This year more than ever, NFL stadiums are under a microscope. There are no crowds to cover up aesthetic imperfections, and no gameday atmospheres to lift an arena’s perception. With few to no fans in the stands, the stadiums themselves are on full display, exposing the designs of their architects. In the quest for visual perfection, how do they stack up?
Here is my ranking of all 30 NFL stadiums as they are in 2020; no ticket prices, no atmosphere, no concessions and no environment. This assessment is about looks alone.
#30: New Era Field – Buffalo Bills
New Era Field has been around for nearly half a century and it shows. The seating bowls are nothing more than metal ovals, and there are bigger videoboards in college hockey arenas. For such an up-and-coming team, the Bills deserve better than this.
#29: FedExField – Washington Football Team
When I look at FedEx Field, I see a bowl of chili. This color scheme is so gross that it totally masks a half-decent design with consistent, compact layers. There isn’t much to be excited about with this franchise right now, and this stadium further proves that.
#28: Heinz Field – Pittsburgh Steelers
Heinz is best known for its ketchup, but the color scheme of Heinz Field makes it seem like they’re trying to boost their mustard sales. This stadium could have been so much better if they swapped some of the yellow paint for black, but otherwise, the structure is fine.
#27: Lambeau Field – Green Bay Packers
There’s only so much you can do to dress up a 63-year old landmark, but let’s face it; Lambeau Field isn’t a good-looking stadium. Its fans make it one of the top arenas in football, but at its core, it’s an oversized metal sun reflector with very little aesthetic appeal.
#26: State Farm Stadium – Arizona Cardinals
State Farm Stadium is a little too messy for me. The gray highlights across the bleachers are inconsistent, the roof structure hangs into the view of the upper decks, and the endzones have too much wasted space. This mammoth NFC West facility is in need of a facelift.
#25: Levi’s Stadium – San Francisco 49ers
The architects went outside the box with Levi’s Stadium, and I don’t get the vision. The off-center scoreboard is unnecessary and tiny given the space, and the mountain of seats opposed by a clunky press box / suite / office building creates a disconnected look.
#24: TIAA Bank Stadium – Jacksonville Jaguars
For such a troubled franchise, I’m honesty surprised TIAA Bank Stadium looks as good as it does. The gradual incline of the seating sections is a little too drawn-out for me, but the colors look good, the light towers are minimalistic, and the videoboards are gigantic.
#23: Soldier Field – Chicago Bears
What do you get when you stack modern renovations on a 96-year old foundation? The Frankenstein of NFL stadiums, Soldier Field. Credit to the Bears for trying to modernize their historic facility, but the off-center layers and awkward scoreboards look like a mistake.
#22: Mercedes-Benz Stadium – Atlanta Falcons
As part of the new generation of NFL stadiums, Mercedes-Benz Stadium missed the mark for me. Its sections look jagged, from the field level to the endzone areas. The top of the stadium is the best part, with a creative scoreboard concept and innovative pinwheel roof.
#21: MetLife Stadium – New York Giants / New York Jets
There’s really nothing interesting about MetLife Stadium. The sections, layers, and light towers are all perfectly uniform, for better or worse. I don’t like corner videoboards, but to New York’s credit, theirs are bigger than most others around the league.
#20: Lincoln Financial Field – Philadelphia Eagles
Lincoln Financial Field is about as average as it gets. The biggest cause for question is the off-center layout of the endzone stands. Aside from smoothing out the look, filling the gaps would have helped Philly get over the 70,000 capacity mark. Strange decision there.
#19: US Bank Stadium – Minnesota Vikings
Apparently US Bank Stadium looks like a Viking ship on the outside, but in this artistic attempt, the interior appearance was sacrificed. Why is the clear roof off-center? Why does one side of sections wrap further towards the endzone than the other? I’m not a fan.
#18: Ford Field – Detroit Lions
You may think the lighting in this photo is a little bit off, but that’s pretty much Ford Field for you. Natural light has trouble getting in here, in part due to the hard, fixed roof. If we could see more of the upper decks, we would find that it’s a conservative, simplistic design.
#17: Raymond James Stadium – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Raymond James Stadium is a bit underwhelming, but there are no major blunders here. The layout and colors look good, I like the light towers, and the videoboards are huge. The pirate ship is a little corny, but since it’s the only element of character here, I’ll allow it.
#16: Lucas Oil Stadium – Indianapolis Colts
Lucas Oil Stadium presents a clean look across each of its blue tiers. The shape of the roof is unique, emphasized by the yawning windows on the ends. However, these windows and the endzone seats force the small scoreboards to an awkward position in the corners.
