Michigan Stadium | Capacity, Size, Football, & Facts (2024)

stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States


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Also known as: The Big House, University of Michigan Stadium

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Roland Martin Roland Martin is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.

Roland Martin

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Michigan Stadium, the home field of the University of Michigan’s gridiron football team, located in Ann Arbor. It was completed in 1927 but underwent numerous renovations and is currently the largest stadium in the United States and the third largest in the world, with a listed capacity of 107,601. However, crowds of more than 115,000 have been recorded at major events. The stadium is commonly called “The Big House.”

Background and construction

The construction of Michigan Stadium was spearheaded in large part by Fielding Yost. During his tenure as the Michigan Wolverines’ head coach (1901–23, 1925–26), he led the team to 10 Big Ten Conference championships and 6 (including shared) national titles. In 1921 Yost also assumed the role of athletic director, and that year the team’s stadium, Ferry Field, was expanded to 42,000 seats. However, he soon began to advocate for a larger stadium, noting the team’s success and the sport’s rapidly increasing popularity. Although the university’s board of regents initially opposed Yost’s plan, he persisted, and in April 1926 it agreed to build a new venue.

Yost proposed a stadium that would seat 100,000–150,000 spectators, but the capacity was reduced to 72,000 at the regents’ behest. Instead of soliciting alumni donations or using taxpayer funds, the university paid for the stadium by selling bonds at $500. The bondholders were in turn offered the opportunity to buy tickets between the 30-yard lines for the next decade. The stadium’s designers envisioned a larger version of the Yale Bowl, built with reinforced steel and wire mesh.

Construction began in September 1926 and was immediately beset with issues. The chosen site was a low-lying 16-acre (6.5-hectare) lot with an underground spring that made the land similar to quicksand. As such, nearly three-quarters of the structure had to be constructed below ground level. One crane sank entirely into the moist soil and reportedly remains buried beneath the field. Near the end of construction, 10,000 temporary seats were added at Yost’s request, and the stadium’s capacity reached 84,401. The entire project cost $950,000, which is more than $16 million in 2023.

Opening and renovations

On October 1, 1927, Michigan football played its first game in the new stadium, defeating Ohio Wesleyan by a score of 33–0. On October 22 Michigan Stadium was dedicated before the Wolverines’ game against bitter rival Ohio State University, which the home team won, 21–0. The game was sold out, setting a record for attendance.

Did You Know?

At the dedication game in 1927, two caged wolverines, known as “Biff” and “Bennie,” were introduced as the school’s mascots. However, plans to walk the animals on leashes were abandoned because of their viciousness. Yost later noted, “It was obvious that the Michigan mascots had designs on the Michigan men toting them, and those designs were by no means friendly.” After just one season, “Biff” and “Bennie” were given to nearby zoos.

In the ensuing years, Michigan Stadium underwent numerous renovations. Notably, in 1930 it became the first venue to use electronic scoreboards. Permanent steel bleachers were installed in 1949, raising the venue’s capacity to 97,239. That year—the first in which attendance was tracked by the National Collegiate Athletic Association—the Wolverines averaged 93,894 per game, the most in the country. The stadium reached a capacity of 101,001 in 1955, and the following season more than 100,000 fans attended a Wolverines home game for the first time. A 202-seat press box was added in 1956. In 1969 the grass field was replaced with artificial turf (the field material was later switched twice more: back to grass in 1991 and then again to artificial turf in 2003). Since November 1975, every Michigan home game has been attended by more than 100,000 fans. The sports broadcaster Keith Jackson is widely credited with coining the nickname “The Big House” in the 1980s.

In 1996 Michigan Stadium lost the title of largest U.S. venue to the University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium. However, a major renovation expanded Michigan’s official capacity to 107,501, and the university reclaimed the title in 1998. More seating was subsequently added, and Michigan Stadium’s current capacity is 107,601, though a number of games continue to exceed the listed capacity. In a 41–30 win over Notre Dame in 2013, Michigan Stadium held 115,109 fans, a record for a gridiron football game. Worldwide, only Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, India, and the Rungrado 1st of May Stadium in P’yŏngyang, North Korea, have a higher capacity than “The Big House.”

Other events

In addition to football games, Michigan Stadium has staged other sporting events. In 2010 the stadium set an attendance record for a hockey game (113,411) when it hosted a match between the Wolverines and their in-state rival, Michigan State University. Four years later it set an NHL record for attendance (105,491) with a game featuring the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The stadium also made history in 2014 when it hosted the largest crowd to watch a football (soccer) match in the United States as 109,318 fans saw Manchester United defeat Real Madrid.

Beginning in the 2010s Michigan Stadium has also hosted the university’s men’s and women’s lacrosse matches. In addition, the school’s graduation ceremony is typically staged there.

Roland Martin

Michigan Stadium | Capacity, Size, Football, & Facts (2024)
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