Superdome (New Orleans, LA)

This article was written by Richard Cuicchi

The exterior of the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana, is pictured in 2021. (Photo: Infrogmation of New Orleans, licensed under Creative Commons 4.0)


When most people think of the Louisiana Superdome,[1] they don’t associate it with baseball. More likely, they relate the domed stadium in downtown New Orleans with football: the New Orleans Saints National Football League team, the NFL Super Bowl, and the Sugar Bowl, an annual postseason college football game.

While the impetus for building the Superdome was to replace an aging Tulane Stadium as the home of the Saints, the designers of the facility allowed for baseball and basketball configurations, with the intention that the city would attract professional teams in those sports as tenants. The Superdome developed a history involving baseball, but one that ultimately fell short of expectations of attracting a major-league team.

Before the NFL awarded a franchise to New Orleans in 1967, the city was mostly regarded as a baseball town. It had been home to the New Orleans Pelicans minor-league team for over 60 years.[2] Prior to Florida and Arizona becoming the predominant spring training sites for major-league teams, New Orleans hosted numerous teams for spring training activities, going back to the early 1900s.[3]

High school and American Legion baseball had a strong following in the city, supplying many players to pro baseball. For example, in 1939 the Times-Picayune reported that the New Orleans area was represented by 100 players in professional baseball.[4] Thanks to favorable weather conditions in the city, baseball was practically played year-round by semiprofessional teams.

Some of the more notable major-league players who came up through the amateur ranks in New Orleans and neighboring suburbs include Mel Ott, Howie Pollet, Mel Parnell, Connie Ryan, and Rusty Staub.

New Orleans has a history of Black baseball leagues and teams dating back to the mid-1880s.[5] When the Negro Leagues later became organized, the city fielded teams such as the New Orleans-St. Louis Stars (1940-1941) and New Orleans Eagles (1951) of the Negro American League and the New Orleans Black Pelicans (1945) of the Negro Southern League.[6] These teams often played their home games in Pelican Stadium. The fourth game of the 1948 Negro World Series, between the Homestead Grays and Birmingham Barons, was played in New Orleans.[7]

A domed sports stadium in New Orleans was initially conceived in the late 1960s. New Orleans businessman Dave Dixon is credited as “the father of the Superdome.” With backing from Louisiana governor John McKeithan and New Orleans city officials, Dixon was most responsible for advancing the concept of a multi-use stadium that could support the three major professional sports, as well as conventions, trade shows, and other general entertainment events.

The cost to build the stadium was $163 million, including financing and administrative costs. The original concept study for a domed stadium on 10 acres in the city, seating 55,000, initially estimated the cost at $35 million in 1966. [8] Huber, Hunt and Nichols of Indianapolis and Blount Bros. Construction Co. of Montgomery, Alabama were awarded the contract to construct the facility.[9]

Louisiana state senator John Schwegmann, in conjunction with an organization called HONEST, Inc., led an effort to prevent state backing of the construction of the Superdome. Schwegmann believed Louisiana citizens would pay millions in additional taxes, when it was initially pitched that the “stadium would not cost the taxpayers a dime.” The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately denied his appeal to block the state’s backing, although he and HONEST continued to raise public opposition.[10]

The facility was built on a 55-acre site in the central city area bounded by Poydras Street, S. Claiborne Avenue, Howard Avenue, and S. Liberty Street.[11] The site was previously occupied by aging warehouses and derelict factories. A land-swap with Illinois Central Railroad for two parcels was part of the negotiations to obtain a contiguous plot of land to construct the stadium.[12]

The Superdome, or just “Dome,” as most New Orleanians refer to the stadium, was billed as being bigger and better than the Astrodome, which opened in Houston in 1965. The baseball configuration in New Orleans’ dome was accommodated by having movable stands to create a traditional baseball stadium look.[13]

The Louisiana Superdome Baseball Commission was formed to spearhead the city’s efforts to acquire a major-league franchise. Even before stadium construction began in 1971, the commission was actively recruiting prospective teams and demonstrating the city’s support. The commission scheduled major-league exhibition games each spring from 1971 to 1974 at local baseball stadiums, normally used by high school and college teams, to build up the anticipation of getting an MLB team.[14]

