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RFK Stadium, a multi-purpose stadium in Washington, D.C.

Multi-purpose stadiums are a type of stadium designed for use by multiple teams playing baseball, Gaelic football, American football, association football, rugby and, in some cases, basketball and ice hockey or other sports. Some multi-purpose stadiums were initially built to accommodate one sport and subsequently renovated to accommodate multiple sports, while others were initially built to accommodate multiple sports. Another popular example is where an athletics track encircles a sports field.

In North America, multi-purpose stadiums were built primarily during the 1960s and 1970s as shared home stadiums for Major League Baseball and National Football League teams from the same city. Some stadiums were renovated into multi-purpose configurations during the 1980s.

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History in North America

Several stadiums hosted multiple sports teams prior to the advent of multi-purpose stadiums. The Polo Grounds hosted football teams early on, and although the stadium was ostensibly designed for baseball, its rectangular nature lent itself well to football. The original configuration of Yankee Stadium was specifically designed to accommodate football as well as track-and-field, in addition to its primary usage for baseball. Later venues such as Cleveland Stadium and Baltimore Memorial Stadium were built to accommodate both baseball and football.

In the 1960s, multi-purpose stadiums began replacing their baseball-only and football-only predecessors, now known as "Classics" or "Jewel Box". The advantage to a multi-purpose stadium is that a singular infrastructure and piece of real estate can support both teams in terms of transportation and playing area, and money (often public money) that would have been spent to support infrastructure for two stadiums could be spent elsewhere. Also playing into the advent of the multi-purpose stadium was Americans' growing use of automobiles as a form of transportation, and therefore the need for professional sports stadiums to accommodate parking. As most cities lacked the space to construct the stadiums with necessary parking lots near their city centers, most multi-purpose stadiums were built in suburbs, away from the city centers but near freeways or highways.

A subset of the multipurpose stadiums were the so called "cookie-cutter stadiums" or "concrete donuts" which were all very similar in design. They featured a completely circular or nearly circular design, football fields that were accommodated by rotating sections of the box seat areas to fit the football layout better. These fields often used artificial turf. The first of these stadiums was RFK Stadium. It was followed during the 1960s and 1970s by Shea Stadium, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the Astrodome, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, San Diego Stadium, Riverfront Stadium, Busch Memorial Stadium, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium, Veterans Stadium, the Kingdome, and the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

During the height of the multi-purpose stadium construction era of the 1960s and 1970s, four baseball-only stadiums were constructed: Candlestick Park (1960), Dodger Stadium (1962), Anaheim Stadium (1966; now Angel Stadium of Anaheim), and Royals Stadium (1973; now Kauffman Stadium). Anaheim Stadium was, however, renovated into a multi-purpose stadium in 1980 to accommodate the Los Angeles Rams' move from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and renovated back into a baseball-only facility in 1997, three years after the Rams' departure for St. Louis. Similarly, Candlestick Park was renovated into a multi-purpose stadium in 1970 to accommodate the San Francisco 49ers' move from Kezar Stadium and converted to football only after the San Francisco Giants moved to their new ballpark in 2000.

With some exceptions, most North American multi-purpose stadiums housed only NFL and MLB teams.

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Field layout

Most multi-purpose stadiums that existed in North America overlaid one sideline of the football field along one of the baseball foul lines, with one corner of the football field being located where home plate would be. The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the only true multipurpose stadium left in the US that still hosts both baseball and football, is unique in that its football sideline runs along a line drawn from first base to third base (the former Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium also used this configuration). This was done presumably to make the same coveted seats behind home plate at a baseball game also coveted 50-yard line seats at a football game. Different stadiums have different angles between the left and right field seats.

In stadiums that were primarily football stadiums that converted to baseball stadiums, the stands were at nearly right angles. This allowed the football field to be squared within the bleachers, but left the baseball configuration with many undesirable views farther away from home plate or facing away from the diamond, such as at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and Dolphin Stadium. Baseball stadiums that converted to football stadiums had more of an obtuse angle between the stands. This made the football viewing farther away, and in some cases partially obscured as in Candlestick Park.

