Augusta. Fenway. Breaking down sports venues that provide legendary fan experiences.
Watching sports on television brings fans close to the competition. But nothing can simulate the experience of being at the field or in the arena. Your senses are more engaged. The noise is louder. The drama is greater.
Some special places accentuate the experience. Sometimes it is the history of the venue. Or the magnitude of the event and even the visual beauty of the location. The best incorporate all three.
Compiling the venues with the best fan experiences in the world of sports is always going to be problematic. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all. This list (in no particular order) tries to identify places that are special and where engagement is the greatest. Enjoy, even if your favorite is left off.
Augusta National has hosted the only golf major played annually at the same course since 1934. The picturesque setting among the azaleas and rolling hills in Georgia is gorgeous on TV but still falls short of being there. The limited availability of passes and intense demand make it one of the most expensive and cherished tickets in all of sports. The roars throughout the course during Sunday's final round are arguably among the loudest in sports.
The Granddaddy of Them All is an appropriate moniker for this postseason college football game that first took place on Jan. 1, 1902. Played on New Year's Day or Jan. 2 every year since, it's a must for every fan of the sport to experience once. Nestled among the San Gabriel Mountains, the game kicks off in early afternoon and provides a stunning sunset experience as the action wears on. It was once a traditional matchup between the Big Ten and now Pac-12, but now it hosts the College Football Playoff semifinals once every three years, giving more schools an opportunity to be part of the experience.
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The oldest tennis major has been played at the All England Club since 1877 and is the only one still played on grass courts. There is an air of nobility throughout the event with competitors required to play in all white, and a royal box is part of its famed Centre Court. There is also the added bonus of partaking in the famous strawberries and cream during your time on the grounds. Its history makes it the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world.
The Run for the Roses or "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports" is held on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville. With more than 100,000 attending each year, it's a huge party, with fans sipping mint juleps and dressing in formal attire. It culminates with the most prestigious horse race in the world, with the winning 3-year-old adding to the history of the event that began in 1875.
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Built in 1912, the home baseball stadium of the Boston Red Sox is the oldest in Major League Baseball. That alone is not what makes it special. It's the 37-foot wall in left field called the Green Monster. It's the triangle layout in centerfield. And Pesky's Pole in right field that is like a shrine as fans have adorned it with their signatures. It's not a coincidence that Kevin Costner was summoned there in Field of Dreams. It made perfect sense.
The second-oldest NFL stadium behind Soldier Field, the environment couldn't be more different for Green Bay Packers games compared to their rival Chicago Bears. Named after former coach Curly Lambeau, the stadium became significant during the tenure of Vince Lombardi, who won five championships for the team that is located in the least-populated city in major American sports. But that community environment and the history of the franchise is what makes this stadium special. It's not more typified than by the tradition of the Lambeau Leap where Packers players jump into the stands to celebrate touchdowns with the fans.
Patriots' Day is held in Massachusetts to commemorate the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775. The highlight comes in the 26.2-mile run that takes place from Hopkinton to Boston. Hundreds of thousands of spectators along the route cheer the more than 30,000 runners who have qualified to participate. It's the largest and most-prestigious marathon in the world and the atmosphere throughout the city, up Heartbreak Hill and to its famous conclusion on Boylston Street are all part of it.
Memorial Day weekend in Indianapolis means one thing: The annual running of the biggest auto race in the world that began in 1911. It's a festival for the 300,000 or so fans in attendance that are treated to the singing of Back Home Again in Indiana in the prerace ceremonies and then sees the field of 33 open-wheel cars fly around the 2.5-mile track at more than 200 mph. The lucky winner is then blessed to drink milk in victory lane – a tradition since 1936.
The national championship won't be decided. The field won't be full of NFL prospects. All that's on the line is bragging rights between the two military academies. And that's enough to create one of the special college football games each year. There's the march on of Cadets and Midshipmen. The 60 minutes of teams fighting for victory. And then it finishes with both sides standing for the other's alma mater. It's a game that combines sports, patriotism and what is best in America.
The old Yankee Stadium - where the team won all but one of its 27 World Series titles - no longer stands, but what was brought to the new stadium across the street was Monument Park. It began as three free-standing monuments (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, manager Miller Huggins) in center field and has grown into an exhibit just beyond the outfield wall in right-center field. It includes six monuments, 23 retired numbers and more than 40 plaques that honor former players, managers, executives, broadcasters, the fallen of 9/11 and notable figures who visited the stadium, including two popes. You can take guided tours of the park or visit it yourself. It’s a must-stop for baseball historians and aficionados, whether you like the Yankees or not.
