We gather in the thousands, the tens of thousands and sometimes even the hundreds of thousands to support our favorite teams. With international flavor, size and historical significance to offer, when we want to root in person, we have some impressive options.
1. Allianz Arena – Munich, Germany
Each of the 2,760 inflated ETFE foil panels can illuminate separately on the exterior of the 71,000-seat Allianz Arena in Munich. Host to soccer teams Bayern Munich, TSV 1860 Munchen and the German national squad, the $466 million bowl stadium attracts the most interest for its color-shifting façade. The panels can be lit in red, blue or white to match the colors of the team inside. This Herzog & de Meuron design opened in 2005 and has lit up Munich ever since.
2. San Siro – Milan, Italy
What started in 1925 took on a completely unique shape in the 1990s. San Siro in Milan was first built in 1925 to house 35,000 fans. A second tier was added a decade later, but the most major change came in the 1990s when San Siro was transformed into an all-seating venue. To get to a capacity of over 80,000, a third tier was added, which required the addition of 11 concrete towers on the exterior of the stadium. Four of these towers were placed in each corner to serve as the foundation of a new red-girder roof, giving San Siro a visual aesthetic unlike any other stadium in the world.
3. Michigan Stadium – Ann Arbor, Michigan
When the University of Michigan opened its new football stadium in 1927, it was a monstrosity for the time with a capacity of 72,000. About 90 years later it remains the largest football stadium in the country, with the Big House now holding over 107,600 fans. Designed after the Yale Bowl, the original structure used 440 tons of reinforcing steel and 31,000 square feet of wire mesh. Three quarters of the structure is below ground level to compensate for the fact that the building was constructed on an underground spring (which engulfed a crane that is buried under the building).
4. Camp Nou – Barcelona, Spain
For Europe’s largest stadium—FC Barcelona’s home pitch has a capacity of 99,354—some of the more interesting features are hidden within the structure. Opened in 1957, the venue was nicknamed Camp Nou (“new ground”), a name that eventually became the official moniker for a venue that covers 13.5 acres and rises 157 feet with its concrete and iron construction. Along with the famed red and blue colors of the interior, the stadium includes a museum, television studios, and even a chapel off the tunnel that leads players to the playing surface.
5. Bird’s Nest – Beijing, China
What makes Beijing’s 2008 Olympic Stadium so well known isn’t the 80,000-seat concrete bowl on the inside, but a separate structure that surrounds the concrete and gives more than just character to the venue. That exterior steel defines the venue. Under the design of Herzog & de Meuron with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, the National Stadium features 110,000 tons of curved steel mimicking Chinese ceramics for a nest-like feel. Couple the building’s façade with colorful light displays within the 50 feet of separation from the bowl, and distinct doesn’t justly describe the visuals.
6. Olympic Stadium – London, England
Never before has an Olympic stadium proven so versatile as what Populous designed for London in 2012. The lightest stadium of its size in the world—only 10,000 tons of steel, 50 percent recycled materials, and plenty of fabric for a lightweight roof—the 80,000-seat venue was designed as a Lego-like temporary venue with plans to scale it back after the games. Starting in 2016, the venue will be the home of soccer club West Ham United with retractable seating for 54,000. The versatility designed into London’s Olympic Stadium stands as a meaningful example of Olympic infrastructure done right.
7. Providence Park – Portland, Oregon
Ninety years of Portland history merges with its modern lifestyle—food trucks, anyone?—in one of the best melding of new and old found in stadiums. The 1926-built stadium underwent a complete remake in order to host MLS soccer in the Pacific Northwest. But the remake didn’t erase the old, leaving portions of 1926 in the 20,800-seat venue, including 90-year-old wooden benches in the supporters’ section and portions of the original structure that once held an Elvis concert and the NFL’s first-ever overtime game. But the old concrete concourse merges with a new east side of iron and wood, while club spaces were added as well as an area for a revolving mix of Portland food trucks.
8. AT&T Stadium – Arlington, Texas
You can’t really talk about Texas without talking about size. And the Dallas Cowboys want it this way. The world’s largest column-free room helps give a little extra punch to this 80,000-seat venue that covers 3 million square feet and has the world’s largest operable glass doors—180-feet-wide by 120-feet-high. Opened in 2009, the retractable roof 292 feet above the field uses two arches to give AT&T Stadium the world’s longest single-span roof structure at 660,800 square feet.
9. Forsyth Barr – Dunedin, New Zealand
Forsyth Barr does something that no other stadium in the world does: grows grass in an indoor venue. The 30,000-seat stadium in New Zealand offers a completely transparent ETFE roof, allowing spectators a climate-controlled environment at all times, but still with a natural grass field for events. The five-acre roof stands 12 stories tall and is supported by five arches, each with a 344-foot span. Beyond the natural grass, Forsyth Barr, mainly home to rugby in New Zealand, exhibits all the amenities of a traditional stadium, just with that little bit of extra transparency.
