With SoFi Opening, A Look At The Top 5 NFL Stadiums

SoFi Stadium is nearly complete. The stadium seats are installed and “The Oculus,” the ovular, double-sided Samsung 4K HDR video board, will soon be suspended from the translucent roof.  After a series of cancelations due to the COVID-19 pandemic including Taylor Swift and Guns n’ Roses, the first event on the SoFi calendar will be the Rams/ Saints preseason game. But don’t put it on your calendars quite yet. The game will occur sometime between August 13th and 17th.

Regardless of when that game is, it is still very unlikely that any fans will get to experience the new stadium in 2020. Sure, some sports have resumed, like the Bundesliga, Nascar, and the UFC, but none have done so in front of a crowd. In fact, not one of the major American sports leagues has a crowd participating in their plans to return. 

So with the reality of the new normal, it is apparent that it will be quite some time before we will truly know where SoFi will stack up among NFL Stadiums. But, there is no doubt that LA’s newest attraction will feature state of the art technology and the most up to date and fashionable amenities any modern NFL fan could ask for.

Many of the details of what exactly those amenities will be are not currently public knowledge. But according to Rams COO, Kevin Demoff,  “…consumers want entertainment on their terms. It needs to be better than what is being offered at home, and it needs to be personalized.”

All this “personalization” comes with a hefty price tag. An estimated $5 billion has already been spent and, on Tuesday, the Rams were approved for another $500 million from the NFL. Sometimes, spending a boatload of money on a stadium pans out. The Cowboys seamlessly moved into AT&T Field and it feels like more of a home than Texas Stadium ever did. But, unlike the Rams, the Cowboys have one of the biggest and most loyal fanbases in all of sports. In this case, creating an inviting and beautiful environment is the easy part. Making that environment home for a still-developing fan base is another ball game altogether. 

Here we take a look at the Top 5 NFL Stadiums that have mastered that daunting task. 

Levi’s Stadium – San Francisco 49ers

Built in 2014, Levi’s Stadium was heralded as the first Smart Stadium. It came equipped with all the tech bells and whistles you’d expect from a stadium in the heart of Silicon Valley. Levi’s was the first stadium with its own app and a very useful app at that. It will show you instant replays of the most recent play, tell you which bathroom has the shortest lines and you can order concessions right to your seat. Sure, these are gimmicks, but any true football fan would rather have their eyes glued to the action than standing in line. Plus the access to up-to-the-minute stats and replays really does keep the true fan entertained in between plays, especially those Fantasy Football fans.

Beyond the tech, the architecture made it possible to create the largest lower bowl seating in the league, which means more fans closer to the field. Lead architect, Tim Cahill, designed a four-story, hotel-like building for the press, coaching staff, and luxury boxes, rather than the traditional ring of suites that separate the upper and lower bowls. The architecture also included a 20,000 square foot museum, which is a must-see for any 49er faithful. 

Of course, it wouldn’t be a stadium in the bay area if there wasn’t a push toward sustainability. There is an 18000 square foot solar terrace that helps the stadium to achieve net-zero energy. Even the field turf is Bandera Bermuda grass, which requires 50% less water, and 85% of the water used is recycled. 

Levi’s stadium concessions are just like San Francisco, eclectic, snobby, and hella expensive. You can get everything from a Bud Light and a Nathan’s hot dog to a Napa cab with your wagyu beef steak and black truffle mac and cheese, and everything in between. Most importantly, there are over 1000 beer taps, amounting to 27 miles of tubing allowing the suds to flow as fast as they need. 

There is a focus on small bay area restaurants such as; Super Duper Burger, Salt and Straw Ice Cream, and The Chairman Bao Buns. In fact, 85% of the food suppliers are located within California which lends some freshness to a genre of food which is more known to sit under a heat lamp for hours before serving. 

The biggest criticism of the stadium is its corporate feeling and overall lack of atmosphere. The criticism isn’t unfounded. It was designed to feel spacious and efficient, not exactly words you associate with sports venues or encouraging eardrum perforating war cries. Also since moving into the stadium the team has had exactly one winning season, not something that inspires fans to flock in and make some noise. With the winning tradition seemingly back to stay for the foreseeable future, we will see if the fans can get that place rocking. 

US Bank Stadium – Minnesota Vikings

While the Vikings were waiting for their new stadium to be finished, they played at TCF Bank Stadium. It’s an outdoor stadium. In Minnesota. The last game the Vikings played there the temperature was -6 degrees. Even the toughest of lumberjacks would have to admit that football should be played indoors in Minnesota. One of the great things about US Bank Stadium is that while it is an indoor stadium, they avoid that weird “dome” feeling of old indoor stadiums. This is achieved because damn near the whole thing is transparent.

