadiums in South America.
Aspiring polyglot stuck in the body of an aspiring engineer. Keen interest in history. Sports nut. Loves a good test match – be it rugby or cricket. Partial towards Manchester United, Stoke City and Sydney Roosters. Loves long-form articles, both to read and to write.