Sports Arenas Just Don’t Last as Long as They Used To

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Big news out of Detroit this past weekend where the Red Wings closed Joe Louis Arena on Sunday and the Pistons closed The Palace of Auburn Hills on Monday. The Red Wings began playing at Joe Louis Arena in 1979 and the Pistons began playing at the Palace in 1988. After missing the playoffs, both teams will move into the new Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit this fall.

Joe Louis Arena lasted 38 years while The Palace lasted just 29 years. The Atlanta Braves will open SunTrust Park on Friday night after just 20 seasons at Turner Field, and the Texas Rangers are looking to get out of the Ballpark in Arlington, which opened in 1994, as soon as 2020.

The fact that sports arenas don’t last as long as they used to is especially obvious to Boston sports fans. Fenway Park has been going strong for more than a hundred years and the Boston Garden lasted 67 years.

Even Foxboro Stadium, a true dump built on a shoestring $7 million budget, lasted 31 years. Compare that to serviceable, if not lavish, football stadiums like the Silverdome, the Metrodome and the Georgia Dome. None of these stadiums lasted more than 32 years and have either been demolished or await the wrecking ball. At least Foxboro Stadium was cheap.

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This is quite the turnaround for the city of Detroit. Tiger Stadium opened the same day Fenway Park opened, and the Tigers played there for the remainder of the 20th century. Their new home, Comerica Park, opened in 2000. With the Lions moving to Ford Field in 2002, and now the Red Wings and Pistons moving to Little Caesars Arena this fall, all four Detroit professional sports teams will play in buildings opened this century. All within walking distance of each other! What recession?

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While The Palace only last 29 years, it did outlast a lot of other venues built in that era. The Miami Heat lasted only 11 seasons in Miami Arena, which opened in 1988, and the Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats only got a combined 13 seasons out of the Charlotte Coliseum, which opened in 1986.

Maybe Boston is lucky they didn’t get a new Garden sooner. Arenas from the late ’80s and early ’90s have not aged well. The new Garden, which opened in 1995, still looks pretty good more than 20 years later. The United Center in Chicago and Verizon Center in D.C., which also opened in the mid ’90s, have aged similarly well.

Meanwhile in Minnesota, the Timberwolves play in the Target Center in Minneapolis while the Wild plays in the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Target Center, which opened in 1990, looks like the Worcester Civic Center compared to the Xcel Energy Center. The Xcel Energy Center opened in 2000, and still looks like it opened yesterday. The Target Center, just 10 years older, is in the midst of a $130 million upgrade.

It’s been said that Camden Yards changed baseball when it opened in 1992. Twenty-five years later, it is still one of the top venues in the sport. Maybe its impact was not limited just to baseball stadiums, though.

With the influx of concerts and hockey games at baseball stadiums, and shopping centers and NCAA Tournament games at football stadiums, teams (and in some instances, cities and states) are trying to get people to their venues as many days a year as possible. They are no longer game-day only operations. Hopefully that will allow (and encourage) the stadiums of this era to last a little bit longer than their predecessors.

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