In the case of Qualcomm Stadium, the stadium was constructed with half of the Field-level seating permanent (built of concrete, in the southern quadrant of the stadium), and the other half portable (modular construction using aluminum or steel framing). When the stadium was configured for baseball, the portable sections would be placed in the western quadrant of the stadium and serve as the third-base half of the infield. In the football configuration, these are placed in the northern quadrant of the stadium (covering what is used as left field in the baseball configuration) to allow for the football field to be laid out east-west. This had the advantage of improving sightlines for both sports while keeping the baseball dimensions roughly symmetrical.

Criticisms

Many of these stadiums, when used for baseball, had many of the lower-level boxes set back far from the field because they swiveled into position for football and soccer, while the upper-level seats were as far as 600 feet from the plate. For football, the seats nearest the field were set farther back than at football-only stadiums to accommodate the larger baseball field. In general, spectator sightlines were not optimized for either sport, i.e., seats were angled towards the center of the field rather than towards the logical center of the gameplay action. Likewise, attempts to build stadiums without support columns to obstruct spectators' views, as was the case with jewel box stadiums, resulted in upper decks being placed very high above the field.

Many multi-purpose stadiums also had artificial turf playing surfaces, to ease the transition from baseball field to football field and vice-versa. In many cases, the turf was nothing more than carpet on top of concrete with little padding material, which caused frequent injuries to players. During the first month of the football season, the playing field would include the infield dirt that is harder than the grass and is also a significant injury risk.

In the baseball configuration, most had symmetrical field dimensions. This detracted from the unique, individual identity enjoyed by the Jewel Box stadiums with odd or asymmetrical field dimensions, and further supported the "cookie cutter stadium" nickname.

Fans also criticized the large parking lots surrounding the stadiums as well as their concrete or painted concrete façades as uninviting.

Replacement

The end of the multi-purpose era began in 1987, when Buffalo's Pilot Field, a stadium built for the Buffalo Bisons minor league baseball team and a potential MLB expansion franchise, opened. During the 1990s and 2000s, most of the multipurpose stadiums used for Major League Baseball in the United States were replaced (most, but not all, of those replaced have been demolished) with "retro-modern" style ballparks, which combine the design of the "classic" ballparks with the amenities of newer facilities. The first such park was Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, which opened in 1992 and was based mostly on the Pilot Field design. Many football teams that shared a stadium with a baseball team had their stadiums converted into football-only facilities shortly after the baseball tenant left (e.g., Qualcomm Stadium), while other football teams followed in the footsteps of their baseball counterparts and had new football-only stadiums constructed.

The Minnesota Twins recently concluded their run at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which they had shared with the Minnesota Vikings. The Twins now have Target Field under construction and plan to begin playing there in the 2010 season. The Florida Marlins currently are constructing a new retractable roof stadium in Miami and plan to begin playing there in 2012. At that time, the team name will change to Miami Marlins. After the Marlins relocate, the Oakland Athletics will be the only team left in the U.S. still sharing a stadium with an NFL team (the Oakland Raiders), the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The A's and Raiders are both seeking new places to play, but no firm plans have yet been made.

The Toronto Blue Jays currently share Rogers Centre with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL and began sharing the facility on a part-time basis with the Buffalo Bills of the NFL in August 2008.[1] The Blue Jays presently do not have any plans to leave Rogers Centre.

An added benefit of single-sport stadiums that was impossible with the "concrete donut" design of the multi-purpose stadiums is improved panoramic views of areas outside the stadium, such as mountains, city skylines, etc. Examples include Qwest Field and Safeco Field (although the latter can be used for American football games, as it played host to the college football Seattle Bowl in 2001), which replaced the Kingdome in Seattle, and Heinz Field and PNC Park, which replaced Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.

Still, however, several modern baseball-specific stadiums are able to be (and have been) converted for football use. In addition to the aforementioned Safeco Field, San Francisco's AT&T Park (which hosted the XFL's San Francisco Demons and hosts the annual Emerald Bowl), Phoenix's Chase Field (which hosted the Insight Bowl from 2000-2005), and St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field (which was built as a baseball specific stadium but began hosting a college bowl game in 2008) have all been used to host professional and college games since they were built. (It should also be noted that Nationals Park in Washington, DC, was to be the original host of the EagleBank Bowl before that game was moved to RFK Stadium.[2])

Furthermore, some of the teams set to begin play in the United Football League in 2009 are slated to play their home schedule at a baseball specific stadium. The California Redwoods will be playing their home games at the aforementioned AT&T Park. Although their home field will be the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, the Florida Tuskers will play one 2009 home game at Tropicana Field.

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