Say farewell to the Silverdome, the latest symbol of sport’s throw-away society

Mr David Cook

Posted: June 12, 2014

Tagged: event / legacy / stadium / venue

It was Saturday 18th June 1994.

In the US, soccer had arrived in town – surrounded by the flurry of hype that a World Cup brings and an infamous missed penalty by Diana Ross. The hosts’ campaign was about to begin; USA versus Switzerland. The game finished one all, with Georges Bregy’s opener for the visitors cancelled out by a superb Eric Wynalda free kick. It was played at the Silverdome stadium in Pontiac, Michigan – the first of four USA ’94 matches to be held at the venue.

Looking back, the match was notable for several reasons; Switzerland were managed by none other than a certain Roy Hodgson, and the Silverdome provided the venue for what was the World Cup’s first ever indoor match. A combination of the humid Detroit weather, newly installed turf, and the lack of ventilation within the Silverdome resulted in conditions described by the American players as some of the most testing they had ever faced during their careers, with midfield player Thomas Dooley noting; “It was the worst place I have ever played. I can’t say the hottest, but for sure the most humid”.

The Silverdome was opened in 1975, realising the vision of local architect C.Don Davidson to create a major sports complex for the city of Detroit. Costing $55 million to build, the complex featured a distinctive silver-like roof built of Teflon-coated fibreglass panels supported by air pressure inside the stadium.

The Silverdome became the long-term home of the Detroit Lions NFL franchise and several other tenants soon came (and went), rather like lodgers renting a spare room. Most notably these included the Detroit Pistons NBA side and Jimmy Hill’s short-lived Detroit Express soccer franchise.

With an official capacity of 82,000, the Silverdome played host to a number of major sporting and non-sporting events in its heyday; Aside from the four World Cup matches, Led Zeppelin and The Who attracted huge crowds in the Seventies, and in 1987 the stadium enjoyed arguably its most notorious year – firstly by hosting Wrestlemania III and then, famously, a mass held by Pope John Paul II, both attracted estimated attendances of over 93,000.

Alas, it wasn’t to last and the Detroit Lions franchise moved to the newly-built Ford Field in 2002. The Lions’ departure marked the beginning of the end for the Silverdome. With all of the other Detroit franchises having long-since abandoned the venue, it was used only sporadically and ran into financial difficulties, and despite an attempted re-vamp in 2010 closed for good in January 2013, the roof permanently deflated.

Effectively, its life as a fully functioning major events venue was over after just 39 years.

Today the Silverdome is barely recognisable from the heady days of 1994. The roof shredded by the harsh Michigan winds, the innards infested by mould, and the pitch covered a foot deep in rainwater.

Like a prisoner on death row, waiting to be put out of its misery once and for all, an eerie air of impending doom and the sense of finality linger around the carcass of where the stadium once stood proud. The investment group which now own the remains will auction off anything and everything inside starting at $5 a go – so far met with barely lukewarm interest. Even the vultures aren’t circling.

Alongside the billions of pounds spent on hosting a sporting mega event, comes a risk of a legacy of ‘throw-away’ stadiums and infrastructure. Often saddled with high, unsustainable maintenance costs and hindered by geographical barriers and lack of a viable long-term business model, these venues become a symbol of the short-term consumerism of modern event-staging.  The white elephants.

Brazilian, Russian and Qatari organising committees, and venues closer to home with uncertain futures, such as the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, would be wise to take note. A recent report by The Economist suggests that four of the stadiums used this summer in Brazil will become a permanent drain on public funds, including the Manaus stadium, where England will face Italy in their opening game.

As Hodgson casts his eye over the Manaus stadium on Saturday, one wonders whether he might reminisce, just for a fleeting moment, on his visit twenty years ago to the Silverdome.

A place that will soon be no more.

IThe Economist (2013) Money no object, how many prestigious sports stadiums does Brazil need? Available at [Link] [last accessed 10th June 2014]

IIESPN (2014) Silverdome’s assets for sale [online]. Available at [Link] [last accessed 10th June 2014}

IIIFox Orlando (2014) Everything must go: Silverdome’s auction postponed two to three weeks [online]. Available at [Link] [last accessed 10th June 2014]

IVSBN (2014) That Wonderful Summer [online]. Available at [Link] [last accessed 10th June 2014]

About David Cook

David Cook is an academic at Coventry University, UK. His industry background involves roles within Market Research and Brand Development and his research interests include the commercial impact of sporting mega events and ownership models within professional sports teams. His favourite sports are football, cricket and tennis.