There’s No Place Like Home – Who Has The Best NFL Stadium?

Home field advantage. Pride. Dominating the skyline. The stadium is more than just a place where a game of football is played – it’s an icon, a reflection of the city, its people and its history. The concept of a stadium certainly isn’t a new one – the Ancient Greeks and Romans held sporting and gladiatorial events in stadiums and coliseums, and even they didn’t come up with the concept. These days millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money is dumped into a team’s home – which causes no end of controversy – for which cities and teams expect a certain amount of payoff.

Each city and franchise has a different approach to their stadiums. Some choose to revel in their history, performing only minor updates to their homes while others bulldoze everything that came before and push the boat out. Like a lot of significant architecture, there’s an element of art to these gigantic creations – and like all art, everyone’s divided.

Before we get going, I’d like to establish some ground rules and try to explain how I came to my decisions.

  1. No temporary stadiums.
  2. No future/unoccupied stadiums.
  3. No special stadiums.
  4. The Edward Jones Dome, previous home of the Rams, doesn’t get a look-in either as it’s no longer a current stadium.
  5. There’s no hard-counted point system in play here, just what I’m going through in my head. That said, imaginary points will be deducted for boring or questionable designs, lack of flair and crummy locations. Points will be added for creative touches, interesting names and generally doing things that feel right.

The above leaves us with 29 current stadiums to rank (the Jets and Giants share a stadium), so without further ado – let’s get cracking.


29 – Mercedes-Benz Superdome

Mercedes-Benz Superdome

Team: New Orleans Saints | Capacity: 73000 | Opened: 1975
Right off the bat, we have possibly the ugliest stadium not just in football, but in all of sports. This fixed-roof dome doesn’t even look like a stadium – though perhaps that was the point of the design. It looks like it houses vast quantities of corn or other grains, and the white roof makes it look like a pimple. New Orleans clearly wanted something unique to house their new team after being told that the city would never have an NFL franchise without a domed stadium. And boy, did they get it.

I almost felt bad placing this so low because in 2005, the Superdome played host to probably the biggest humanitarian effort undertaken by a North American sports stadium. As Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, approximately 9500 people sought refuge inside. Afterwards, the stadium needed $185 million worth of repairs and renovations. While it deserves a word of praise for this, it’s sadly not enough to stop it from being so damn ugly.

28 – Soldier Field

Soldier Field

Team: Chicago Bears | Capacity: 61500 | Opened: 1924
Mixing architectural styles is a risky business, and for the league’s oldest permanent stadium (in 2016, only the temporary home of the Rams in LA will be older) it’s resulted in absolute disaster. The original Soldier Field was heavily influenced by the classical Greek and Roman coliseums, with a U-shaped construction of the primary stands and the neoclassical columns adorning the exterior. It actually looked rather nice – but in 2003 new modern grandstands were added that clashed horribly with the classic exterior. It looks a little bit like a spaceship landed on the Parthenon. Unfortunately, it looks a lot like a horrible job. It was so poorly received that in 2004 a 10-member committee unanimously recommended that Soldier Field be delisted as a National Historic Landmark as a direct result.

27 – O.Co Coliseum

O.Co Coliseum

Team: Oakland Raiders | Capacity: 56057 | Opened: 1966
“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” This line from the sonnet Ozymandias could almost have been written about the Raiders’ and Athletics’ shared home. In the 90s and early 00s just about anyone who still shared a stadium with an MLB counterpart moved into their own premises, but Oakland hung in there. While the stadium itself isn’t that shocking to look at, the circumstances force it to reside this low on the list. For a large part of the NFL season, the baseball diamond is present on the field, creating a mixed playing surface that should frankly be against league rules. Not only that, but large sections of the stands are covered in tarp to reduce official capacity and avoid media blackouts. Poor, poor show.

26 – Lucas Oil Stadium

Lucas Oil Stadium

Team: Indianapolis Colts | Capacity: 67000 | Opened: 2008
The Colts play in a shed. Next.

25 – NRG Stadium

NRG Stadium

Team: Houston Texans | Capacity: 71500 | Opened: 2002
The Texans play in a slightly larger shed with love handles. Next.

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24 – Arrowhead Stadium

Arrowhead Stadium

Team: Kansas City Chiefs | Capacity: 76416 | Opened: 1972
Arrowhead is the 5th-oldest permanent stadium in the NFL, and its construction affords it some unique properties. In recent years, they’ve competed with Seattle to claim the title of loudest stadium, helping cement its reputation as a difficult venue to win in on the road. Sadly, its older design also means it has some questionable aspects. The two oval screens at the ends look outdated and out of place in this day and age, and the low swooping lines on those same ends gives it more of an unfinished feel. The exterior is a little too grey, showing hints of the brutalism architecture movement that was popular at the time and the surroundings being dominated by concrete car parks don’t help. The spiral walkways are a nice touch, though.

