Best NFL Stadium: 2009 Edition

Paul Swaney@@PaulSwaneySenior Analyst IFebruary 1, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - JANUARY 24:  A fan of the Indianapolis Colts looks on during the first half of the AFC Championship Game against the New York Jets at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 24, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Colts defeated the Jets 30-17.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Stadium Journey is proud to announce our rankings for the Best NFL Stadium of 2009.

Rankings are based on the FANFARE scoring system that takes into account food and beverage, overall atmosphere, the neighborhood, fans, access, and return on investment. When ties occurred we used atmosphere as our primary tiebreaker. The secondary tiebreaker went to the stadium with the fewest “etc” points.

Click on the name of each stadium to see the full review. We continue to strive to be your source for how to make the most out of your sports travel experiences.

One quick disclaimer about the list: Since the Giants and Jets share Giants Stadium we only did one review of the venue, and it was during a Giants game. Next year we’ll be sure to attend during a Jets game at their new stadium, which has not been named yet. 

So here are the rankings—from worst to first—of every NFL stadium for 2009.

31. St. Louis Rams, Edward Jones Dome

FANFARE Score: 16

What we liked: The Neighborhood—The best thing about the dome, its one lone redeeming quality, is that it is located in the heart of the city’s downtown bar scene. It is right between the strip of trendy bars that line Washington Avenue and the blocks of bars and casinos that inhabit the cobblestone streets of Laclede’s Landing.

What we didn’t like: The Fans—What fans? St. Louis has always been more of a baseball town than a football town anyway, but the recent lack of success for the Rams has pretty much knocked off most of those that jumped aboard the 'Greatest Show on Turf' bandwagon.

30. Atlanta Falcons, The Georgia Dome

FANFARE Score: 19

Georgia Dome Aerial View

Georgia Dome Aerial View

What we liked: The Neighborhood—The effort to promote the new “Falcon's Landing” in the plaza just outside the main gates is going well enough, though the activities (passing and kicking stations, face painting) are obviously geared towards kids. At least there’s some activity, including live music and broadcasts by the radio and TV affiliates, where there could be just scalpers and people hoping to find the rest of their party.

What we didn’t like: The Atmosphere—Well, it’s a dome, so you’re indoors. It’s not so bad as trying to play a football game in a gym, but the experience is slightly reminiscent of that. The lighting is just too unnatural, giving off that sterile, fluorescent feel that really shouldn’t be associated with pigskin.

29. Washington Redskins, FedEx Field

FANFARE Score: 22

What we liked: Food & Beverage—FedEx Field offers some unique food and beverage options. In addition to burgers, dogs, nachos, etc., there are a few Johnny Rockets restaurants located on the ground level concourse. Their menu consists of a variety of burgers, fries, onion rings, and even a chicken tender basket. There are also several Papa John’s stands located on the concourse.

What we didn’t like: The Neighborhood—If you’re standing on the steps of Fed Ex Field, all you can see is parking lots and trees.

28. New Orleans Saints, The Louisiana Superdome

FANFARE Score: 23

Superdome Exterior

Superdome Exterior

What we liked: The Fans—Saints fans are among some of the passionate and loyal in the NFL. After rumors circulated in 2005 that the Saints would move to San Antonio or Los Angeles after Hurricane Katrina forced them to evacuate the city for a full season, fans have sold out every game since the start of the 2006 season and that trend appears likely to continue for many more years.

What we didn’t like: The Access—New Orleans does not have a good public transportation system so expect to walk everywhere.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars, Jacksonville Municipal Stadium

FANFARE Score: 24

What we liked: Food & Beverage—For a few bucks more, several local-flavor niche options offer a departure from the regular: “El Gato Grande” (which translates, fittingly, to “The Big Cat”) is an outpost of Burrito Gallery, a local Mexican restaurant, and Andrew Jackson’s BBQ makes a decent ‘que in the trademark Florida style: sauceless, smoky, and tender.

What we didn’t like: The Fans—There just aren’t enough butts in the seats to give these fans their full due. Those present are true-blue enough for any fan base, but almost 17,000 season ticket holders decided not to renew for the 2009 season and the city at large seems only mildly interested in its team.

26. Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Browns Stadium

FANFARE Score: 25

Upper Deck View

Upper Deck View

What we liked: The Access—Parking and restrooms are easily available and cost effective.  In my travels to other stadiums and hearing exploits from others, the accessibility and associated costs are second to none.

What we didn’t like: The Atmosphere—A less than ideal place to watch a game with average historical significance: a shiny, new toy where the old broken one once sat.  The major problem is the stadium security taking fan complaints too far; stories of fans being told to sit because they are standing and cheering are a far cry from the original Dawg Pound that gave this rabid fanbase the reputation it deserves.

