Then and Now: First Energy Stadium
A Tale of Two Cleveland Stadiums
Brandon Lucas, Image by Ryan Gobuty
There’s no greater fan base than in Cleveland, especially when it comes to our Browns. Every home game draws thousands of rabid fans dressed from head-to-toe in orange and brown as they make their way to the Dog Pound to scream and cheer on their beloved Brownies.
There's something about a football stadium that feels like home. Clevelanders have called two stadiums home: the Cleveland Municipal Stadium, and now, First Energy Stadium on the same site. And both stadiums have witnessed many firsts in Cleveland history.
Breaking ground on June 24, 1930, Cleveland Municipal Stadium was the first stadium built using public money (an estimated $2.5 million). Constructed by Cleveland’s own Osborn Engineering Company, the stadium went beyond the city’s expectations with its original proposed 25,000 seats and instead allowed for the capacity of more than 78,000 fans.
At the time, this was the largest outdoor seating capacity of any stadium in the world (go us!). It was completed on July 1, 1931, and two days later, Cleveland held its first heavyweight boxing match at the stadium with heavyweight champion Max Schmeling facing Young Stribling (spoiler alert: Schmeling won). With its first event under its belt, the stadium soon realized one issue: it had no main attraction.
So, Cleveland begin looking for ways to occupy the space. The stadium owners reached out to the Cleveland Indians, who were looking for a new home. The Indians waited until 1932 to officially move into the stadium, hosting their first game there on July 31.
Despite having a new home, the baseball team opted to only play weekend and holiday games to draw in a larger crowd. It wasn’t until 1947 that the Indians started playing all home games at the Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Was it good luck? Maybe. But the very next year, the Indians hosted its first Major League Baseball World Series in 1948 at Municipal. And then they did it again in 1954.
Before the Browns became the sports team we all know and love today, Cleveland’s football team was originally known as the Rams. Founded in 1937 by Cleveland attorney Homer Marshman, the Rams held its first game at Municipal Stadium later that fall. Several years later, Rams’ owner Dan Reeves moved the team to Los Angeles and during that time, the All-American Football Conference (AAFC) was founded. The AAFC awarded Cleveland businessman Mickey McBride the Cleveland Browns franchise.
With the new football team taking the helm of Cleveland sports, Municipal Stadium received major success by hosting three of the four AAFC title games (’46, ’48, and ’49), the AAFC championship game, and five of the NFL Championship games (later known as the Super Bowl).
As the late 1980s and early 1990s approached, Municipal Stadium began to show its age. The Indians moved to a beautiful new complex dubbed Jacob's Field, and Municipal Stadium became more and more of a financial drain to the city. It was time for something new.
Finishing what they started, in 1996 the Osborn Engineering Company came back and oversaw the demolition of the stadium they had created. Throughout the demolition, parts of the old stadium were placed in Lake Erie to be used as an artificial reef for Cleveland aquatic life.
Originally known as Cleveland Browns Stadium, construction for the stadium started on May 15, 1997 and was built on the same site as Cleveland Municipal Stadium. After its completion, it hosted its first home NFL game on September 12, 1999, in which the Browns faced the Pittsburgh Steelers. And thus kicked off the modern era of chanting, die-hard fans cheering from the now-famous Dawg-Pound.
In 2013, the Cleveland Browns Stadium entered a partnership with FirstEnergy, hence the name change to FirstEnergy Stadium. With this new partnership, the stadium underwent two construction phases, costing $120 million.
Phase one included the addition of new HD scoreboards, additional escalators and the removal of nearly 4,000 lower deck seats to improve the lower-bowl fan experience. A season later, phase two focused on the biggest complement to football: good stadium food. New additions such as Michael Symon’s B-Spot, Chris Hodgeson’s Downtown Dog and Rocco Whalen’s Great Lake Cheesesteaks now fill the bellies of football fans.
FirstEnergy also improved the lighting in the stadium, introduced murals throughout the stadium and remodeled the Club Level, leading to a truly impressive fan experience.
During the off-season, FirstEnergy is still working hard. It hosts concerts, high school and college football games, U.S. soccer games and even high school proms. From 2007 to 2009, FirstEnergy hosted three Patriot Bowls--a college football game played on Labor Day Weekend.
In June 2016, the Women’s National Soccer Team held a rematch game with Japan, bringing in more than 23,000 fans. Recently, FirstEnergy hosted the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup where the U.S. National Men’s Soccer Team (which holds six national titles) Panama, Martinique and Nicaragua all played in the stadium.
Haven't had a chance to see the improved FirstEnergy Stadium? What are you waiting for? Even if football isn't your thing, catch a concert or soccer game at the stadium overlooking Lake Erie.