Sports loyalties are not unlike religions. Like all major religions, sports require places of worship. In practice, these places should be inspiring, awesome, and above all, fun. However, for various reasons you’ll read about below, some venues just miss the mark altogether. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
9. Qualcomm Stadium – San Diego
I’m going to assume that the designers of Qualcomm/Jack Murphy Stadium thought to themselves during the design process, “The weather in San Diego will be the real star of the show. Let’s do the bare minimum with regards to stadium design.”
It’s architectural style is often referred to as “cookie-cutter,” which is never a good sign. As the above picture of Qualcomm demonstrates, what they lack in interesting design, they more than make up for in spiral-ly ramps. I just don’t understand why so many older stadiums adopted this feature. The spiral ramp completely kills any architectural resonance on the outside of the stadium. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t tell the difference between this stadium and Miami’s in a million years, all cause of those stupid ramps.
Once again, the limitations of a dual-use stadium become apparent at “The Q,” where both football and former baseball fans were kept very far away from the action on the field. It’s the worst of both worlds.
Fortunately, the NFL has cracked the whip and said that if San Diego, a frequent Super Bowl host city, wants to host the game again, they will have to pony up for a new stadium. Even extensive renovations wouldn’t cut it. Here’s to hoping they pony up for a new home.
8. Candlestick Park – San Francisco
The only thing worse than a dual-use stadium is a dual-use stadium that is only being used for one thing. Such is the case with Candlestick Park, which was most notably the home of the San Francisco Giants until they got their own park. Now it’s the home for the lowly 49ers.
The stadium is surrounded by picturesque northern California scenery. You’d never know that if you’re sitting in the stadium though, as there are no views to speak of due to the stadium’s design. Nice.
It is prone to 45mph wind gusts, which are uncomfortable for fans and downright confusing for both football and baseball players. Leading a receiver or gauging a pop fly becomes a baffling ordeal during windy days.
Add to the misery the fact that the seats here are still orange in keeping with their former occupants, the Giants, and you’ve got a place that is creepily reminiscent of a bygone era (not in a good way). The sun has faded the seats so much that they now barely resemble any color in the spectrum, which gives the stadium a very dilapidated appearance.
7. Izod Center – New Jersey
An epically bad arena for an epically bad team, the Izod Center is neck-and-neck with the Bradley Center for “Worst NBA Arena.” Its exterior makes it look more like a really, really large department store than a sports venue. It’s been described as “cold and dull” which appear to be statements of fact rather than of opinion. There is virtually no character inside or outside of this blocky building.
There is only one concourse for the entire arena, so naturally it gets completely packed before, after, and during halftime of every NBA game played there. In addition to the crowded circulation spaces, the ice for hockey games is generally regarded as the worst in the NHL.
The place was an overall dump.
6. Edward Jones Dome – St. Louis
NFL stadiums should not be downtown. They get lost among the buildings, create too much congestion, and require (shudder) parking structures. What’s wrong with parking structures? Two things. They take about seven months to get out of after a game, but more importantly, you can’t tailgate in them. And taking the tailgating out of football is like taking the oxygen out of my air.
In case you couldn’t infer, Edward Jones Dome is in downtown St. Louis. To its credit, it was built with the relocation of the Rams in mind in 1995, so the site lines are fine and there aren’t any weird trash bag-like materials hiding unsightly equipment. But that’s as much credit as this place deserves.
In last season’s Sports Illustrated assessment of all 32 NFL stadiums, Edward Jones Dome came in 32nd. I feel it should somehow be ranked lower than that. Like 45th at best. What’s amazing is how quickly this stadium became hated. Built only 15 years ago, this is probably a testament to how poor the planning of this stadium was.
This dome demonstrates that the only thing worse than not trying to make a dome look good is TRYING to make a dome look good. Seeing a monstrous dome clad in red brick makes the whole design look schizophrenic by creating a striking difference between the street-level view of the dome and the industrial-looking aerial view.
Perhaps the worst thing about this dome is simply the fact that there is NOTHING notable in this stadium. It’s not even awful in an interesting way. It’s just awful, which seems to be a recurring theme in domed stadiums. I did not take into account the crappy teams playing inside these listed venues, but it’s pretty damn difficult to ignore the suckitude of the St. Louis Rams.
5. Arthur Ashe Stadium – Flushing Meadows, NY
Because it’s only relevant for one two-week span per year, not much attention is paid to the premiere court at the US Open. And that is probably for the best.
The stadium was constructed in 1997 with the stereotypically American purpose of being the largest tennis venue in the world. As is proven so often in sports architecture, “bigger” almost never translates to “better.” The rows are so long that it makes getting in and out of your seat a mind-blowing hassle, while also creating a seemingly endless line of people sliding by to block the spectators’ views.
The construction of such a large venue also puts those sitting in the ominously-monikered “Row Z” 120 feet (10 stories!) above the court. That’s a nuisance at a football or basketball game. Imagine having to follow a tiny ball back and forth from that height. Not fun.
In another case of their eyes being bigger than their stomach, the developers of the stadium created such a high capacity (21,000) that even the Men’s Final at the US Open doesn’t sell out. Which goes back to my assertion that nothing hurts the ability to enjoy a stadium like empty seats.
Which brings me to my next fault with the US Open: their seating policy. Tennis is a sport that hinges upon silence and focus from its fans. Both those aspects go out the window in Flushing Meadows, as spectators don’t have to wait for stoppages in play to take their seats, so both noise and distractions run pretty high during even less-crowded events.
