Why Retractable Roofs Matter for Stadiums

It was pure luck that the snow storm hit New Jersey on a Monday instead of Super Bowl Sunday. A foot of snow during the football game would have been catastrophic, considering that MetLife stadium doesn’t have a retractable roof.

Can you imagine if the storm had hit on Sunday? How would the game, the fireworks, the halftime show and the fans be impacted? Organizers must be grateful that the game was played in an unseasonable 48°F, under clear skies.

A retractable roof would have assuaged the anxiety organizers must have felt as they obsessively scanned weather maps. Knowing that the Super Bowl was safely covered in a retractable enclosure probably could have saved the event’s executives a few good nights of sleep.

So why doesn’t this fairly new, high-profile stadium have a retractable roof enclosure? The Wall Street Journal commented on its absence last week:

MetLife Stadium … is one of the most expensive football stadiums ever built. Yet the nearly four-year-old venue lacks the iconic elements found at acclaimed buildings elsewhere—the gigantic scoreboard of the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, the retractable roof of the Indianapolis Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium, the spectacular views of the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park.

The Journal cites cost as the primary reason stadium officials opted not to build a roof; but given the bullet barely dodged this Super Bowl Sunday, one wonders if they’ve come to question that decision. You would think so, with the near-universal agreement surrounding the addition of a retractable roof over the much older Arthur Ashe Stadium across the river in New York. As WSJ reported in August:

But the retractable roof figures to appease tennis players and ESPN, which will be able to rest comfortably knowing that their match schedules are secure. Players have often complained that bad weather is allowed to throw a wrench in their preparation efforts, and sometimes forces them to compete on consecutive days. For each of the past five years, inclement weather has pushed the U.S. Open’s title round an extra day to Monday—a troubling scenario for ratings-hungry TV networks that want to maximize their audiences on weekends.

…For USTA officials, a retractable roof would mean no longer having to deal with awkward questions concerning when they’ll devise better provisions for when bad weather arises.

In fact, the CBS network took a substantial ratings hit when weather delays pushed matches from Sunday to Monday. If a retractable roof is protecting ESPN from similar weather delays, wouldn’t the same be true of other stadiums – like MetLife – that regularly run televised games?

It’s likely that we’ll see more retractable stadium roofs in the future–and not just to protect ticket holders from inclement weather. With synthetic turf growing more popular, we simply don’t need to keep stadiums open all the time. In a recent LiveScience article, engineer Mark Waggoner says, “I think we’ll see more roofs that aren’t just traditional … but rather are kinetic and moving in ways that affect fan comfort, but aren’t necessarily just trying to get sunlight directly on the field,” he said. “I think we’re see more lightweight systems, inflatable fabrics and things that like that may cover spaces cost-effectively.”

We’re optimistic that day will be soon. For the sake of the athletes, the fans and anyone planning to watch the Super Bowl (or the US Open, for that matter) on a Sunday, let’s hope so.