Ford Field was originally planned to be an outdoor stadium, simultaneously with Comerica Park, which opened in April 2000, as part of a public project to replace Tiger Stadium and the Pontiac Silverdome. Ford Field was constructed after Comerica Park, opening in 2002. It cost an estimated $430 million to build, financed largely through private money, public money, and the sale of the naming rights.
The stadium's design incorporates a six-story former Hudson's warehouse, which was constructed in the 1920s. Hammes Company, a real estate development company in Middleton, Wisconsin, developed the new stadium, as well as the warehouse.
The presence of the warehouse allows for a seating arrangement that was unique among professional American football stadiums at the time of Ford Field's opening. The majority of suites at Ford Field are located in the Hudson Warehouse along the stadium's southern sideline, as are the lounges that serve the premium club seats on that side of the field. The bulk of the grandstand seats are located along the northern sideline and both end-lines, with gaps in the stadium's upper half at the southwest and southeast corners. The upper deck on the stadium's northern sideline also contains one level of suites and a smaller section of club seating. A similar design was implemented at the renovated Soldier Field, albeit with the use of a new structure (as opposed to an existing building) to house four levels of suites.
Unlike most indoor stadiums, Ford Field allows a large amount of natural light to reach the FieldTurf field, thanks to immense skylights and large glass windows at the open corners. The windows along the ceiling are frosted to mimic the automotive factories that are prevalent in Metro Detroit. The southwest corner provides the seating bowl and concourse with sunlight year-round and also offers fans a view of downtown Detroit. To prevent the stadium from becoming an overly imposing presence in the Detroit skyline, the playing field and lower bowl (100 level) were set below street level, similar to the design at adjacent Comerica Park.
Ford Field is one of seven venues in the NFL that has end zones in the east and the west (the others being Arrowhead Stadium, AT&T Stadium, Hard Rock Stadium, New Era Field, M&T Bank Stadium, and FirstEnergy Stadium). There is no NFL rule for field construction regarding sunlight distracting players on the field. The east–west end zone design accommodated the Hudson warehouse location. The natural light is not a distraction to the players in a day game, because the light only reaches as far as the sidelines, leaving the field still properly lit with the combination of artificial stadium lighting and sunlight.
Ford Field hosted Super Bowl XL on February 5, 2006, as the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks, 21–10 to win their fifth Super Bowl championship in front of 68,206 in attendance. It also marked the final game in the 13-year career of Detroit native and 10-year Steelers running back, Jerome Bettis.
Despite hosting the Super Bowl, Ford Field remains one of only four current full-time NFL stadiums (the other three being FirstEnergy Stadium, Levi's Stadium, and U.S. Bank Stadium) that have yet to host an NFL playoff game, which generally requires the home team to win their division's championship (at the end of the regular season). In addition, the New York Jets have never hosted a playoff game at their current stadium (MetLife Stadium), while the co-tenant New York Giants have once since its opening in 2010. The Lions are unbeaten at Ford Field against the Cleveland Browns (1-0), Kansas City Chiefs (2-0), and Oakland Raiders (2-0), but winless against the Cincinnati Bengals (0-2), Indianapolis Colts (0-2), New England Patriots (0-2), New York Jets (0-2), Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1), and Tennessee Titans (0-2).
On April 1, 2007, Ford Field hosted World Wrestling Entertainment's WrestleMania 23. This event set a Ford Field attendance record of 80,103. It was the first WrestleMania held in the Detroit area since 93,173 fans set a world indoor attendance record at the Pontiac Silverdome for WrestleMania III in 1987.
The stadium was home to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl sponsored by Detroit-based Little Caesars (previously known as the Motor City Bowl and jointly sponsored by the Big Three automakers headquartered in Detroit – Chrysler, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors) from 2002 until 2013. It featured a top Mid-American Conference team and a Big Ten Conference team. The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl was replaced by the Quick Lane Bowl, featuring teams from the Big Ten Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference, and backed by the Detroit Lions and Ford Motor Company. It has also hosted the annual MAC Championship Game since 2004.
On December 13, 2003, Ford Field hosted the then largest crowd ever to attend a basketball game, as 78,129 people packed the stadium for the Basketbowl, where the Kentucky Wildcats defeated the Michigan State Spartans, 79–74.
The University of Detroit Mercy and Ford Field hosted the 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament regional semifinal and final games (March 28 and 30). Ford Field was the site of the 2009 Final Four (April 4 and 6). For the 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament, the court was placed in the center of the football field rather than in an end of the stadium. This was the first time this configuration was used for NCAA Tournament play with the new 70,000-seat capacity rule in effect.
The 2010 Frozen Four was held on April 8 and 10 with Boston College defeating Wisconsin to win the championship. This has been the only time NCAA hockey has used a football stadium for the championship and resulted in the largest attendance (37,592) at a Frozen Four event.
The MHSAA Football Finals take place on Thanksgiving weekend, typically drawing over 60,000 fans. The stadium is also used each fall to host the MCBA finals, where Michigan high school marching bands compete to be the best in the state.
Ford Field has been the site of several neutral-site regular season college football games, including Michigan State vs. Florida Atlantic in 2010 and Western Michigan vs. Illinois in 2008.
On December 13, 2010, the Minnesota Vikings played a home game at Ford Field against the New York Giants after the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome's inflatable roof collapsed due to a rip in the roofing material caused by heavy snow accumulation. The roof failure forced the already postponed game to be moved elsewhere, and after deliberations, the NFL chose Ford Field. It was the first ever regular season Monday night game played at Ford Field. The Lions hosted their first ever Monday Night Football game in Ford Field on October 10, 2011 against the Chicago Bears.
Kid Rock held his 40th birthday party at Ford Field to kick off the tour of his new album Born Free on January 15, 2011.
Ford Field hosted two group stage matches of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer tournament on June 7, 2011. Panama played Guadeloupe in the first match, and the United States played Canada in the second match.
The Professional Bull Riders brought their Built Ford Tough Series tour to Ford Field for the first time ever in March 2012. Ford Field is the second Detroit area venue the BFTS has visited; they had visited The Palace of Auburn Hills in 2001, 2006 and 2007.
The United States Hot Rod Association (USHRA) holds multiple Monster Jam Monster Truck races at Ford Field. These races were previously held in the Pontiac Silverdome until it was closed. The USHRA usually runs 2-3 events a year at Ford Field.
In 2014, Ford Field hosted the 2014 Society for Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM)Midwest Regional Conference sponsored by Department of Emergency Medicine at Wayne State University and the Detroit Medical Center. This is the second time Ford Field has hosted this conference (2007 and 2014) and the 24th Midwest Regional SAEM conference.
A Buffalo Bills home game against the New York Jets was played at Ford Field on November 24, 2014 after a major lake effect snowstorm hit western New York, causing the game to be moved from Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills won that game 38-3.
In 2015, Ford Field housed the large group gatherings of the ELCA Youth Gathering.