MLB’s general managers’ meetings in New Orleans in November 1972 offered the commission an opportunity to pitch the city as a future major-league home.[15] The Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles were among the reported teams in discussions with the commission as the Superdome was being constructed.[16] [17] One of the novel approaches considered was a joint-city arrangement, where New Orleans and another city would split the home games.[18] A proposal that Superdome officials pitched to Major League Baseball in 1972 involved 10 teams playing a three-game series in New Orleans in 1975, for a total of 30 games, as a contingency in the event that a franchise was not obtained by then.[19]

As MLB was considering its next franchise expansion plans in the early ’70s, New Orleans’ advantage of a domed stadium put it firmly in the conversation.[20]

The Superdome held its first event on August 9, 1975, when the New Orleans Saints played the Houston Oilers in an NFL preseason game. [21] Later in the fall, the New Orleans Jazz, a new NBA franchise for the 1974-1975 season, began using the Superdome as its home court.[22] But there were still no firm plans for an MLB team.

As recruiting and marketing efforts by the commission continued, the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros played the first baseball game in the Superdome on April 5, 1976, as part of a three-game series.[23]

Using the stadium’s design feature for movable seats, fan seating was symmetrical around the diamond. The playing field was also symmetrical from the standpoint of outfield fence distances. The fences at the foul lines were 318 feet from home plate. The left-center and right-center fences were 354 feet, while straight-away center field was 421 feet. Artificial turf (called Mardi Grass) was used for the field surface.[24]

The seating capacity in the three-level stadium was 60,453, although many of the seats in the top level (called terrace) made for a questionable fan experience because of their height, especially in the outfield.[25] A large four-sided video screen suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the stadium helped to offset viewing deficiencies. It was later replaced by stationary screens.

Feedback on the stadium from the initial series was positive. Twins owner Calvin Griffith said, “Baseball people should come down and see what you’ve got here. Talking about it and making reports is nothing. They’ve got to see it for themselves. It’s better than I imagined it would be.”[26]

Griffith was referring to a negative report prepared by Gabe Paul Jr. in 1975. He was a member of a three-man committee working at the direction of the commissioner’s office to study the feasibility of playing baseball in the Superdome. Their report concluded the stadium was “generally not acceptable for baseball.” Paul cited issues with the seating arrangement along the line between home plate and first base. Part of his report included Polaroid photos that failed to portray the stadium in a positive light. [27] Unfortunately for Superdome officials, the negativity of the report festered for several years afterwards.

The Twins-Astros exhibition games exposed minor problems with stadium lighting, separated seams in the artificial turf, and issues with the mound in the bullpens and the warning track, but they were deemed by the players and managers to be easily remedied.[28] Attendance for the three-game weekday series totaled 25,000.[29] Although not specifically mentioned in local newspaper game accounts at the time, it doesn’t seem that the attendance would have impressed major-league officials about local support for a potential team in New Orleans.

In October 1976, the Tulsa Oilers, a St. Louis Cardinals affiliate in the American Association, and Superdome officials reported reaching an agreement for the Triple-A team to relocate to New Orleans for the 1977 season. Oilers owner A. Ray Smith signed a one-year lease, realizing that New Orleans’ goal was to get a major-league team in 1978.[30] The new team revived the “Pelicans” nickname from the former minor-league club in New Orleans.

A Times-Picayune article in March reported that New Orleans was being considered for an MLB expansion team, with its chances aided by the relocation of the Tulsa Oilers to the city.[31] Denver and Washington D.C. were thought to be prime candidates.[32] With his marketing hat on, Smith vowed to bring in a million fans to Pelicans games; his eyes were set on becoming a major-league franchise owner.[33]

The Pelicans played their first home game, against the Omaha Royals, in the Superdome on April 30, 1977. In true New Orleans fashion, a Mardi Gras-like float carried the players and coaches around the city prior to the game. The Pelicans, under manager Lance Nichols, lost their first home game, 11-8.[34]

Some of the Pelicans’ more notable players who also appeared in the majors included Tony La Russa, Ken Oberkfell, Jim Riggleman, Pete Falcone, Pat Darcy, Benny Ayala, and Eddie Solomon.