23 – FedEx Field

FedEx Field

Team: Washington Redskins | Capacity: 82000 | Opened: 1997
They say that the only thing worse than a bad car, is a dull car. And the same can be said of stadiums. FedEx field has almost no design elements to it whatsoever. The stands are a uniform height in a rounded-corner square, and it’s almost uniformly fronted by a white fascia. Really the fact that’s it not an eyesore keeps it from slipping lower down the list – but the fact that I’ve run out of things to say about it already shows just how poor an effort this is.

22 – Georgia Dome

Georgia Dome

Team: Atlanta Falcons | Capacity: 71250 | Opened: 1992
Alright, let’s get back to picking on domed stadiums. It seems that adding a roof creates all sorts of design conundrums – of the 8 stadiums with some form of roof in the NFL, we’ve seen 4 of them in the bottom 8. The designers either go too safe – Lucas Oil – or just a bit too out-there-where-the-buses-don’t-run. I mean… just look at it. It looks like someone put a tent on top of some kind of layered cake. It’s certainly interesting, but it’s wrong kind of interesting. Like early versions of the Android operating system, it looks like the design was done by multiple people who weren’t talking to each other and then it was all thrown together at the end. Nothing…fits.

21 – Sun Life Stadium

Sun Life Stadium

Team: Miami Dolphins | Capacity: 65000 | Opened: 1987
For the sake of being nice, I like the use of colour in the stands. I personally believe that one of the most important aspects of designing a stadium is incorporating team colours into its design. Most teams, like the Dolphins have done here, choose to go with coloured seats. The brightness contrasts against what is an otherwise dull effort. It’s weird to think that this designed-with-nothing-but-a-ruler stadium came in the 80s, long after the swooping lines of Arrowhead and the mothership design of the Superdome in the 70s. Heck, even Soldier Field looked like more modern techniques had been used at this point. Give me 10 minutes and a bucket of LEGO, and I’ll build you a close approximation. The only real saving graces are the curved facia on the North and South sides.

Wait, North and South? Yep. Unlike most stadiums that run N > S, Sun Life runs E > W. This has the unfortunate effect of the North stands being unrelentingly exposed to the Florida sun and heat, all game long. This became such an issue that Stephen Ross, the Dolphins’ owner, successfully petitioned the league to start all September home games at 4PM, when the heat was less extreme. This meant they had to give up a significant home-field advantage – many road teams were not used to such temperatures and struggled as the game went on.

20 – Qualcomm Stadium

Qualcomm Stadium

Team: San Diego Chargers | Capacity: 70561 | Opened:  1967
Named after a manufacturer of mobile processors, Qualcomm stadium looks like somebody forgot to finish it. The lighting rigs around 3/4 of the stadium look like scaffolding, and that the whole structure should be the same height as the remaining end. Again dominated by concrete car parks, not even an overdose of spiral walkways can rescue this. A splash of colour would go some way to helping, but they seem to have opted for dark navy seats instead of powder blue or yellow, and you’d almost be forgiven for missing the stadium if you were doing an aerial tour of the city.

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19 – 13 – Bank of America Stadium, Ford Field, Gillette Stadium, MetLife Stadium, M&T Bank Stadium, Nissan Stadium and Ralph Wilson Stadium

Bank of America Stadium, Ford Field, Gillette Stadium, MetLife  Stadium, M&T Bank Stadium, Nissan Stadium and Ralph Wilson Stadium

Teams: Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, New York Giants, New York Mets, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills
Capacities: 75412, 65000, 68756, 82566, 71008, 69149 and 73079
Opened: 1996, 2002, 2002, 2010, 1998, 1999 and 1973

I sat for ages trying to think of which of these 7 stadiums was the dullest. And frankly, I was getting nowhere. So 19-13 is a dead heat between them. Bank of America Stadium is probably the most interesting of this bunch purely because of the 4 columns on the facia, but if you blocked the stands from view, it would be easily confused with an office block. Gillette’s square Southern ramp and seemingly unfinished North end, coupled with the plain square facia on the East and West sides does it no favours. Detroit… play in a shed with enough going on around it to separate it from the likes of Lucas Oil and NRG. But not enough to rank it higher.

As the largest current stadium in the NFL in terms of capacity, you would think that MetLife has something going for it, but sadly this size comes at a cost. The seat density requires an almost square design, and from the sides it looks like a factory. The fact that it’s a shared facility means the colours are also neutral, adding to the drudgery.

M&T Bank Stadium could benefit from some gold additions – the Ravens’ third colour – perhaps around the middle tiers to give an otherwise dark stadium some lift. The dark brickwork on the outside would look pretty good if it just had some contrast. Though I will concede that it looks pretty in the snow – and the stand design is probably the second most interesting of these 6.