4. Bradley Center – Milwaukee
No one will ever call Wisconsin a basketball state, but that’s still no excuse for the atrocity that is the Bradley Center in downtown Milwaukee. The oldest arena in NBA screams “whatever the opposite of ‘showtime’ is.” The outside of the Bradley Center is innocuous enough, but the inside is truly appalling.
Concrete and steel abound in both the concourses and seating areas. There seems to be zero interest in creating any sort of feel in the arena. Its architecture is utilitarian in the worst sense. I’m not saying it has to look like a museum, but NBA arenas aren’t supposed to be reminiscent of college football stadiums once you’re inside. All I’m asking for is something in the way of character, here.
The most curious aspect of the Bradley Center’s design is that it doesn’t seem to be sunken in to the ground at all. You enter most arenas at a level that’s about two or three sections up from the court. But not in Milwaukee, you don’t. As best one could tell, the court is on street level, which means that immediately after entering, you have to hike UP to your seats, which a) sucks because walking up stairs is hard and b) sucks because you don’t seem to get that inspirational moment where you walk off the concourse and look out over the arena.
The county has flat-out rejected any possibility of a new arena, and has proven to be pretty stingy when it comes to any sort of large-scale renovation, so you can expect to see the home of the Milwaukee Bucks on this list for years to come.
3. Fenway Park – Boston
Baseball, with its slow pace and frequent games, depends on its situation and surroundings more than any other sport. When it’s done well, a great ballpark can overshadow a mediocre home team to create a great experience (Camden Yards). When it’s done poorly, a crappy stadium can cast a shadow over even the best teams.
Fenway Park is such a stadium. Yes, it’s got that old-world charm that suits the sport well, as baseball relies so heavily on nostalgia. But there comes a point where nostalgia, a unique setting, and compelling team can’t outweigh the fact that the place just isn’t comfortable.
Fenway opened 98 years ago. Judging by its seating, I’m led to believe two things: the height of the average Bostonian was about 3-foot-8 and they had asses of steel. Further, there exists at Fenway a disproportionate number of obstructed view seats. I don’t know if these seats have always had obstructed views or renovations made them that way, and I don’t really care. There’s no excuse for not having a clear view of the field from every seat in the house. If that’s not the case, then tear down the stadium and start again. It’s been a century now. Come on.
Also, Fenway is the most expensive ballpark to attend in America, which isn’t really a consideration on this list, but the fact that you can’t park a car near Fenway for less than $30 demonstrates that a new facility is probably in order to make coming and going a little easier for fans.
The final gripe about Fenway lies in the ability of fans to circulate through the park. Everything is narrow: aisles, concourses, even the gates. If these things could be renovated, there might be a reason to hang on to the past, but as it stands, Fenway has to go.
2. Tropicana Field – St. Petersburg
Here’s a sure-fire way to get your stadium on this list – have it be a dome in the year 2010. Nothing looks more dated and awful than the “futuristic” domes from the 70’s and 80’s. Most of these guys have gone by the wayside since the era of single-use venues was ushered in.
When one thinks of a “day at the ballpark,” images of sunshine and summer breezes come to mind. Being the only non-retractable dome in all of the MLB, Tropicana field is the only place where you are guaranteed not to experience either of those things. Here’s a decent rule of thumb – if your city is so prone to hot, humid weather and frequent summer thunderstorms, it doesn’t deserve a baseball team.
Beyond the general shittiness of simply being a dome, Tropicana Field falls short in other areas as well, which leads me to the second-fastest way to get your team’s stadium on this list. Have it be woefully empty at all times. Nothing sucks the life out of the sporting experience like a 25% full venue. Not only does it dull the excitement of the event, but empty seats have a way of magnifying the worst flaws of a venue. Stadiums are designed with the assumption that they will be filled. Nobody designs a stadium that is supposed to look good empty.
Couple the barren environment with a horrendous sound system that regularly shrieks with feedback and we’ve got our number two entry on the list.
1. HHH Metrodome – Minneapolis
The clear front-runner in the horrible stadium competition, the Metrodome suffers from the setbacks inherent in a multi-use design. Which was home to both the Twins and still the home of the Vikings, this eyesore of a dome has been criticized for its gratuitous use of plastic (the chairs and rails are all plastic, giving the joint a decidedly dated feel), its poor sight lines, and, most of all, for its complete lack character.
One fan likened attending an event in the Metrodome to “..watching a game in a broken refrigerator. Covered in urine.” The stadium’s lack of aesthetics doesn’t even allow it to succeed on a functional level, as the sight lines for Twins games suffer horribly due to its football-focused layout. There’s a fundamental problem with dual-use stadiums. Football fields are rectangular. Baseball diamonds are, well, diamond-shaped. Short of every single section of the seats being put on rollers, there’s no way to allow baseball fans to watch a game without getting some serious neck cramps.
Then there’s the hefty bag in the outfield. Presumably used to mask facilities utilized in football, but not baseball, it’s probably the laziest architectural device I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It’s the equivalent of putting a garbage bag over the broken window of your car.
If that’s not enough, the center of the dome is a freakin’ swastika.
If the powers that be couldn’t manage to avoid putting the most notorious symbol of hate in the middle of their dome, they probably aren’t going to set any records when it comes to a pleasurable sporting experience.
Thank God the Twins built Target Field.