Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

When the Stadium Becomes a Major Part of the Event

Posted on March 28, 2018 by Vineet Maheshwari

OldTraffordIt’s true that most Americans don’t know where Old Trafford is but if you mention that name to billions of soccer fans, they not only know where the stadium is (Manchester, England) but what it looks like!

Some stadiums are simply part of the story, as much as the teams that play there.  We were moved to research famous stadiums because so many of the headlines announcing that Usain Bolt, the great Olympic sprinter, would play in a charity soccer game for the benefit of Unicef mentioned that the game would be played at Old Trafford.


The primary criterion for inclusion on our list is fame rather than architectural uniqueness or seating capacity.  We subjectively decided to exclude indoor stadiums because they simply aren’t famous now that the Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, and Chicago Blackhawks play in newer stadiums.  It would be as if we were writing about the most famous Las Vegas casinos and decided to include an online casino! (Full disclosure: we prefer playing at an online casino but Vegas is more famous).

Soccer Stadiums

There are no stadiums in the US that were built exclusively for soccer.  In the rest of the world, the most famous stadiums are soccer stadiums first and foremost.

  • Old Trafford has become famous because of the long-term success of Manchester United.
  • Wembley Stadium is famous primarily for its name as the present Wembley is quite new, having replaced the old antiquated but big-hearted original Wembley.  Today it is the home of the British National team.
  • River Plate Stadium is rarely called by its formal name.  It is 80 years old and is the iconic home of River Plate, one of the two premier soccer teams in soccer-mad Argentina.
  • Not to be outdone by their arch-rivals to the south, Brazil also has its world-renowned stadium the Maracanã.
  • Azteca, in Mexico City, is the largest stadium in the world that is used exclusively for soccer.  At over 7000 feet above sea level and beset by the equally famous Mexico City pollution, it presents a massive challenge to all teams that come from much lower elevation to play there.
  • San Siro is home to the two rival soccer teams from Milan, known as Inter and Milan.  Since these two teams, along with Juventus from Turin, are perennially the top teams in Italy, San Siro has seen many classic soccer matches in both the local Italian top league and also in the European Cup.
  • Camp Nou in Barcelona seats almost 100,000 rabid “Barca” fans.  It was long considered an also-ran behind the Barnabeu in Madrid since Real Madrid was usually the top team in Spain.  Camp Nou is now even better known because “Barca” is probably the most famous soccer club in the world.
  • St. James Park in Newcastle is usually called The Cathedral on the Hill because it sits in the center of Newcastle and offers fans a great view of the city and countryside below.  This stadium was built in 1880 and is famous despite featuring a team that doesn’t challenge for a championship in most years.

Baseball Stadiums

The trend in the United States in the 1960’s and 70’s was to build stadiums that could be used for both baseball and football.  This resulted in stadiums that were excellent for football but far from satisfactory for baseball.

Baseball stadiums have long been called ballparks, a throwback to the rural origins of many baseball players of the first fifty years of professional baseball.  Fortunately, two great ballparks that are both over 100 years old have not been torn down and replaced by cold, impersonal stadiums.

In addition to Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, many newer stadiums for baseball have been built recently that give the sense of a ballfield rather than a cold stadium.

Wrigley Field

This is probably the most iconic baseball stadium in America even though the Cubs were perennial losers until they won the World Series in 2016.  One reason, Wrigley, as it is known far and wide, is so well known is because the other team in Chicago plays in one of the coldest, dreariest new stadiums built anywhere in the world in the last three decades.  The other stadium had to be altered to remove seats because no one wanted to sit so far away from the field.

Wrigley field sits in the center of a Chicago neighborhood.  Many people arrive at the park via public train service called the “El” because it is elevated above street level for most of its routes.

The ballpark has a very small capacity which could be enlarged but to do so would destroy the beauty of the park.  In the 1960’s the owner of the team actually reduced seating capacity by putting in wider seats in recognition of the American trend to wider bottoms.

But what clearly sets Wrigley apart is the fact that they didn’t have ballpark lights until 1988 – all the games were played during the day until then!  Something that is unimaginable today with the commercialization of major sports.

Fenway Park

This stadium is also located in a city neighborhood, in Boston.  Until a miraculous win in 2004 against the hated Yankees from New York, the Boston team was also known for futility and coming close to a championship only to have it snatched away.

Fenway features a massive wall in left field called the Green Monster which takes long hits and turns them into short hits and produces home runs out of short high fly balls.

Baseball Stadiums Revisited

The trend in all new baseball stadiums is to have seats very close to the action ion the field.  This is one of the big attractions of Wrigley and Fenway and which the dual-use stadiums mentioned above lost.  They had a lot of space between the fans and the action.  Thankfully, all newer baseball stadiums recognize the importance of fans being close to the field.

For lots more info on this subject, we highly recommend a new book on the market: The Arena: Inside the Tailgating, Ticket-Scalping, Mascot-Racing, Dubiously Funded, and Possibly Haunted Monuments of American Sport by Rafi Kohan.  Fascinating!

 Vineet Maheshwari is a passionate blogger and relationship oriented digital marketing consultant with over 10 years of experience in SEO, PPC management, web analytics, domain investing, affiliate marketing and digital strategy. He has helped high tech brands connect with customers in an engaging manner, thereby ensuring that high quality leads are generated over time.

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