#15: Paul Brown Stadium – Cincinatti Bengals
Welcome to the jungle! That’s the only reason the Bengals could have chosen to paint Paul Brown Stadium green, right? The smooth design looks good, and I especially like the curved roof at the top. As for the scoreboards, it seems to me like there’s room for an upgrade.
#14: FirstEnergy Stadium – Cleveland Browns
I guess it’s a better choice than brown, but I’m not sure anyone would ever want to see this much orange in one picture. Color aside, the design is strong, and they get away with the uniquely-shaped videoboards by keeping them consistent and centered.
#13: Nissan Stadium – Tennessee Titans
Nissan Stadium looks a lot like a certain AFC East arena further down this list, but this was the original. While the home of the Titans follows a standard symmetrical design, it differentiates itself with its commitment to team colors. Red light towers? Outrageous!
#12: Empower Field at Mile High – Denver Broncos
Empower Field at Mile High embraces its Rocky Mountain roots with steep seating structures that tower above the field. Its dark blue base is a safe choice with nice logo usage on each end, but the love ends at the tiny videoboards and surrounding light towers.
#11: Hard Rock Stadium – Miami Dolphins
I hope you like aqua! Hard Rock Stadium has plenty of it, but what it lacks in color variety it makes up for in design. Its simple layout keeps a clean look around the stadium, and the recent roof renovation was a great touch that adds some intricacy to the appearance.
#10: Gillette Stadium – New England Patriots
Here’s the Nissan Stadium look-alike! Opened three years later, Gillette Stadium took the best of its predecessor and made it better. Following Tennessee’s simplistic architecture, New England one-upped the theming with a simple but sleek lighthouse and bridge.
#9: NRG Stadium – Houston Texans
NRG Stadium fits into the Ford Field category of becoming darker as the seats get higher. On the positive side, the retractable roof looks good, the layout is neat, and the color scheme incorporates Texans colors across the stadium without over-doing it.
#8: Mercedes-Benz Superdome – New Orleans Saints
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome is the only window-less stadium left in the NFL, and it works. The lack of lighting creates an ominous backdrop, and every section seems to hang over the field. The scoreboard sizes aren’t ideal, but there’s only so much space available.
#7: CenturyLink Field – Seattle Seahawks
CenturyLink Field is known as one of the loudest stadiums in football when fans are around, and its design is a major reason why. Its cavernous seating sections surround the field, contained by elegant arching roof structures. I’m just not sold on the vertical scoreboard.
#6: Bank of America Stadium – Carolina Panthers
I didn’t expect to put Bank of America Stadium this high on the list, but as I analyze this, I don’t see many faults. The color scheme is good, the 360-degree tiers are visually appealing, and the videoboards and light towers are good enough. It’s a safe, successful design.
#5: M&T Bank Stadium – Baltimore Ravens
M&T Bank Stadium won’t wow you, but it checks all the boxes. The color scheme is balanced, the design is consistent, and the endzone videoboards are intelligently located between seating sections. I especially like the four vertical scoreboards in the corners.
#4: SoFi Stadium – Los Angeles Chargers / Los Angeles Rams
SoFi Stadium broke the boundaries of stadium design, highlighted by the brilliant transparent roof and stunning double-sided scoreboard. My only concern is that they may have gone too far, forcing strange angles and cramming in too much behind the endzones.
#3: Arrowhead Stadium – Kansas City Chiefs
At 48 years old, Arrowhead Stadium has aged better visually than any other arena in the league. The curved upper deck adds uniqueness to an otherwise-uninteresting shape, and it’s rare — but cool — to see a stadium where the upper deck is larger than the lower bowl.
#2: Allegiant Stadium – Las Vegas Raiders
I’m not sure there’s a stadium in the NFL that suits its team quite like Allegiant Stadium fits the Raiders. The new home of Las Vegas football is a black hole with an intimidating yet sophisticated appearance, allowing loads of natural light from the ends and the roof.
#1: Cowboys Stadium – Dallas Cowboys
AT&T Stadium looks like an older SoFi Stadium, but with a couple critical differences. Most notably, the windows at each end are more exposed and the layers of stands are more uniform. The enormous hanging videoboard is the centerpiece of this gorgeous stadium.
So, what do you think of my list? If you want to express your agreement or tell me how wrong I am, you can find me on Twitter, @BradyDGardner.