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Stadiums are enclosed outdoor arenas with large seating capacities used for sports and other entertainments. The term comes from the Greek stade, the length of the athletic field at ancient Greek sports sites, which was approximately 202 yards. The first enclosed outdoor sports complexes in North America were racetracks, dating back to the 1730s. In 1858, spectators were charged admission for the first time to see a baseball game, an all-star match between Brooklyn and New York at Long Island's Fashion Race Course. Then in 1862, William Cammeyer built the first enclosed baseball field, the 1,500-seat Union Grounds, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. He rented the $1,200 site for free to prominent teams, and charged spectators 10 cents. Five years later, ticket prices were increased to 25 cents to improve facilities, compensate players and promoters, and discourage the presence of rowdy lower-class fans.

Baseball Parks

Late nineteenth-century ballparks were privately constructed for about $30,000, and they seated about 10,000 spectators. They were located at the outskirts of town in middle-class neighborhoods, near inexpensive mass transit (horse-drawn street cars or electric trolleys). These wooden structures were dangerous; there were twenty-five fires at ballparks in the 1890s. Teams frequently moved their locations if they found better transportation elsewhere, especially if the surrounding neighborhoods were on the decline or the fields were dilapidated. Major league tickets cost as little as 25 cents in the bleachers and 50 cents in the roofed grandstand where spectators were shielded from the elements.

The modern era of fully fireproof major league ballparks began in 1909 with the construction of Pittsburgh's million-dollar 25,000-seat Forbes Field and Philadelphia's $450,000, 23,000-seat Shibe Park for the Philadelphia Athletics. By 1915, only the Philadelphia Phillies were not playing in a fully fireproof field. The new period began because baseball's enormous popularity encouraged owners to build larger facilities, taking advantage of the available technology employing structural steel and reinforced concrete, cheaper material and labor costs, and new building codes. Furthermore, competition from rival entertainments encouraged owners to provide customers with comfortable and beautiful classically designed facilities. These edifices were known as "fields," "grounds," and "parks," terms that reflected the rustic atmosphere baseball tried to promote with green fields and green-painted outfield walls.

In 1923, major league baseball took a big jump forward with the construction of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Yankee Stadium was the first ballpark to be known as a stadium, a term first used in the United States for the 12,000-seat athletic field at the 1901 Buffalo Pan American Exhibition. The term represented a more urbane, sophisticated technology, and modern perspective that boldly proclaimed the awesome character of the triple-deck park (seating 63,000) as well as its massive playing size (460 feet to center field).

College Stadiums

Most large outdoor facilities were actually built for college football. In the late nineteenth century, elite college teams often played their big Thanksgiving Day games in New York at a major league site like Manhattan Field. Then in 1903, Harvard's 30,000-seat Soldier Field (also referred to as Harvard Stadium) was built on the campus as a war memorial, designed in a horseshoe shape. In 1914, the 70,000-seat Yale Bowl was built, employing an elliptical shape, with a U-shaped section at both ends. In the 1920s, state universities built large football fields where spectators could root for their state's team and take pride in their state's progressive character. By 1930, seven college fields had over 70,000 seats, including the University of Michigan's, built in 1927 with a seating capacity of 79,000. By 1956, the capacity had been increased to 101,000; it has since grown to 107,501.

Public Stadiums

These trends encouraged municipalities to construct public sports stadiums to promote amateur athletics and publicize their cities. In 1914, San Diego built a $150,000, 30,000-seat concrete, oval facility, paid for by a bond issue funded by revenues from taxes and admission fees. Next were Pasadena's $325,000, 52,000-seat Rose Bowl, built in 1922 as a joint project with the Tournament of Roses Association; the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1923; Chicago's Soldier Field and Baltimore's $500,000, 80,000-seat Memorial Stadium in 1924; and Philadelphia's Municipal Stadium in 1926. The Coliseum was built by a powerful political elite comprised of white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant bankers, realtors, and publishers operating behind the scenes to promote the reputation and wealth of Los Angeles by securing the 1932 Olympic Games. The final cost when fully completed in 1931 with 101,574 seats was $1.9 million. The city and county that gained control of the facility after the Olympics shared the cost.

Soldier Field was an even grander project, costing $8.5 million. It was located at the approximate site where Daniel Burnham's Chicago Plan of 1909 had proposed such a facility. The field was used for many great events, such as the 1926 International Eucharistic Congress, which attracted over 200,000; the Army–Navy football game, which drew 100,000; and the 1927 Dempsey–Tunney "long-count" heavyweight boxing championship rematch, which was attended by 104,000 who paid a record gate of $2.6 million. The largest sporting crowd was 115,000 for the 1937 Austin-Leo high school football championship game. The home of the Chicago Bears since 1971, the field was rebuilt in 2003 at a cost of nearly $600 million.

The municipally publicly financed stadiums of the 1920s provided models for Cleveland, Miami, Dallas, New Orleans, and El Paso, which built public stadiums during the depression, all but Cleveland to facilitate postseason football bowl games to promote tourism. Cleveland's Municipal Stadium was a multipurpose $2.5-million structure that opened in 1931. Its main tenant was the Cleveland Indians, whose first game there on 31 July 1932 against the Philadelphia Athletics was seen by 80,184, the largest crowd that had ever attended a major league game. However, the Depression kept the total attendance down to 387,936. The Indians used Municipal Stadium throughout the 1933 season, the first full use of a city-owned field by a major league team, but only on Sundays and holidays in 1934. Twelve years later Bill Veeck bought the Indians, improved the quality of the team, and moved them back to the stadium, nearly tripling attendance from 1945 to 1947. In 1948, the Indians won the World Series, and set a major league attendance record of 2.6 million.

