Ann Arbor, MI
Home of the University of Michigan Wolverines
Michigan is next in our run-down of the stadiums of the top 10 preseason college football teams. Michigan Stadium has remained the biggest sports stadium in North America since it opened in 1927. Prior to its construction, students and fans packed the nearby Ferry Field until the football team’s success led the University to expand all the University athletic and recreational facilities. In addition to a new 72,000-seat football stadium, the 1927 master plan included a golf course to the south of the stadium, an intramural building and a women’s athletic building. However, the football stadium was the centerpiece of this plan, funded by the sale of small bonds with the promise of season tickets in return; total construction cost was around $1 million. This may sound grandiose in comparison to the humble WPA funded stadiums in Fayetteville, AR and Columbia, SC we looked at previously, but at that time the automotive industry was booming in Detroit and excess money was readily available. The size of Michigan Stadium established the football program as one of the best in the country and continues to do so today, despite not always having the best teams.
Despite its enormous seating capacity, calling Michigan Stadium the biggest in the country is a bit of a misnomer since it barely reaches twenty feet above ground. The stadium is actually a giant pit, sitting within a gently sloping natural spring. Instead of building from the ground up, stadium architect Bernard L. Green decided to put the facility in the ground, resting the massive structure directly on the earth. Some 240,000 square yards of soil were exavated during construction and the effect is a monumental stadium with a very low, modest profile. It is rumored that the structural footings for the building were sized in order that the stadium capacity could be expanded to 200,000. However, despite being a big stadium, by making each end parallel with the field, unlike the elliptical Yale Bowl, Michigan Stadium is about as compact as a 100,000-seater can be.
As a single-tiered bowl, expansion of Michigan Stadium has been fairly straightforward – simply adding concentric rows to the top. In 1955 an expansion brought the capacity over 100,000. Rows were added over the years and capacity grew to 107,000 but the stadium remained more or less the same simple bowl that it had always been, with press boxes atop the west stand.
That changed in 2007 when a $226 million project was approved and Kansas City-based HNTB Architects were enlisted (currently designing the new San Francisco 49ers stadium in Santa Clara, CA) to develop a master plan for the expansion/renovation of all Michigan University athletic and recreational facilities. The pristine line of Michigan Stadium bowl would be interrupted by two new, 580-foot long multi-story structures stretching the length of each sideline. Consisting of a new press box, 83 luxury suites and over 3,000 club seats, the dark-blue glass-clad prisms are well detailed and simply conceived, resulting in minimal impact on the overall feel of the historic building from the field. The exteriors of the new structures are clad in red brick in an effort to fit in with the traditional campus setting.
In recent years, the Michigan Wolverine program has had one of its less successful runs in its history. Despite this lack of success, the size and grandeur of Michigan Stadium and the tradition of the program has kept the Wolverines relevant. Perhaps this year the team on the field will be the main event.