Experiencing the history of a sport is something that can only be done in a special setting. Crew Stadium boasts the label of the first soccer-specific stadium in the United States and is a special representation of where MLS has been and where it’s going. The stadium was built in 1999 as the new home of The Columbus Crew and has also hosted FIFA World Cup qualifying matches. With the new logo launch and rebranding as Columbus Crew SC, the organization is making strides to improve their position in the market and maintain the tradition that makes the club special.
Access to the stadium from downtown is made simple because of its location right off of I-71. The parking is organized and set up to limit walking distance. The plaza opens up upon entering through the gates and is presented as the hub of pre-game activities. They have a local band on the stage surrounded by a selection of food and beverage items, sponsorships and local businesses. The emcee from a local radio station keeps fans updated on things to check out before the match begins. This is a great place to hang out with the locals before finding your seats.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Crew Stadium is not known for its gourmet food options, but there is something for everybody. Hot dogs, pretzels, popcorn, candy and soda are all available for decent prices at just about any stand. If you're in the mood for a familiar brand, Subway and Papa John's are located at the southwest and southeast corners of the stadium. The hidden gem is the gyro station in the upper northeast grill. They make your gyro to order and with whatever ingredients you can think of including feta cheese and tzatziki sauce. My favorite part of the food and beverage experience is the "Beers from Ohio" stand located in the northeast corner near the supporters section. Enjoying a "Buckeye Beer" at halftime makes you feel a part of the local experience.
I would recommend a seat located in the south bleachers for a complete view of the pitch and of the different environments in each section. There is a designated family section and a fantastic supporters section named the "Nordecke" which translates to North Corner. The word is an ode to the German origins of the city of Columbus. These fans have custom chants, fog machines and instruments that lead the entire crowd in support of the club. The tension during a scoreless match keeps fans on edge and results in an explosion of chanting and singing when a goal is scored. The only thing that can be bothersome during the match is the protruding stage at the north end. Even though it is used as a beer garden of sorts, it takes away from the feel of the stadium and reminds you that there are uses for the complex besides the soccer game you are attending. This is profitable for stadium operations, but takes away from the fan experience as a whole.
The stadium is about a ten minute drive from the Ohio State campus coming from the west. Venturing east on the other side of the highway is not recommended. There is only one restaurant worth checking out and that is Fourth Street Bar and Grill, or the "soccer bar" as the locals call it. Inside is a representation of the soccer origins of the city with Crew memorabilia and HD televisions to take in a game when you can't make it to the stadium. I was also privileged to take in a USA World Cup match here against Belgium. It was easily one of the most electric environments I have been a part of. The "Nordecke" has a tradition of walking from Fourth Street to the stadium due to its proximity and remains the only option in the neighborhood to hang out at outside of campus locations.
You'll find some of the most dedicated soccer fans during your time at Crew Stadium. You may be surprised by the amount of knowledge the spectators have about the players and the direction of the team moving forward. They have a lot to be excited about, including new ownership and rebranding. Although they have great energy, especially near the end of the match, the fans outside the supporters section have trouble with the chants.
Some of the players are from areas near Columbus and around Ohio, so a couple of the fans had personal ties to the club. One fan I talked to went to high school with Wil Trapp, one of the team's rising young stars. Also, former Crew and national team star Frankie Hejduk acts as the team ambassador through events around the city, but it also means you can see him running around the stadium to spend time with the fans. He is another important figure to the supporters of the club.
Crew Stadium is familiar with hosting big events such as music festivals and other major concerts. The parking is affordable at $10 and walking time to the stadium is minimal. There are multiple exits surrounding the stadium parking lot that all can lead to the highway or back to campus. The staff does a great job of getting everybody out in a timely fashion. The easy direction makes navigating through unfamiliar terrain an enjoyable experience. Restrooms are easily available on all sides of the stadium and the lines are manageable besides the halftime rush.
It seems the club has no problem bringing in the passionate supporters to every game. The challenge is reaching the casual fan who would rather spend their time at an Ohio State football game on campus or Blue Jackets NHL game in the downtown area. I like the tagline of "Your soccer experience starts at..." which is used around the city to market games. My soccer experience started at 25 dollars in the south end and was a great view of the action. I enjoyed my experience and would recommend it to any casual fan looking to explore a piece of soccer history. The only games the club can sell out are the "dollar beer and brat" nights because of the overwhelming value. I don't think there are enough affordable options outside of this promotion to attract fans to the stadium on a more regular basis.
You'll be taken away by the view of downtown Columbus from the top of the stadium. It's so picturesque you feel as if you can reach out and touch the skyline. It is truly one of the most beautiful views in the entire city. There has been debate on whether or not the club should move to a downtown location in the future. Purists argue it would take away from the historical aspect and others say it would help boost ticket sales. I'll leave the verdict up to you.
After the match, hundreds of fans line up for the "post-match autograph session" with a select group of players. I did not stand in line myself, but I did take in the sights with a drink from the stadium club bar as the fans celebrated a victory. The stadium club and other post-match activities such as penalty kicks on the field provide entertainment for those looking to extend their experience. (Note: the penalty kicks are for children only and occur on select nights throughout the season like the autograph session).
In Columbus, the passion for Ohio State football can't be matched, but the soccer experience of Columbus Crew SC provides a unique avenue for the traveling sports fan. The club encourages its supporters to "protect your fortress." That is exactly the kind of atmosphere that is created - not downtown, not on campus, but a corner of the city full of passion for their team and the "fortress" they create.
When the MLS began play in 1996 it was hard to know whether or not the league would be able to capture the mind's of the American audience. Professional soccer leagues had been attempted in the states before, but none had been able to sustain the kind of support to achieve lasting success.
One of the original teams in Major League Soccer was the Columbus Crew. The team drew instant support in the inaugural season drawing an average of more than 18,000 spectators per game. Those numbers dwindled through the years, especially in years when the Crew were not quite good enough to make the playoffs, but overall the attendance has remained steady.
Today, the Columbus Crew continue to draw support from this largely college-focused community. Located just a mile or so from the main drag of Ohio State University, High Street, the Crew seem to draw a young and exuberant crowd, as well as a following of fans that have established their loyalty over the 15+ seasons.
As every other MLS team opens their sparkling new soccer-specific stadium, homage is always paid to the original, Columbus Crew Stadium. While it may be lacking in the modern amenities that have become commonplace in the leagues’ newer stadiums, it makes up for it by representing the anchor facility of America’s top-flight soccer league. In a way, Crew Stadium fits perfectly in its midwestern environs of Columbus, Ohio. The pragmatic approach that league founder & former team owner Lamar Hunt laid out in the design of Columbus Crew Stadium is befitting a team named the Crew.
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