The Pelicans finished in last place in the American Association’s Western Division with a 57-79 record. New Orleans was second in attendance in the league with 217,957, well below Smith’s aspiration. (The Denver Bears finished first in attendance with 288,167.) It was the only time a professional baseball team played its entire season in the Superdome. Smith ended up taking his team to Springfield, Illinois, for the 1978 season.

After rumors had been circulating for months that Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s were for sale, Smith said in October 1977 that he had an agreement with Finley to buy the A’s for $12 million, pending his ability to raise the funds. Smith also said he had the required votes from other MLB owners to move the franchise to New Orleans.[35]

Smith expanded the investment group to purchase the A’s. But a deal to bring that franchise to New Orleans ultimately fizzled out for a variety of reasons. It was felt that Finley had overpriced the team. New Orleans didn’t have a local owner with “skin in the game.” The Superdome was unwilling to lower its rental fee. And one of the biggest stumbling blocks was Finley’s inability to get out from under his stadium lease in Oakland.

The exterior of the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana, is pictured in 2012. (Photo: Lee-Sean Huang via, licensed under Creative Commons 4.0)

The Superdome renewed its MLB exhibition series in 1980. For four seasons, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner brought his team to New Orleans after it broke spring training camp. The games were positioned as marketing efforts by New Orleans to illustrate that the city had a viable fan base for major-league baseball. With the prospect that New Orleans could still acquire a team, the city’s fans responded with turnouts worthy of major-league regular-season games. Steinbrenner became a strong advocate for a major-league team in New Orleans.[36]

In contrast to the inaugural major-league exhibition series in 1976, the Yankees drew impressive crowds in the years they played in the Superdome, The Yankees and Baltimore Orioles played two games in 1980, drawing a total of 88,500 fans.[37] In 1981, the defending World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, and New York Mets came to the Crescent City to play the Yankees before a combined attendance of 75,959. The defending American League champion Yankees faced off with the Montreal Expos and Texas Rangers in 1982, drawing a two-day total of 47,986. The Expos were the Yankees’ opponents in 1983, when attendance totaled 37,565 fans for two games.

Following the first Yankees exhibition series in the Superdome in 1980, Edward DeBartolo, then owner of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins, declared that he would bring baseball to New Orleans. Impressed by the size of the crowds in the Superdome, he identified the A’s as one of the teams he was attempting to acquire.[38]

New Orleans continued to court MLB owners who were considering a move to another city because of their declining financial conditions. Teams such as the San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, and Chicago White Sox believed they needed new stadiums to remain viable in their cities.

In addition to the A’s, Montreal, Pittsburgh, and the Minnesota Twins entertained discussions about a possible relocation to New Orleans, but none of these ever progressed enough to engage in serious negotiations with the city and Superdome officials.

Major League Baseball was interested in expansion, but it seemed like New Orleans was always a second or third choice behind cities such as Tampa, Denver, Nashville, Phoenix, and Washington D.C.

While the hopes and dreams of getting a major-league team in the city rose and fell with each new prospect, the Superdome continued to host baseball games.[39]

The Pelican Cup, an annual two-game series between New Orleans’ top college baseball programs, University of New Orleans (UNO) and Tulane University, began playing one of its games in the Superdome in 1981. The crowds exceeded 10,000, an impressive number for college games at that time.[40][41]

In June 1984, an old-timers contest billed as the All-Time All-Stars Game was played in the Superdome. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Bob Feller, Warren Spahn, and Don Newcombe were among the former major-league players who participated.[42]

In 1986 there were discussions between the Beaumont, Texas, team in the Double-A Texas League, UNO, and Superdome officials about moving the minor-league team to New Orleans. It was proposed that 20 of the 68 home games be played in the Superdome, with the rest at UNO’s field.[43] But the relocation never came to fruition.