Nissan Stadium (pictured here as LP Field, its previous name) had a chance to be striking – the pink middle tier is testament to the fact that somebody somewhere gave it some thought. But they forgot to put upper-tier seats on the ends and the resulting flat expanses of concrete bring the whole design down.

Ralph Wilson Stadium is the oldest of this 6, and it shows. There’s almost no facia or atrium to speak of, and the lower angle of the stands make it seem like the fans in the nosebleed seats are too far away from the action. It just needs… something… to lift it up a bit, some little flair somewhere.

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12 – Everbank Field

Everbank Field

Team: Jacksonville Jaguars | Capacity: 67246 | Opened: 1995
Everbank Field almost slipped into the previous group of “take your pick” dullard stadiums, but it has two saving graces:

  1. The location is pretty good, right beside the river
  2. It has a freaking pool in the North stand

It seems almost trite to rank a stadium higher because such a little novelty but let’s be honest – it’s part of the draw. A lot of stadiums on this list could benefit from such an item.

11 – Raymond James Stadium

Raymond James Stadium

Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Capacity: 65980 | Opened: 1998
At first glance, Raymond James Stadium doesn’t look like much – appearing to be some sort of facsimile of older English football stadiums. But what’s that sitting in the North stand? It’s a goddamn beach scene and pirate ship with functioning cannons. The cannons fire every time the Buccaneers score points (1 shot for each point) and during Super Bowl XXXV, the reporting was done from inside the ship.

Yep.

10 – Heinz Field

Heinz Field

Team: Pittsburgh Steelers | Capacity: 68400 | Opened: 2001
Silly name aside, Heinz Field has a rather old-school look and feel to it. Coupled with the main stand design that pays homage to European football stadiums and you have a stadium that looks like it was built more than 15 years ago. But they’ve gone about it well. It reflects the Steelers’ gritty style of play, and keeps the focus on the football. Being sat beside a river also helps.

9 – First Energy Stadium

First Energy Stadium

Team: Cleveland Browns | Capacity: 67432 | Opened: 1999
Don’t adjust your sets. The Browns finally get a top 10 spot somewhere – though it’s a thin line. The stadium design itself is pretty generic, with only nod to artistic flair being the cutaways on the South East stand. But what really helps lift it from the depths of drudgery is the location. Call it what you will – the Dawg Pond, the Factory of Sadness – but there’s no denying that the surrounding locale is very, very easy on the eyes. Being on the waterfront gives it instant bonus points, and the sheer amount of greenery surrounding the stadium help lift it into the top 10.

Hey, gotta give Cleveland something.

8 – Paul Brown Stadium

Paul Brown Stadium

Team: Cincinnati Bengals | Capacity: 65515 | Opened: 2000
I umm’d and ahh’d about this one for some time before deciding to put it at number 8. The thing is… I like the design. We’re now getting into the realm of stadiums that look like footballs, and the curved lines of Paul Brown Stadium coupled with the stand roof design lends it that look. It also gets bonus points for being built right beside an (admittedly very muddy) river but there’s something irking me about it. It’s the colour. Were it not for the offices of the Cincinnati Enquirer being clearly visible in shot, I reckon I could pass this off as the stadium of a different team to a casual fan. Let’s say… Philadelphia. Why oh why, when you have an orange and black motif for your team, would you fill the stadium with dark green seats? Cincy are lucky the designer coupled the curving lines with a very modern, sharp-angled facia, or else we could be looking at a much lower spot.

7 – Lincoln Financial Field

Lincoln Financial Field

Team: Philadelphia Eagles | Capacity: 69596 | Opened: 2003
The City of Brotherly Love is known for being a bit rough, and it seems fitting that the Eagles’ stadium reflects this. Jagged lines and bare steel dominate the design of this structure, with large sections of stand cut away. It cuts an aggressive, asymmetrical shape in the landscape and helps dominate Philadelphia’s skyline. Decking part of the facia in solar panels is also a bold move – they’re usually put on roofs – and the 45 degree angle of their layout adds to the chaos. It’s a neat structure, and one that really grabs the eye.

6 – University of Phoenix Stadium

University of Phoenix Stadium

Team: Arizona Cardinals | Capacity: 63400 | Opened: 2006
You can’t really blame the Cardinals for wanting to play in a dome. As was stated in King of the Hill “[Phoenix] should not exist. It is a monument to man’s arrogance”. It’s pretty hot. And the colour makes sense, reflecting some of that heat away from the stadium. Maybe these thermal characteristics are aided by the design but I like to think the designer of the Goodyear Blimp had his hand in this. David Rappoccio once redesigned all NFL logos as if they were fat, and it looks like UoP Stadium had the same treatment. It’s even bursting at the seams. It may seem unfair to rank it so highly when the Superdome is propping up this list, but by making it oval instead of circular, and giving it some character, it almost looks…cute. It looks like a bouncy castle crossed with a marshmallow, and I just want to give it a hug.