The most distinctive feature is its main gate and western wall, which is entirely glass panels. The panels can rotate to allow some of the outside to come in.  They might consider opening those in week one. Even its angular roof is made to account for Minnesota’s winter. It is designed to allow snow to more quickly melt and not pile up. Avoiding an incident like “The great Metrodome avalanche of 2010.” 

The food at the Bank isn’t terribly interesting. The closest thing you could get that could be considered international are tacos (have you ever heard a Minnesotan say “tacos.”) But, this is a football game, not the Catalina Wine Mixer. So, get some cheese curds and a brat and wash it down with a Miller Light.

If you are visiting, it is advised that you try some of the local favorites, Walleye Chowder or Tater Tot Hotdish. But if you play your cards right, the folks sitting next to you will probably invite you over for a walleye fry in their garage and it’s almost guaranteed that they will have some leftover hotdish in the freezer, too. 

The Bank is a state of the art stadium with all the creature comforts, but the biggest impact of the stadium is it has allowed the franchise to create their own culture and cultivate its loyal fan base. The Metrodome served well for decades, but the fans have really come alive in the new haunts. They have really embraced the Skol chant and the blowing of the Gjallarhorn and the stadium has quickly become one of the loudest in the league.

There is nothing like being in a stadium that is roiling with enthusiasm. Watching an opposing QB plug the earholes of his helmet, yell back to the sidelines, and call a timeout because he can’t hear the play call because the fans are just too loud is just about the one way the average fan can truly affect the game. The Vikings fans are doing that in US Bank Stadium. So much for “Minnesota Nice.”

Arrowhead Stadium – Kansas City Chiefs

The previous two stadiums are sort of a given, all new and fancy. Well, not Arrowhead. It’s been the home of the Chiefs since 1972, making it the third-oldest stadium in the NFL. What makes it so special? It’s big, it’s red, and it’s loud. 

Arrowhead is the fifth largest stadium in the league and it holds the Guinness Book of World Record for being the loudest stadium. Chiefs fans set the record at 142.2 decibels during their week 4 game in 2014.

In 1990, in a game against the Denver Broncos, Chiefs fans were warned by officials to “keep it down, or else.” The referees actually threatened to penalize the team if the fans kept being so loud. Which of course brings us to how red the stadium is. The seats are red, the fans wear red. They are the sea of red. Other fan bases have tried to call themselves that, but Arrowhead takes the cake. It really is a sight to behold. 

Not only is the sea of red aesthetically impactful, but it also translates to every facet of the stadium experience. There aren’t any fair-weather fans at Arrowhead. Everyone gets excited. The atmosphere is worth the price of admission.

Arrowhead has one of the best tailgating traditions in the league. While some stadiums try to limit it and some don’t even allow it, the Chiefs encourage it. Officially, the Chiefs allow tailgating in every parking lot. Gates open three and a half hours before the game, but they actually don’t “open” anything. Fans can show up as early as they want. Some “gaters” get set up six hours before the game.

While there are plenty of hot dogs grilling on hibachi grills, there are some professional tailgaters churning out spatchcocked chickens and bacon-wrapped shrimp. Not to mention that KC is one of the nation’s BBQ capitals. The best food on game day are the ribs, the pulled pork, and the brisket served up out in the parking lot.

Inside the stadium, there is even more BBQ to be found, but if you are looking for anything other than standard stadium fare, you’re out of luck. The good news is they updated the menus and the vendors just last year, so while it is pretty standard they have stepped it up. They’ve added some signature dishes like, Hot Chicken Mac and Cheese and Flank Tacos. They have also introduced a signature beer, a blonde ale called Kingdom.

Century Link – Seattle Seahawks

In 1984 the Seattle Seahawks retired the number 12, in honor of their fans. The so-called 12th man. While it is a genuinely honorable sentiment, it wasn’t until the Seahawks moved to CenturyLink Field that it became synonymous with the team and fan base and for good reason.

CenturyLink is regularly among the most raucous NFL environments, which has translated to a substantial home-field advantage. The Seahawks have won 109 of 155 games since moving to the Link. That’s a 70.3% win percentage. Compare that to a 45% winning percentage in away games over the same amount of time.