The Superdome began hosting one of the premier annual college baseball tournaments in the country in 1987, initially sponsored by Winn-Dixie and later by Anheuser-Busch. Three teams from Louisiana (LSU, Tulane, and UNO) were pitted against three of the top baseball programs from other states. For example, in the first tournament, the three Louisiana teams played three teams from the state of Florida (University of Florida, University of Miami, and Florida State).[44] Other states against which Louisiana competed included California, Texas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama. The popular tournament, played over three days, typically drew crowds in excess of 25,000. Fans were treated to the appearances of many of the top college players in the country, quite a few of whom went on to the majors. The tournaments were played through 2000.

Tom Schwaner, then the head baseball coach for UNO, recalled his team’s experience playing in the Superdome. “It was exciting to play in front of the large crowds, which were unusual for college baseball at that time. From my point of view, it was an excellent facility for the college level. Our guys loved playing on the artificial turf. The foul lines were kind of short, but there was plenty of room in the gaps for triples and potential inside-the-park home runs.” He added, “The tournament was a showcase for the teams and the players. You wouldn’t believe how many baseball coaches around the country lobbied me over the years to get their team a spot in the tournament.”[45]

Outfielder Ted Wood, who played for Schwaner at UNO, took part in the first two editions of the tourney. He said, “Anyone who was around New Orleans at that time wanted to play at the Superdome. It was cool and exciting, especially for a 20-year-old kid. And that artificial turf. . .it was the old kind, which was basically carpet over concrete with a little padding. It suited my game to a T.”[46]

When the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s played in the Superdome in March 1989, American League President Dr. Bobby Brown (a former Tulane University player) was impressed with the two-day attendance of 60,000. He said, “I think New Orleans ranks with any of the other cities which have applied for a franchise.”[47] Giants general manager Al Rosen complimented the city for hosting the exhibition games to expose the Superdome to baseball people. He said, “It takes people, movers and shakers to show Major League Baseball that New Orleans is a major-league city. And there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is a major-league town.”[48]

In 1993 the Triple-A Denver Zephyrs relocated to New Orleans, as an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.[49] After the team played its first four seasons on the UNO campus, a new state-of-the art 10,000-seat baseball stadium was opened in 1997 in Metairie, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans, as the Zephyrs’ new home. Interest in New Orleans as a major-league city had largely waned since the late 1980s. The relocation of the Zephyrs and the construction of the new, baseball-focused park practically ended any chances that the Superdome would ever play host again to a professional team’s regular season.

On April 10, 2002, LSU and Tulane squared off in a game at the Superdome billed as a “Night of Records.” The promoters for the contest had intentions of breaking the all-time record for a college game (24,859) that was set in the 1999 College World Series in Omaha. With 24,000-plus tickets sold prior to the game and a large walk-up crowd, the attendance was 27,673, then a new record for a college game.[50]

Tulane and LSU faced each other in the stadium again in 2003 and 2004, which were the last baseball games played there at the time this story was written in spring 2023.

The Superdome and the city ultimately struck out in getting their long-desired major-league team. Perhaps the main reason was that New Orleans never had a local financial backer who could be the driving force in acquiring a franchise, either through expansion or relocation. Other issues that came into play at various times during the city’s pursuit included the negative report from Major League Baseball about the suitability of the dome; the facility being too expensive to lease; and the New Orleans metropolitan area not being a large enough market to support a major-league team.

The darkest time in the Superdome’s history had nothing to do with sports. After disastrous Hurricane Katrina slammed the city of New Orleans and surrounding areas in August 2005, the facility became something of a haven for local citizens whose homes had been damaged or flooded, even though the dome itself suffered roof damage. However, the Superdome wasn’t well prepared to serve as an emergency shelter for residents, and living conditions inside it reached a level of disgust before inhabitants could be evacuated from the city.

The Superdome has outlived other domed stadiums built in the same era (Astrodome, Metrodome, and Kingdome) that served as permanent homes for MLB teams.[51] That’s because the Superdome remained viable for professional and college football. Had the Superdome been successful in also becoming home to an MLB team, it’s likely that team would have ultimately required a new stadium, too.