10. Stadion Energa – Gdansk, Poland
The look of Stadion Energa, opened in 2011 for the 2012 UEFA European Championships in Poland, comes from 18,000 polycarbonate plates. Designed by Rhode Kellermann Wawrowsky, the plates give an amber appearance in six different shades to the 41,600-seat venue, tying the visual of the bowl stadium to a mineral found along the Polish coast. Add in that the steel roof is supported by 82 steel frames, making it the largest self-supporting structure in Europe, and you’ll find intrigue all over Stadion Energa.
11. Maracana – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Sheer size brings the Maracana notoriety, but with added historical significance, the stadium is one of the most fascinating in the world. While the design of Maracana in Rio is a bit dull after the redesign for the 2014 World Cup, it still boasted well over 200,000 fans for the FIFA World Cup in 1950, even at partial completion. With a current capacity of over 78,000, the stadium is about to host another historic event—the 2016 Olympic Opening Ceremonies in August. Having hosted two World Cup Finals and the Olympics, the largest stadium in South America stands in rarefied historical air.
12. Fenway Park – Boston, Massachusetts
Sometimes nostalgia just needs a little recognition. Boston’s Fenway Park deserves it, as North America’s oldest professional sporting venue. Constructed in 1912, the baseball stadium tucked near Lansdowne Street has become synonymous with summer. And its famed Green Monster left field wall has defined baseball stadium quirkiness for decades. Over 37 feet tall and stretching 231 feet across Fenway Park, the monster of a wall started as an embankment to block views into the park from the outside. The wall itself took many sizes and materials—wood to concrete to plastic—but it has always stood to make Fenway Park one of the most recognizable sporting venues in the world.
13. Wembley Stadium – London, England
Replacing the famed 1924-opened Wembley Stadium in 2007 was no small task, but the new Wembley brings with it a distinct mark all its own. The most pronounced feature is the 7,840-ton steel roof structure that eliminates the need for pillars and includes a 436-foot-tall steel arch to support a retractable section. The 1,033-foot span makes it the longest single span roof in the world at over 11 acres, four of which are retractable. Designed by Lord Norman Foster, Wembley seats 90,000, the second-largest stadium in Europe.
14. Olympiastadion – Munich, German
You don’t get sweeping acrylic glass canopies all that much, and you certainly don’t get them like you do at Olympiastadion in Munich. Built for the 1972 Olympics, the nearly 70,000-seat venue was built into a crater created by bombing during World War II. By combining the sunken nature of the stadium with the use of earth as a main exterior design aspect, the glass and cables offer a look never before seen and never fully replicated since.
15. National Stadium – Warsaw, Poland
The 2012 UEFA European Championships provided Poland a boon of new stadiums. The National Stadium, seating more than 58,000, opened in 2011 with a distinct wire mesh façade painted in Poland’s colors of red and white. But the distinctness doesn’t stop there. A retractable PVC roof unfurls from a spire hovering over the center of the field. Spires and cables around the circumference of the venue give strength to the partially transparent retractable roof and add a visual appeal to the venue.
16. Qi Zhong Forest Sports City Arena – Shanghai, China
Even before retractable roofs became all the rage in major tennis, the Qi Zhong Forest Sports City Arena was doing it in style in 2005. The 14,000-seat center court includes an eight-piece retractable roof in the shape of a magnolia flower in bloom, the symbol of the city. Surrounded by two other smaller tennis stadiums and a mix of other match and practice courts, the magnolia-inspired tennis stadium designed by Japanese architect Mitsuru Senda glorifies steel in a whole new way.
17. Pancho Arena – Felcsut, Hungary
There may only be 3,400 seats in Hungary’s Pancho Arena, but this outdoor stadium that opened in 2014 lets you see the elements in every seat. The soccer venue prides itself on organic architecture, using timber as the primary building material and creating a roof canopy that looks like trees by having the roof supports arc up and branch outward, cantilevering over the seats. The structure used roughly 1,000 tons of wood—largely pine beams—to vault the interior of the stadium in perhaps the most organic-minded stadium in the world.
18. National Stadium – Taiwan
The dragon-shaped exterior of the 2009-opened National Stadium in Taiwan is more than just for visual enjoyment. Designed by Toyo Ito, it has a practical purpose too. The 55,000-seat venue uses 6,482 aluminum-framed plates to form the trailing roof, with 4,482 of those plates holding photovoltaic arrays to generate enough electricity to run the stadium.
19. Aviva Stadium – Dublin, Ireland
Folks in Ireland like their Aviva Stadium so much that they put an image of it on their passport. Opened in 2010, the Dublin stadium is home to both the national rugby and soccer teams. The powerful sweeping curve of the roof structure on the north end combines with a transparent polycarbonate façade to provide an exterior that gives the prominent structure a distinct aesthetic.
20. The Colosseum – Rome, Italy
At 620 feet long and 513 feet wide, the Colosseum in Rome was easily the largest amphitheater around when it was in its prime. Yet it wasn’t built into a hillside for support like many other large structures of the time. Instead, it was a fully freestanding stadium with a foundation of concrete and stone that could provide seating for 50,000 visitors in multiple seating configurations and levels. On top of that, the Colosseum’s 80 awning-covered arches lead visitors into an arena that was so well-engineered that it could even be flooded with water to support aquatic events.