How big is the largest stadium in the U.S. and world these days?

This question, sent to us by Steve in Brooklyn, is more difficult than it might seem. The sporting facilities with the largest capacities are racetracks and speedways. Of those, the Indianapolis Speedway, with an estimated capacity of 250,000, may be the biggest. It tops the worldstadiums.com list, but no one is entirely certain how big Indy is.

As for enclosed, field-centered venues, the biggest seems to be North Korea’s Rungnado May Day Stadium. Built in 1989, largely as a Kim Jong-Il vanity project, it has a capacity of 150,000. The Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho (a.k.a. the Maracanã) in Rio de Janiero used to hold the title with a capacity near 200,000. It was significantly downsized, though, in the ‘90s when seats were added to the standing-room sections. The Maracanã did host the most crowded soccer game of all time. According to Guinness World Records, 199,854 people attended the Brazil v. Uruguay World Cup final on July 16, 1950. Brazil lost.

In America, college football dominates the stadium race with eight of the top 10 largest stadiums. The biggest is at the University of Michigan. It has a capacity of 107,501. Stadium size has been something of an NCAA competition in recent years. Michigan held the title for decades. But in 1996 the University of Tennessee expanded its Neyland Stadium and took the title. Not to be outdone, Michigan responded the following year with its own expansion and regained preeminence. Soon Penn State added seats to Beaver Stadium to finish a close second behind its Big Ten rival. Strangely, Michigan’s record attendance is 112,118, several thousand more than the stadium holds. They must have a big marching band.

Other notable sporting venues include Australia’s “Big G,” which held 120,000 cricket fans in the 1970s; Mexico City’s 114,000-seat Azteca Stadium; Barcelona’s Camp Nou, which is Europe’s largest soccer stadium, holding 98,787; and, at the other extreme, Avarua National Stadium in the South Pacific’s Cook Islands. It was built in 2002 and holds 3,000.

As for volume, Guinness recorded the loudest stadium roar at Mile High Stadium in Denver during a Broncos game.

The newest trend in stadium architecture is the retractable field. This can be seen in Japan’s Sapporo Dome in which baseball and soccer pitches are rolled in and rolled out. The US played a World Cup game at the high-tech venue in Gelsenkirchen with a removable pitch. And now the Arizona Cardinals are bringing the rolling field to the NFL.

Other cool stadium features include the glowing cells that illuminate Munich’s Allianz Arena at night and the weird netting that is supposed to surround the Olympic Stadium in Beijing. (Both were built by Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron).

Before you head out on a stadium tour, though, make sure you have a cushion.

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