A recent European Champions Cup between Munster and French rugby union club Racing 92 drew a lot of media attention, and not just because it was a crucial game in deciding who would progress to the quarter finals of the tournament. Much of the pre-match focus was also on the stadium in which the game took place, a newly opened multi-use domed stadium called the U Arena. Ronan O’ Gara, the former Munster player and now former Racing 92 coach, gave this description of the new stadium when writing in the Irish Examiner on the Friday before the Munster V Racing 92 match.
“It’s hard for anyone who hasn’t experienced the inside of Racing’s new stadium to make a accurate judgment but believe me, they will be blown away when they walk in there Sunday.
It’s not a retractable roof, so the sense of class and warmth will never be weather-dependent. It’s vast, and the finishings aren’t cheap, tacky, or cold.
There is a vibe of quality off it and you are left to think to yourself: ‘And they play rugby in here?"
As I was watching the game, I wondered about the increased prevalence of covered stadiums. I could think of a few off the top of my head including the Millennium stadium in Wales and a number of stadiums in the United States that stage American football games. According to Wikipedia, there are 67 covered stadiums (ones with a domed or retractable roof) in the world which cater for field sports (the Wiki page also includes covered stadiums which cater for tennis and other smaller scale sports but I’m focussing more on field sports here).
Not surprisingly, the United States dominates the market with 7 of the top 10 covered stadiums by capacity located in that country. More generally, of the top 50 covered stadiums by capacity, 20 are located in North America (United States 17, Canada 3), 14 are located in Europe (Denmark 1, France 2, Germany 3, Kazakhstan 1, Netherlands 1, Poland 1, Romania 1, Russia 1, Sweden 2, Wales 1), 13 are located in Asia (Japan 10, China 2, Singapore 1), 2 in Australia and New Zealand (Australia 1, New Zealand 1) and 1 in South America (Brazil).
In terms of field sports, the three which primarily use covered stadiums are American/Canadian football, baseball and football, with American/Canadian football mainly taking place in the much larger covered stadiums. 5 of the top 10 covered stadiums are currently being used by NFL teams. What is also interesting is when these stadiums were built. Of the top 50 covered stadiums by capacity, 33 were opened since 2000, 15 since 2010 and 11 in the last 5 years. Of those 11 stadiums built in the last five years, 6 are primarily used for football, 2 for the NFL, 1 for rugby, 1 for baseball and 1 a multipurpose venue. 3 have been opened in the United States, 6 have been opened in Europe, 1 in Asia (Singapore) and 1 in South America (Brazil).
There are also a number of new stadiums, currently under construction, which will have either a domed roof or a retractable roof. These include the Lusail Iconic Stadium which is being built in Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park in the United States which will serve as the home to the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers, the ANZ Stadium in Sydney, Australia and the Las Vegas Stadium in Las Vegas, United States which is been built for the Raiders NFL franchise.
So are covered stadiums the way of the future? Not all proposed new stadiums will be covered (as can be verified in this list of future stadiums, also from Wikipedia) but the data above does suggest a gradual move towards modern covered stadiums. The question that arises is why is there a move towards modern covered stadiums. The fan experience is obviously an important consideration. Eliminating the uncertainty that the weather provides should have a positive effect on attendance as well as the spectacle that the game provides (although there is a counter argument that uncertainty is a good thing from a fans perspective). Possibly a more important reason however is having a venue which can cater for a number of different events and not just sports. Going back to the U Arena, it can cater for concerts and other indoor sports using moveable seating and stands. Ensuring an additional revenue stream from these types of events is thus an important consideration. In fact, one can see that Europe (in particular) is following the lead of the United States in building large multipurpose event centres which are active all year round and not just for the sports season.