25. Kansas City Chiefs, Arrowhead Stadium

FANFARE Score: 25

Arrowhead Exterior

Arrowhead Exterior

What we liked: Food & Beverage—Gates Bar-B-Q, a local restaurant in Kansas City, also holds a spot on Arrowhead’s food concourse. There you can order a beef, ham, or turkey sandwich soaked in one of their famous sauces.

What we didn’t like: The Neighborhood—Arrowhead is part of the Truman sports complex, which also includes the Royals’ Kauffman Stadium. Because of this, the entire area surrounding Arrowhead is a parking lot. This allows for plenty of parking space, but leaves little room for bars and restaurants.

24. Miami Dolphins, Land Shark Stadium

FANFARE Score: 25

kickoff Land Shark Stadium

What we liked: The Access—There is no problem getting to the stadium, parking, tailgating, or going into the stadium. A very well set up area, Land Shark Stadium provides a simple and convenient parking and tailgating area that is an easy walk to the stadium.

What we didn’t like: The Neighborhood—Well folks, it isn’t South Beach. Land Shark Stadium is located in a relatively desolate area, which is located mostly around residential areas. The closest restaurants or bars require a trip back on the highway either to the outskirts of Fort Lauderdale or North Miami.”

23. Oakland Raiders, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum

FANFARE Score: 25

What we liked: The Atmosphere—When I walked out of the corridor into the stadium proper, it was half-full and shining in the bright California sun.  It was a sight, and a feeling I will never forget. The whole atmosphere, from the warmups to the end of the game, was fantastic. This stadium has so much history, you can almost feel it.

What we didn’t like: The Neighborhood—The only downside was the food was quite limited, the drinks were very over priced ($8 for a beer), and there were no real bars or facilities outside the stadium.

22. Buffalo Bills, Ralph Wilson Stadium

FANFARE Score: 25

Ralph Wilson Stadium

Ralph Wilson Stadium

What we liked: The Atmosphere—Inside the stadium, it is also bedlam, with fans decked out in the team’s red and blue colors, and the team’s longtime anthem, the “Shout” song, blaring as the players take to the field, and following each Buffalo score.

What we didn’t like: Food & Beverage—Ballpark dreck is the buzzword for the food offerings at the Ralph, with the basic fare—hot dogs, nachos, beer, pop, peanuts, and popcorn on the menu.

21. Detroit Lions, Ford Field

FANFARE Score: 26

Outside Ford Field

What we liked: The Access—At $10, the Lions’ average parking rate is the lowest in the league. If the on-field product ever produces another winning season, expect these to skyrocket. Enjoy the value while you can, Lions fans.

What we didn’t like: The Fans—Beaten down like Chicago Cubs supporters over the years, few fan bases in America can relate to the neurosis associated with Lion fanship. Owning the worst NFL record this decade (42-117), futile season after futile season has eroded the spirit of Detroit’s football community. And nowhere is it more evident than in game attendance.

20. Seattle Seahawks, Qwest Field

FANFARE Score: 26

Qwest Field Exterior

What we liked: The Atmosphere—The atmosphere at the 67,000-seat facility is exciting and intense. Before every game, fans are treated to a thundering pyrotechnic display as the Seahawks’ players enter the field. The team is led by its mascot Taima, an Auger Hawk that flies out of the tunnel to a rousing ovation from the crowd.

What we didn’t like: The Access—Though there is a car garage with a capacity of 2,000 vehicles next to Qwest Field and team officials say there are 6,500 spaces near the stadium, parking is difficult to find. It is expensive in most lots ($25) and drivers are accustomed to circling the field before finding a spot. Recent construction of a ramp onto I-90 has not made the situation easier.

19. Arizona Cardinals, University of Phoenix Stadium

FANFARE Score: 27

What we liked: The Atmosphere—The retractable roof is awesome, allowing games under the stars. The natural grass playing surface on rails that roll outside is amazing. Good sightlines from all seats.

What we didn’t like: The Neighborhood—Located in Glendale Arizona, the stadium is on the western outskirts of the valley away from many of the cultural activities of the Phoenix area. Beside the football stadium there is the hockey venue. Businesses are beginning to be built up around the area but it still feels somewhat isolated from the rest of the Valley of the Sun.

18. San Diego Chargers, Qualcomm Stadium

FANFARE Score: 27

What we liked: The Atmosphere—Aside from domed stadiums, which get an obvious advantage, there is no place louder than the Q. That was evident in late December 2009 when Carson Palmer and the Bengals committed three straight penalties because their signals could not be heard over the din.

