The Real Reason Why Open NFL Stadiums Lack Roofs

As the NFL continues its 100th season, it’s easy to reflect on how far the league has come since its beginning. What started as a few teams of guys wearing leather helmets has transformed into a huge organization. Each of the 32 teams has its own unique experience to offer fans, beginning when you walk into the stadium.

One of the biggest things you’ll notice if you frequent many NFL team’s games is whether the venue has a roof. Open stadiums offer a completely different experience than closed stadiums. But why, exactly?

Historically open stadiums

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When the NFL began in 1920, there was no such thing as a dome or stadium with a roof. The oldest original NFL stadium still in use today is Soldier Field in Chicago, home to the Bears. It opened in 1924 and was used by a number of sports teams and the city until the Bears moved in permanently in 1971. Because of its long history, Soldier Field is one of the league’s most famous open stadiums.

NFC North rivals, the Packers, also have a historic stadium they call home. Lambeau Field was constructed in 1956, after Green Bay’s previous venue, City Stadium, was deemed too small. (City Stadium is still in use today by Green Bay East High School.) Thanks to its roof-less design, Lambeau Field is called “The Frozen Tundra,” which honors the famous Ice Bowl of 1967, when the Packers beat the Cowboys in -17°F temperatures.

Although not quite as old as Soldier Field or Lambeau Field, another roof-less classic is Arrowhead Stadium, home to the Kansas City Chiefs. Arrowhead opened in 1972 and has experienced a few renovations since, but the atmosphere hasn’t changed a bit. We’re not sure how fans can get that loud with no roof, but they do it each and every week.

Why not add a stadium roof?

It seems like the obvious way to avoid games like the Ice Bowl would be to build a roof on your stadium. On top of that, covered stadiums get more use year-round, by hosting concerts and events that can’t be held in the open. However, this practicality comes with a huge price.

Adding a roof to a stadium adds $25-45 million in the building costs. Make it retractable, and you’re looking at $100-150 million. Those aren’t the kinds of price tags teams could handle in the old days, even adjusted for inflation.

For nostalgic fans, roofs aren’t the way to go

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Now, however, it seems like NFL teams have more money than they know what to do with. A number of new stadiums have been built in the past few years. And, with many teams recently switching cities, a few more new builds are in the works. The new Inglewood stadium being built for the Rams and Chargers will have a retractable roof. The new Raiders stadium in Las Vegas is being built with a dome.

While roofs seem to win in recent years, every football fan knows football was meant to be played outdoors. Since its beginning, the sport has been played in the rain, snow, and mud. So add all the amenities you want to a brand-new stadium, just leave the roof off and give us a poncho.