Municipal Sponsorship of Major League and Football Stadiums

In the 1950s, boosters in cities without professional sports teams made special efforts to attract major league franchises that included subsidizing ball fields. They believed sports teams would promote economic development and community pride. In 1953, the Boston Braves, the "second" team in that city (that is, the second most popular team in a city with two teams), moved to Milwaukee, a city that had been without major league baseball for fifty-two years, lured by a publicly financed ballpark. This move was the first relocation of a major league team since 1903. Political leaders in Milwaukee made available County Stadium, which originally had been built for a minor league club, and expanded it to meet the needs of a major league team. In 1954, the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore as the Orioles, and played in the recently completed Memorial Stadium, built to attract a major league team. The Philadelphia Athletics moved in 1955 to Kansas City (and later to Oakland), playing at Municipal Stadium, a minor league park refurbished by the city.

Then in 1958, the Dodgers and Giants brought major league ball to the West Coast. Walter O'Malley's highly profitable Brooklyn Dodgers were playing in the 35,000-seat Ebbets Field, whose neighborhood was becoming unsafe and less accessible to automobile commuters. When the city did not help him secure a site in downtown Brooklyn, he moved to Los Angeles, where the politicians and businessmen wanted major league baseball to certify their city's first-class status. O'Malley built Dodger Stadium with his own funds in 1962 at municipally owned Chavez Ravine, the only large vacant sector near downtown. It was the last privately built baseball park for over fifty years.

Between 1964 and 1970, several cities built blandly designed multisport stadiums in downtown areas near interstate traffic interchanges, including Atlanta (Fulton County Stadium), St. Louis (Busch Stadium), Philadelphia (Veteran's Stadium), Pittsburgh (Three Rivers Stadium), and Cincinnati (Riverfront Stadium). Atlanta sought to secure a major league team, while the others wanted to keep their teams from leaving declining cities. They all sought to promote urban development, especially in their respective central business districts. Previous parks were not built downtown because of exorbitant property costs and accessibility problems, but municipal subsidization of land purchases (often obtained through eminent domain) and the decline of mass transit and its replacement by automobiles changed that scenario. Cities did improve their public image, but they were saddled with large financial losses, underused facilities, and few if any long-term improvements.

New parks were also constructed in suburbia. Between 1965 and 1970, suburban towns like Bloomington, Minnesota, and Arlington, Texas, built one-fifth of the new baseball and football stadiums for prestige and an enhanced tax base, but operating expenses ate up any financial benefits.

The cost of the ballparks rose from $19 million for Fulton County Stadium, to $45 million for Riverfront and $50 million for Three Rivers and Veterans Stadiums. In 1971, New York City took over Yankee Stadium and refurbished the structure at a cost of $106 million. At that time, just 30.4 percent of baseball stadiums and 22.6 percent of football stadiums were privately owned. By 1988, only 20.8 percent of baseball fields and 7.1 percent of football fields were privately owned.

Economists have demonstrated that municipal subsidization of ballparks, which included constructing the fields, improving roads, and underpricing rents and other fees, have been economic mistakes. The cities lost money on the deal, and the ballparks failed to promote urban development. Yet cities have continued to subsidize sports teams. Since 1989, half of the American cities with major league teams have built publicly financed stadiums. The only exceptions were the modest $7.21 million Foxboro Stadium, which opened in a Boston suburb in 1971, and Joe Robbie's $115 million 75,000-seat Dolphins Stadium in Miami (now Pro Players' Stadium), built in 1987.

Contemporary Stadiums

The model for current ballparks is Baltimore's $110 million Oriole Park at Camden Yards, an intimate park designed in the style of early twentieth-century fields that blend in well with downtown. It has been a great success with local fans and tourists, averaging 45,034 in its first five years, a 50 percent increase over the old park. Its success encouraged other cities to build retro ballparks, like Cleveland's Jacobs Field in Cleveland and Comerica Park in Detroit.

Another trend is the construction of domed stadiums, starting in 1965 with the $41-million weatherproof Houston Astrodome, which had a constant temperature of 74 degrees F and introduced the use of artificial turf. Thirteen domed grounds were subsequently built in the United States for major sports teams, including a few that can open their roofs in twenty minutes. They are used year-round for conventions, concerts, religious assemblies, and other activities.

The newest stadiums house football or baseball, but not both. They are financed by a combination of municipal and private funding with costs often in excess of $300 million. The exception was San Francisco's $255-million Pacific Bell, the first privately funded ballpark since 1962, paid for by a private bond issue and $90 million from the sale of the stadium's name, luxury suites, personal seat licenses (PSL) for 15,000 seats, and advertising and concession rights. The New England Patriots' $425-million Gillette Stadium, built in 2002, has about 68,000 seats, mostly on the sidelines, all angled toward the fifty-yard line, plus 80 luxury suites and 6,000 club seats, and two massive video/scoreboards. Luxury boxes can cost as much as $300,000. They provide an environment for business entertaining with theater style, climate-controlled comfort, and such amenities as wet bar, refrigerator, TV monitors, and private rest rooms. These new edifices, and many older ones, have been renamed for the international conglomerates that pay millions for the rights, such as Qualcomm (San Diego), Alltel (Jacksonville), and Federal Express (Washington). Ticket prices are expensive for these facilities, limiting attendance to mainly middle-class fans. An average National Football League ticket in 1999 was $42, while in 2002 the average baseball ticket cost $18, though the top was nearly $40 for Boston. By comparison, in 1973, a Chicago fan could buy a bleacher seat for $1 or a box seat for $4.

See also: Baseball Crowds; Football; Football, Collegiate; Olympics; Soccer


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Steven A. Riess

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