What we didn’t like: The Access—The bus is probably the easiest of the three options. Boarding locations can be found throughout San Diego County and drop you close to the stadium gates. The big plus is that buses have priority access upon exiting postgame.

17. Baltimore Ravens, M&T Bank Stadium

FANFARE Score: 27

Exterior M&T Bank Stadium

Exterior M&T Bank Stadium

What we liked: The Neighborhood—The stadium is a 15-to-20-minute leisurely stroll from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. But before you get there, you have to pass Pickles. If you are a Ravens fan, or like to be with hometown fans, or just like $1 draft beers on game day, Pickles is the spot.

What we didn’t like: Return on Investment—This is a great stadium in which to watch a football game, but not much else. I mean, you can eat and drink and be full while you do it, but the best thing going on here is the view from your seat. Not a lot to do inside other than that. Outside is another story.

16. Tennessee Titans, LP Field

FANFARE Score: 28

What we liked: The Fans—Titans fans are energetic and passionate, and LP Field is known as one of the loudest venues in the NFL. Fans take pride in generating noise when the other team has the ball, and they relish being rewarded with false starts from the other team. The Titans have sold out every home game since they began playing in LP Field.

What we didn’t like: The Atmosphere—No historical significance to the stadium since it is relatively new, but it is a great place to watch a game.

15. Minnesota Vikings, Mall of America Field

FANFARE Score: 28

What we liked: The Atmosphere—When the Vikings score, the horn sounds and the crowd is treated to the song ‘Skol Vikings.’ As the crowd is urged to tell the Vikings to 'Fight! Fight! Fight!,' the cheerleaders race around the field carrying flags that spell out V-I-K-I-N-G-S.

What we didn’t like: Food & Beverage—There is nothing special about the food at the dome.  There is pizza, hot dogs, and hamburgers. Peanuts, popcorn, and nachos with cheese and jalapeno peppers on the side are also available. Nothing is outstanding about the traditional stadium food but nothing is so poor that you regret your choice.

14. Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field

FANFARE Score: 28

Linc Interior

Linc Interior

What we liked: The Atmosphere—The atmosphere here is amazing. Tailgating is crazy, and it can be very difficult to play here for visitors. The stadium has special metal flaps over the top of each side which are designed to reflect the crowd noise back onto the field.

What we didn’t like: The Neighborhood—The stadium is part of the Philadelphia Sports Complex as mentioned above, which consists of three full-sized sporting venues (four, if you count the Spectrum, now closed and soon to be demolished) and parking for each.

13. Denver Broncos, INVESCO Field at Mile High

FANFARE Score: 28

Inside Invesco Field at Mile High

Inside Invesco Field at Mile High

What we liked: The Atmosphere—Nothing compares to taking your seat, where the beautiful rocky mountains provide a backdrop for the players and field. There is not a bad seat in the house unless you are sitting in the bitter cold, and the game experience is unbelievable.

What we didn’t like: Food & Beverage—The food and beverage certainly did not exceed expectations. I had a hot dog, some kettle corn, and some lemonade. The food and beer sold at the game are relatively expensive, which is no surprise.

12. Chicago Bears, Soldier Field

FANFARE Score: 28

What we liked: The Fans—Sitting surrounded by Bears fans was truly interesting.  There was a real good variety of knowledgeable fans, fantasy football talk, cheering, and drunken buffoonery. While I could have done without the drunken buffoonery, especially the Browns fan dressed in Ohio State garb that dumped half a beer on the head of the Bears fan in front of him, overall the fans were great.

What we didn’t like: Return on Investment—If you are lucky enough to snag tickets at face value, then the price won’t seem quite as bad. However, for me a $150 ticket in the upper half of a 400 section seemed like a bit much. Add in the cost of the food and drink, and you approach $200 pretty quickly. Now, start to imagine doing this with a family of four, and there it is, your entire vacation budget for the year.

11. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium

FANFARE Score: 28

Gillette Stadium Exterior

Gillette Stadium Exterior

What we liked: The Atmosphere—Whatever the reasons, the place feels like big-time professional football. From the tailgate-swamped lots to the bustling shops to the concourses and stands, it exudes place-to-be appeal.

What we didn’t like: The Access—Some people park in the $40 spots around Patriot Place, while some choose the $20 lots down the highway. (No one uses the town’s stores, whose game-day towing policies are ferocious.) Some head for the exits in the fourth quarter, while others wait out the storm for hours after the game at their tailgates. All of them must confront the bumper-to-bumper gridlock that builds in both directions away from Gillette.

10. San Francisco 49ers, Candlestick Park

FANFARE Score: 28.5

Candlestick Interior

What we liked: Return on Investment—Despite the stadium’s age, the 49ers have done a lot for a stadium the franchise does not own. Prices are not exorbitant. I saw lots of small and teenage kids with parents at the game, so it’s popular with parents and children.