Most recently updated on April 18, 2023.


Continued thanks to Tom Schwaner and Ted Wood for their support of the BioProject’s efforts.

This story was reviewed by Kurt Blumenau and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Paul Proia.


In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author referred to numerous issues of the Times-Picayune for background information.



[1] The Superdome also held the name Mercedes-Benz Superdome from 2011 to 2021. As of this writing in 2023, the name of the stadium is Caesars Superdome.

[2] The New Orleans Pelicans were members of the Southern League during 1887 and 1899 and the Southern Association during 1901-1959. The Southern Association was two levels below the majors.

[3] Among the teams who conducted spring training in New Orleans were Cincinnati (1896, 1900), Philadelphia A’s (1908-09), Cleveland Indians (1902-03, 1905-06, 1912, 1916-20, and 1928-39), Chicago White Sox (1905-06), Chicago Cubs (1907, 1911-12), Brooklyn Dodgers (1921), New York Yankees (1922-1924), and Boston Red Sox (1925-27). Accessed February 9, 2023.

[4] N. Charles Wicker, “New Orleans Represented by 100 Youngsters in Pro Baseball Loops This Year,” Times-Picayune, April 9, 1939: Section 4,2.

[5] Derby Gisclair, Early Baseball in New Orleans: A History of 19th Century Play, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company (2019): 122, 127.

[6] Dick Clark and Larry Lester, The Negro League Book, Cleveland, Ohio: SABR (1994): 32.

[7] Retrosheet, 1948 Negro League World Series, Accessed March 24, 2023.

[8] Peter Finney, “Superdome: New Orleans’ $163 Million Igloo,” Sporting News, August 17, 1974: 45.

[9] Dale Curry, “Start on Dome Due in 60 Days,” New Orleans States-Item, March 5, 1971: 1.

[10] “Stadium Body’s Spending Is Hit,” Times-Picayune, March 12, 1970: Section 1, 25.

[11] Joey Morgan, “Louisiana Superdome Construction Expected to Begin on May 1,” Times-Picayune, January 22, 1971: Section 3, 3.

[12] Chris Shearouse, “Picture Emerge From Dome Land Puzzle3,” New Orleans States-Item, November 18, 1970: 35.

[13] Morgan.

[14] Nate Cohen, “Baseball Boosters Swing Into Action,” Times-Picayune, January 28, 1971: Section 3, 2.

[15] Dan Greene. ‘Baseball Men Came, Saw, and Are Thinking.” Times-Picayune, November 2, 1972: Section 3,1.

[16] “Paul to be Guest Speaker at Baseball Ducat Drive,” Times-Picayune, February 13, 1972: Section 6,7.

[17] Brian Allee-Walsh and Will Peneguy, “Baseball: To Be or Not To Be? That is the Question,” Times-Picayune, August 4, 1980: Section 6,9.

[18] Kenneth Weiss, “’Split Franchise’ Baseball Pondered for Superdome,” Times-Picayune, August 5, 1976: Section 1,1.

[19] “‘Insurance’ for New Orleans,” Sporting News, August 26, 1972: 22.

[20] Jerome Holtzman, “Superdome to Lead Way for Baseball Expansion,” Times-Picayune, June 13, 1974: Section 6,2.

[21] Bob Roesler, “‘Tomorrow’ Here Tonight in Dome,” Times-Picayune, August 9, 1975: Section 3,1.

[22] The New Orleans Jazz franchise relocated to Utah after the 1978-1979 season.

[23] Richard Cuicchi, “April 5, 1976: Exhibition Game Launches Superdome Amid Hopes for MLB Franchise,” Crescent City Sports, April 26, 2020. Accessed January 25, 2023.

[24] George Sweeney, “Dome Beats Critics,” New Orleans States-Item, April 6, 1976: A-10.

[25] “How Many Seats Will the Superdome Have?” Times-Picayune, July 3, 1973, Section 1,11.