Cameron Indoor Stadium
Duke's arena is nowhere near the largest in college basketball - it has a capacity of just more than 9,000 people - but is unique with fans on top of the court and the noise that is generated when the Blue Devils are playing well. The chief element of the ambiance is the student section known as the Cameron Crazies. The group made up of about 1,200 people packed near courtside dress in costume and body paint while producing a litany of creative cheers in an attempt to rattle opponents. Their attendance comes after they've camped out for tickets for weeks in an area known as Krzyzewskiville - named for recently retired coach Mike Krzyzewski, who started building the school's dynasty in the 1980s.
If you want to take in all the elements of European soccer then there is no better venue than Anfield. While there are larger stadiums in the English Premier League or elsewhere on the continent, there's no better fan engagement and intensity than what the supporters of Liverpool provide. The Kop - one of the four stands in the stadium - is the most vociferous and enthusiastic group, full of people waving flags and singing while on their feet for the entire 90 minutes.
The annual college football clash between the Sooners and Longhorns is held in early October and has been hosted at the Cotton Bowl in the middle of the State Fair of Texas since 1934. The aroma of fried food and carnival atmosphere outside the stadium is only an appetizer for the annual grudge match between rivals that sees half the stands dressed in crimson and the other in burnt orange with the split between the sides taking place at midfield.
Everything is bigger in Texas and the home of the Dallas Cowboys is no exception. Opened in 2009, the stadium's usual capacity is 80,000 but it can be expanded to accommodate almost 100,000, making it the largest in the NFL. Its notable feature is its video board above the field that at the time was the biggest in the world. While it no longer holds that honor, it's still one of the unique features of a landmark stadium that holds a special place in the U.S.
NASCAR night race at Bristol
More than 150,000 people will pack themselves into Bristol Motor Speedway to watch 500 laps raced on the half-mile track. They are treated to tight racing on the banked track that is full of excitement and has the potential for race-altering wrecks. While the tracks at Daytona or Talladega or Indianapolis might be bigger names, this race offers the best viewing.
Madison Square Garden
Whether it's hockey, basketball, boxing or even professional wrestling, the arena set in the heart of Manhattan is full of sporting history. It's where the Knicks won their first title in 1970 and the Rangers finally won the Stanley Cup in 1993 to end a 54-year title drought. Ali and Frazier met there for the first time in 1971. It was the longtime host of the Big East men's basketball tournament and the first Wrestlemania in 1985.
Pebble Beach Pro-Am
If you're looking to attend a golf tournament strictly based on the scenery then this is your location. Nestled next to the Pacific Ocean near Carmel, California, Pebble Beach Golf Links - one of three courses used for the event - is considered one of the most beautiful courses in the world. And as an added bonus, each of the pro players is paired with an amateur - often celebrities, athletes or famous business people - that you can get close to and watch play in a tournament environment.
This isn't the hardest climb in the Tour de France but it is the most iconic and produces the greatest theater in cycling. First introduced in 1952, it gained popularity with an almost annual ascension in the '70s and '80s, attracting up to 1,000,000 fans that bring a party scene that resembles a rock festival throughout the 13.8-kilometer rise that includes 21 numbered corners with the names of the 30 previous winners. Many arrive days early and camp to secure the best spots to watch the riders come through, creating a cauldron of noise with some fans close enough to touch a cyclist.
The soccer stadium that hosts the Portland Timbers of MLS and the Portland Thorns of the NWSL provides an unmatched setting for both teams in their respective leagues. There are bigger MLS stadiums, but the enthusiasm at Timbers games is unmatched. The Rose City Riveters are considered one of the biggest supporters in all of women's soccer and have made the Thorns the regular leaders in NWSL attendance.
Vegas Golden Knights
Saying you should come for the pregame show, stay for the hockey might be a little tongue in cheek but the festivities before the puck is dropped at T-Mobile Arena are something special compared to other NHL teams or sporting events. Since it was founded in 2017 in one of the entertainment capitals of the world, the franchise has embraced the glitz and glamour available at its fingertips to create a medieval narrative before each game.
Kansas City Chiefs - Arrowhead Stadium
Los Angeles Rams and Chargers – SoFi Stadium
Baltimore Orioles - Camden Yards
Chicago Cubs - Wrigley Field
Los Angeles Dodgers - Dodger Stadium
Pittsburgh Pirates – PNC Park
Seattle Kraken – Climate Pledge Arena (zero carbon)
Sacramento Kings - Golden 1 Center
LSU football - Tiger Stadium
Notre Dame football - Notre Dame Stadium
Ohio State football – Ohio Stadium
Penn State football – Beaver Stadium
Kansas basketball – Allen Fieldhouse
Philadelphia basketball - The Palestra
Kentucky basketball – Rupp Arena
Monaco Grand Prix
Borussia Dortmund – Signal Iduna Park
FC Barcelona - Camp Nou
British Open - Old Course at St. Andrews
The Players Championship - TPC Sawgrass
Phoenix Open - TPC Scottsdale
New York Marathon
U.S. Open tennis
North Dakota hockey – Ralph Engelstad Arena
Contributing: Steve Borelli