That raucous environment is by design. When planning the stadium, team owner, Paul Allen was closely involved. He wanted to recreate his childhood experience at Husky Stadium. He wanted an intimate open-air stadium, a far cry from the lifeless Kingdome. The main feature used to create the desired intimacy is the set up of the seating. Not only is the lower level pushed closer to the field, but the upper levels are also cantilevered over the lower level, creating a canyon of screaming fans. This creates more of an old theater effect rather than a traditional coliseum feel.  

Built in 2002, CenturyLink is often considered to be one of the first of a new style of NFL stadiums. They added unique elements rather than just ensuring maximum seating. They kept the north end open to maintain views of downtown Seattle and Mount Rainier and built a 13-story structure to complement the skyline and added the first vertically oriented scoreboard. CenturyLink also included widened concourses that encouraged fans to mill about rather than rushing back to their seats. While keeping it open air, they also added a roof that covers 70% of fans. 

Another unique feature of the Link is its location. It is in the heart of the action. It is within walking distance of the world-famous Pike Place fish market and other local attractions. Because of this, the stadium was built to be readily accessible by public transit. Parking is limited, so the train is the way to go.

Also, in terms of tailgating, it’s not allowed, but Seahawks fans found a way. A stone’s throw from the stadium lies Hawk Alley. Basically, Seahawks fans take over a few back streets and parking lots of warehouses and set up an Arabian Bazar of grills and folding chairs. If you ever have the chance to attend it is important to remember that public consumption of alcohol is illegal, so bring a discrete cup if you don’t want to get hassled. It may not be Arrowhead, but it is yet another way that Seattle makes the CenturyLink experience unique.

Much like San Francisco, Seattle is a foodie paradise and their stadium reflects that. Want some Dim Sum? You got it! How about something from the fish market up the street? Try the clam chowder or the fish and chips. Want a local beer? There are seven different local breweries with 37 stands scattered across the place. And given the stadium’s location, all your pre and post-game activities are not far off.

For a modern stadium, CenturyLink creates the most unforgettable and one of a kind stadium experience. 

Lambeau Field – Green Bay Packers

There is a lot to admire about the Green Bay Packers. Firstly, the team is owned by 360,760 shareholders rather than one megalomaniac. Second, Green Bay is by far the smallest market in all of American professional sports, yet it is one of the most popular teams in America. It’s ability to support and maintain those claims center around Lambeau Field. Those 360+ thousand people keep the Packers in little ol’ Green Bay through thick and thin. There will be no sneaking out of town like the Colts or moves because the tax-payers won’t agree to build a new stadium. Nope. The Packers belong to Green Bay and there they shall stay.

Like Arrowhead, Lambeau actively promotes tailgating and there are several different ways to go about it. One can attend the several sponsored tailgating events, or you can mingle with the cheeseheads themselves. There is only one unwritten rule that shouldn’t have to be mentioned, but there are exactly three acceptable beverages in the parking lot of Lambeau. Miller Lite, MGD, and Miller High Life. In terms of the sponsored events there are up to 10 different events which include; food, drinks, live music, meet and greets with Packer legends, ice carving, lumberjack competitions, and more. You can’t really go wrong, just remember to get there as early as you can, events kick off four hours before game time.

The Packers have played at Lambeau for a long time. 62 seasons to be exact, making it the NFL stadium with the longest home-field tenure. Soldier Stadium is older but wasn’t the home of the Bears until 1971.

The original cost was $960,000 (paid off in 1978) and its seating capacity was 32,500. Over the years, Lambeau has expanded and renovated and tacked on luxury boxes, a modern scoreboard, and a gorgeous atrium, but the main bowl is straight out of a bygone era. With its bench seating and natural grass turf, Lambeau connects fans of all ages to the legacy of American football. In essence, with fewer amenities and creature comforts, Lambeau focuses the fan on the two things that are great about being a sports fan, the game itself and the communal nature of rooting for the home team.

It is one thing to cheer on your team from the comfort of your own living room, but being crammed, cheek to jowl, into a row with a group of strangers in the cold, sitting on an aluminum bench is wholly transcendent. And for three hours on a Sunday afternoon, win or lose, you and 80,000 people are all in it together. Surely, it is a romantic and lofty notion of a football stadium, but as fewer and fewer of these vestiges remain standing, the importance of Lambeau Field becomes even greater. It stands in humble contrast to the multibillion-dollar behemoth that is the modern NFL. While these new stadiums are awe-inspiring in their own right, no story of a Goliath is complete without a David.

What do you think? What is the greatest stadium in the NFL?

The Oculus At SoFi Stadium. Photo Credit: @SofiStadium

The Oculus At SoFi Stadium. Photo Credit: @SofiStadium

Ryan Anderson

Author Ryan Anderson

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