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Begin the long countdown to much more limited outdoor NFL football.
Buffalo is about to build a glorious new outdoor venue and embrace its identity and the cold. But it sure seems like the Bears are doing more than posturing as they expand their exploration of Arlington Heights, Illinois — where they’d build a dome stadium.
Nashville is shooting for a new venue as early as 2026. The state of Tennessee is in for $500 million, on the condition that it be an indoor building. While the Titans would prefer to play outside on natural grass, they prefer even more that financial contribution from the state and being part of something that is better for the city for all 12 months.
It’s not that teams, cities or even fans are going to be increasingly against football in the elements. It can make for a wonderful homefield advantage and even better television images and ratings.
But go outside of Green Bay and Buffalo and if major American cities are going to help fund new venues, or if billionaire owners are going to do the right thing and build their own, Nashville may show a major cause to go inside.
Once upon a time America’s multipurpose stadiums were cookie cutters built to accommodate both football and baseball, which made them less-than-ideal for either.
But nothing stops a 72-degree venue from hosting a home slate for an NFL team as well as a chance at multiple Super Bowls and getting in the rotation for college football playoff games, The Final Four, Wrestlemania, year-round concerts and any other stadium events you can think of.
The four newest NFL stadiums are indoor palaces suited for all of the above – Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles (open air), Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Since Ford Field opened in Detroit in 2002, nine of 13 (70 percent) new NFL buildings have either been enclosed or retractable.
Traditions Of Stadiums Matter
As our stadiums reach their expiration dates, which teams will feel they must remain in the elements along with the Bills and the Packers, whose lore and Lambeau Field will demand it?
The Steelers feel like they have too much history in the cold to play on a covered field as do the Giants and Jets whose shared MetLife Stadium is only a dozen years old. The Kraft family has had amazing success with Gillette Stadium and cold weather has been a big feature of their glorious, modern playoff history. People in Denver go to games in shorts when I wear a wool hat in the press box.
A dome for Arrowhead Stadium was discussed in the early 1980s but abandoned over costs, so it’s not an outrageous thought. It’s the third oldest Stadium in the league but still got the nod from FIFA as one of the 11 U.S. venues for the 2026 World Cup.
As much as they feel like outdoor football cities, if Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Washington or Philadelphia had a chance at a public-private deal that put them in the loop for all those other events in exchange for moving their beloved teams inside into an architectural marvel, don’t you think they’d seriously consider it?
I do, especially if they see a Chicago success.
As for places where heat is more of a factor than cold, fan comfort is at more of a premium than ever and tradition is less of a factor. Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Carolina may see a model in Nashville if Music City makes it work.
I’ll go ahead and throw Seattle and San Francisco in there as possibilities in the long term too, though they’ve been around longer, won titles. The 49ers’s are in the fifth-newest building in the league. Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, California consistently gets terrible reviews.
Not every team/city will choose the move or get the funding. But I believe enough will that outdoor games will come to feel particularly special.
What does the NFL look like in 2052? I suspect we’re still debating pass interference calls. But if we’re doing so at the actual games, we’re going to need a coat a lot less often.
Paul Kuharsky hosts Outkick 360. Read more from him at PaulKuharsky.com..