Stadium the size of Wembley hosted the World Cup – then it fell apart

The stadium was abandoned for almost a decade (Picture: Joe Gall/Red Bull/Sipa/REX/Shutterstock)

It once hosted World Cup clashes, the Super Bowl, and music legends from Michael Jackson to Elvis.

But decades later, years of ruin left Michigan’s Pontiac Silverdome looking like a scene from a post-apocalypse movie.

Finally, in 2017, the former home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions was blown up as Pontiac City officials sought ‘new opportunity’ for the abandoned site.

But how was a stadium the size of Wembley emptied of fans one day and then simply allowed to rot?

The glory days

When the stadium opened in 1975, it was heralded as a step forward in Pontiac’s urban renewal. It cost $55 million to build, which is the equivalent of $250 million today if adjusted for inflation.

With a capacity of 85,000, it was the largest stadium in the NFL until 1997, when the FedExField opened in Washington DC.

Crowds of spectators watch a football match at the Silverdome stadium.

Crowds gather to watch football in the stadium’s heyday (Picture: Getty Images)

During the stadium’s glory days, it was home to the Detroit Lions and briefly the Detroit Pistons. It hosted the Super Bowl in 1982 and staged four games in the 1994 World Cup.

Music legends Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Elvis all played the stadium, and the space was also used for Jehovah’s Witnesses conventions and a Billy Graham Crusade.

In 1987, a record number of people flocked to the stadium to attend a Mass with Pope John Paul II.

Members of the group Up With People perform on the pitch at halftime at Super Bowl XVI between the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals at the Pontiac Silverdome on January 24, 1982 in Pontiac, Michigan, near Detroit.

Members of the group Up With People perform at halftime at Super Bowl XVI between the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals (Picture: George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

The stadium featured an innovative roof design, made up of Teflon-coated fibreglass panels supported by air pressure inside the stadium.

The panels’ metallic colour was the inspiration behind the Silverdome name. However, the iconic roof was not secure. It collapsed under the weight of snow in 1985 – a sign of things to come.

Left in ruin

In 2002, the Detroit Lions moved to a new stadium, Ford Field. The departure of the NFL team left a huge gap in the stadium’s scheduling and events at the Silverdome started to dwindle.

For eight years, the stadium was left to rot. City officials scraped together just enough money each year to cover the basic maintenance costs, but with financial pressures building elsewhere, they decided to sell the stadium in 2009.

Triple Sports and Entertainment, a Canadian real estate developer, bought the stadium for $583,000. They reportedly ploughed $6 million into revitalising it, and in 2010, the stadium reopened and hosted monster truck shows, concerts and boxing events.

A BMX rider jumps over the seating in the abandoned stadium.

BMX riders used the abandoned stadium to practice (Picture: Joe Gall/Red Bull/Sipa/REX/Shutterstock)

The revamp, however, was short lived. In 2013, Detroit’s extreme weather struck again and snow caused the roof to collapse. The Silverdome shut its doors – this time, for good.

The stadium was abandoned once again. Green moss covered the restaurant and the turf was torn up. 

In 2014, in a bid to raise money, parts of the stadium were auctioned off.

The turf that features the Lions’ logo from each end of the stadium sold for $1,600 each and the copper wiring was auctioned for $500,000. The car park was also used to store 9,000 recalled Volkswagen vehicles – many of which got stolen.

In December 2017, the stadium was imploded. It took two attempts. ‘Farewell Silverdome,’ Pontiac mayor Deirdre Waterman said. ‘Hello world of new opportunity.’

Amazon has eyed up the site with plans to develop it into a distribution centre, but has not made an official announcement.

Stadiums that could meet the same fate

Newcastle United is considering a move to a bigger stadium – meaning that the 131-year-old St James’ Park stadium could be abandoned.

The stadium has a capacity of 52,000, which the club owners think could be too small to meet ticket demand. The club is currently carrying out a fan survey to determine their next move.

St James' stadium in Newcastle, as seen from the outside.

St James’ stadium in Newcastle could be abandoned (Picture: PA)

Other stadiums could be abandoned in future years as a result of climate change.

Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge, Norwich’s Carrow Road and West Ham’s London Stadium could see annual flooding by 2050 if global temperatures climb to 4C, a study published in the Environmental Research Letters suggests.


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