What we didn’t like: The Access—The traffic delays are particularly irritating when we play the Oakland Raiders every other season at Candlestick. There is much more traffic and subsequent delays at those games because so many Raiders fans get weekend get-out-of jail passes for those games.

9. Carolina Panthers, Bank of America Stadium

FANFARE Score: 29

What we liked: The Neighborhood—Tailgating is a must when you come to Charlotte— you can look across the parking lots and see people grilling, throwing the football, and playing beer pong and the bean bag toss game.

What we didn’t like: Food & Beverage—You can find a Bojangles, Wendy’s, and the BBQ Shack. They also sell personal pan Domino's pizzas, only cheese or pepperoni, for $5.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers, Heinz Field

FANFARE Score: 29

Heinz Field Scoreboard and Fans

Heinz Field Scoreboard and Fans

What we liked: The Fans—The city of Pittsburgh boasts a reputation for having great fans, and it is well-deserved. The Steelers have sold out every home game since 1972.

What we didn’t like: The Neighborhood—The neighborhood surrounding the Stadium is a strange mix of riverfront properties, highways, parking lots, and parking garages blending into an old residential neighborhood known as the North Side.

7. New York Giants, Giants Stadium

FANFARE Score: 30

What we liked: The Atmosphere—The pre-game atmosphere around Giants Stadium is always quite impressive. There’s always a BIG buzz in the air and tailgating is right up there with the best in country.

What we didn’t like: The Access—Access to Giants Stadium is always a BIG pain in neck because all roads give you access to New York looming in the background of the stadium.

6. Green Bay Packers, Lambeau Field

FANFARE Score: 30

National Anthem at Lambeau Field

National Anthem at Lambeau Field

What we liked: The Atmosphere—Inside the stadium, the bowl-shaped architecture gives it a college football feel and just knowing the great players who played and the games that occurred inside the stadium give it a chilling feel as you walk up the tunnel.  It’s truly something every sports fan needs to experience before they die.

What we didn’t like: The Fans—The only problem with the fans is that their homerism bleeds through sometimes, booing at obvious penalties and being way too hard on the coaching.

5. Houston Texans, Reliant Stadium

FANFARE Score: 30.5

What we liked: The Neighborhood—The train line makes all of downtown Houston part of the neighborhood. Anything under the sun is available and only a few minutes away by a $1 train ride. Tons of bars and restaurants.

What we didn’t like: The Access—Parking is somewhat difficult without a prepaid pass. The train line is very helpful. Bathrooms are plentiful, spacious, and generally clean.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raymond James Stadium

FANFARE Score: 31

Pirate Ship

Pirate Ship

What we liked: The Neighborhood—The stadium sits on the main thoroughfare of the city, Dale Mabry Highway, that can connect you to a number of nearby restaurants and bars.

What we didn’t like: The Fans—Buccaneer fans are a strange lot. With Tampa Bay being a transient community (most residents were born in the Northeast or Midwest), some in the fan base have divided loyalty to the team and the old team they grew up watching.

3. Cincinnati Bengals, Paul Brown Stadium

FANFARE Score: 31

What we liked: The Fans—I was especially impressed during the opening graphic on the scoreboard how loud the crowd got when the animated Bengal slashed its claw through a flag of the opposing team. Bengals fans went nuts, and only touchdown plays resulted in louder eruptions.

What we didn’t like: Food & Beverage—There is nothing surprising about the offerings at a Bengals game, although most of the standards seem to be well done.

2. Dallas Cowboys, Cowboys Stadium

FANFARE Score: 31.5

The Approach to Cowboys Stadium

The Approach to Cowboys Stadium

What we liked: Food & Beverage—There is definitely a variety of food at Cowboys Stadium. Some unique items include a Kobe Burger, a Chipotle Chicken Sandwich, and Sweet Potato Fries.

What we didn’t like: The Access—Parking was painful and very expensive. We had trouble finding our appropriate parking lot that corresponded with our seating section. Because of that, we ended up circling the stadium before finally finding the correct entrance. Generally, parking is $60, but our section cost us $75.

1. Indianapolis Colts, Lucas Oil Stadium

FANFARE Score: 32


What we liked: The Fans—Fans in the state of Indiana are nothing if not devout.  While their first love may be on the hardwood (the Pacers used to begin player introductions with a video that boasted, ‘In 49 states, it’s just basketball…but this is Indiana’), they know their sports and you’ll enjoy the opportunity to take in an NFL game with 63,000 of them.

What we didn’t like: We liked it all. That’s why it's Stadium Journey’s Best NFL Stadium of 2009!

This article originally published on Stadium Journey .