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5 – Century Link Field

Century Link Field

Team: Seattle Seahawks | Capacity: 67000 | Opened: 2009
Century Link continually competes with Arrowhead to be the loudest stadium in the NFL, but that’s not the only striking thing about the design. Approaching from the North, you’re greeted by a 13 story tower which not only looks imposing from the outside, but when viewed from the inside complements the Seattle skyline through the open North end. The brickwork on the outside looks nice without detracting from the stadium design, and the roof completes the impression of a football. A splash of colour inside would have boosted it higher on this list but as it stands, this is one of the more notable efforts in the NFL.

4 – Lambeau Field

Lambeau Field

Team: Green Bay Packers | Capacity: 81435 | Opened: 1957
Soldier Field and MetLife could do with taking some cues from Lambeau. It has the third highest capacity of any stadium in the NFL, and is the third oldest. When it opened in the 50s, the design was much simpler, with little in the way of facia and atrium present. Through the 60s, the stadium was renovated and expanded upon to increase capacity and add additional features – including the brickwork around the outside. Since then evolution, not revolution has been the word surrounding Green Bay – and it shows. Every renovation has stayed true to how the stadium felt, and it’s avoided the nightmare clash of architectural style that plagues their Chicago rivals. A modern atrium dominates the East side of the structure, but looks and feels like a natural extension. Had the exterior not been treated with such reverence, this stadium would no doubt have dropped quite a few places – the overall bowl design is rather simple – but it’s the love and attention that makes this so iconic.

3 – Sports Authority Field at Mile High

Sports Authority Field at Mile High

Team: Denver Broncos | Capacity: 76125 | Opened: 2001
Designed to replace the previous shared Mile High stadium, whose design was a compromise to accommodate both football and baseball; Sports Authority Field looks like someone took an air pump to a college bowl stadium. The curved facia and atriums are bold and daring, and the swooping lines of the stands are a thing of beauty. Perched atop the screen on the southern stand is a 27 foot white horse statue – modelled after actor Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger – in a motif that’s continued outside with horse statues in gallop atop a waterfall. Maybe it’s the bias in me, but I love everything about this stadium. The surrounding area is lush and well laid out, and just behind Arrowhead and Century Link, this is one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL – and one of the best designed. Plus, that name. Sure, it’s a sports clothing company – but c’mon. Sports Authority. It just SOUNDS awesome.

2 – AT & T Stadium

AT & T Stadium

Team: Dallas Cowboys | Capacity: 80000 | Opened: 2009
Everything’s bigger in Texas, or so they say. How do you fancy a 175-feet long jumbotron? Well come on down to Jerry World! Mind you, it comes at a price – a couple of punters have hit the screen during a game, and it’s debatable if they did it on purpose or not. I mean, you would – wouldn’t you?

If it weren’t for the massive screen, there’d be little of note inside the dome – it’s all fairly standard. Thankfully, AT & T has a fantastic design – especially when you consider it’s a domed stadium and I’m an open-air guy – and it really takes the “look like a football” idea to new heights. It looks like someone has taken a football and buried it in the ground to the half way mark. This lower profile reveals that the inside of the stadium is deeply recessed, giving it a great amphitheatre feel.

1 – Levi’s Stadium

Levi's Stadium

Team: San Francisco 49ers | Capacity: 68500 | Opened: 2014
Philosopher Barney Stinson (wait, what?) once said “New is always better.” The 49ers previous home, Candlestick Park, wasn’t exactly the bastion of great design, and was prone to the occasional power issue. Levi’s design is very striking, featuring a curved set of stands for 3/4 of the stadium, and a massive wall on the South West side. It sits further down the bay from the previous stadium, but the water is a stone’s throw away – although sadly the surrounding area needs work. However, the sheer striking nature of the stadium has issued a challenge to any team looking for a new home. The bar has been raised.

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Honourable Mention – US Bank Stadium

US Bank Stadium

Team: Minnesota Vikings | Capacity: 65000 | Opening: 2016

Sadly, there’s no actual guarantee that US Bank will be open in time for the 2016 season, so I couldn’t count it in my list by my own rules. If I could, it would absolutely occupy the number 1 spot. It’s an absolute monolith, a black shape dominating the Minneapolis skyline. Complementing the Vikings theme, one end of the stadium looks distinctly like the bow of a ship – similar to Belfast’s Titanic Quarter. Triangular swathes of glass cut through the black, breaking up the shape further into triangles. It’s a stunning piece of design, and Minneapolis can be proud of it.

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