[26] Times-Picayune, April 7, 1976, Section 2 page 10.

[27] “Baseball Report,” New Orleans States-Item, January 29, 1976: A-16.

[28] Bob Roesler Editorial, Times-Picayune, April 7, 1976: Section 2 10.

[29] Individual game attendances were 10,073 on April 5; 10,031 on April 6; and 4,800 on April 7 (afternoon game).

[30] Ed Anderson, “Oilers Moving to Superdome,” Times-Picayune, October 7, 1975:, Section 6, page 1.

[31] “Baseball Owners to Consider N. O. as Expansion Site,” Times-Picayune, March 24, 1977.

[32] Peter Barrouquere, “Reason for Baseball in Dome: Count ‘em—”, Times-Picayune, April 20, 1977: Section 4 page 1).

[33]Bob Roesler, “Array, Let’s Hear it for the Pels!” Times-Picayune, April 9, 1977: Section 2, page 6.

[34] Richard Cuicchi, “Turn Back the Clock: ‘New’ Pelicans Lose 1977 Home Opener in Superdome,” Crescent City Sports, June 22, 2019. Accessed January 25, 2023.

[35] Bob Roesler, “Oakland to Dome a Deal—Smith,” Times-Picayune, October 14, 1977: 1.

[36] Bob Roesler, “Steinbrenner Still Backing New Orleans’ Bid for Team,” Times-Picayune, June 26, 1982: Section 5, 1.

[37] Richard Cuicchi, “Memorable Baseball Games in the Superdome: Major League Baseball Returns with Yankees-Orioles Series,” Crescent City Sports, April 9, 2022. Accessed January 25, 2023.

[38] Bob Roesler, DeBartolo Vows to Bring Baseball to New Orleans,” Times-Picayune, May 23, 1980: Section 4, 2.

[39] In addition to the major-league exhibition series mentioned earlier, the following series also occurred: 1983 (Yankees and Expos), 1984 (Phillies and Orioles), 1989 (Giants and A’s), 1991 (A’s and Dodgers), 1993 (A’s and Mets), 1994 (Yankees and Red Sox), and 1999 (Cubs and Twins).

[40] “UNO vs. Tulane box score,” Times-Picayune, April 4, 1981: Section 5, 4.

[41] Jimmy Smith, “Big Crowd to See UNO, Wave,” Times Picayune, April 3, 1981: Section 3, 1.

[42] Peter Barrouquere, “NL Wins for Old Times Sake,” Times-Picayune, June 3, 1984: Section 6, 1.

[43] Peter Barrouquere, “AA Team Moving?” Times-Picayune, September 10, 1986: Section C, 1.

[44] Richard Cuicchi. “Memorable Baseball Games in the Superdome: Louisiana vs. Florida in First Busch Challenge,” Crescent City Sports, April 14, 2022. Accessed January 25, 2023.

[45] Telephone interview by the author with Tom Schwaner on March 27, 2023.

[46] Telephone interview by Rory Costello with Ted Wood on April 17, 2023.

[47] George Sweeney, “Dome Impresses AL President,” Times-Picayune, March 30, 1989: C-2.

[48] Peter Barrouquere, “Henderson Spurs A’s in the Dome,” Times-Picayune, March 20, 1989: C-2.

[49] The Denver Zephyrs relocation was prompted by Denver acquiring a National League franchise (Colorado Rockies) for the 1993 season.

[50] Richard Cuicchi, “Memorable Baseball Games in the Superdome: LSU and Tulane Battle on ‘Night of Records’ 20 Years Ago,” Crescent City Sports, April 8, 2022. Accessed January 25, 2023.

[51] Enron Field became the Houston Astros’ stadium in 2000. After the NFL Houston Texans moved to NRG Stadium in 2002, the Astrodome was repurposed for several years and then abandoned. The last season the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis was used by the Twins was 2009. After the NFL Minnesota Vikings played their last season there in 2013, the Metrodome was demolished. The Seattle Mariners played in the Kingdome midway through the 1999 season. It was demolished after the NFL Seattle Seahawks’ 1999 season.