There is a unique relationship between the city of Columbus and Major League Soccer. Founded in 1994 by MLS pioneer Lamar Hunt, the Columbus Crew would become one of the premiere franchises in the fledgling league. The Crew would begin their soccer life at the massive Ohio Stadium. The Crew would set the standard in 1999 with the opening of Crew Stadium, the first soccer specific stadium built for professional soccer in the United States. The rest of the league would over time follow suit and now the majority of MLS teams play in soccer specific stadiums. The influence of the Crew has not been lost on the field. Columbus has been successful enough to win the Supporters Shield in 2004, 2008 and 2009 as well as the MLS Cup in 2008.
With the death of Lamar Hunt, the Crew would move to the leadership of new owner Anthony Precourt. With the 2015 season they would rebrand to become Columbus Crew SC, a nod to more traditional soccer names that can be found throughout the MLS. New ownership would also seek a corporate sponsor in Mapfre Insurance. Crew Stadium would be renamed Mapfre Stadium. Even though some pretty significant changes have developed, the Crew still brand themselves as “The First Club in Major League Soccer,” and they may just have something there. Either way, the Crew take their position in the MLS seriously and attempt to put on a show that is above all others.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The concession selection at Mapfre Stadium is a pleasant surprise. There are four main concession stands within Mapfre Stadium, in each of the four corners of the upper concourse. There are also two concession stands underneath the east and west grandstands. These concessions offer all of the items that you would expect to find at a professional stadium. Hot dogs ($4.50), brats, pretzels, nachos, popcorn ($5.50) and peanuts are all available here. The German flavor of the City of Columbus can surely be felt here. The most unique items can be found in the main square on the south end of the stadium, at temporary stands. Bourbon chicken, smoothies, kettle korn, and lemonade can be found out here. Two spots that you will definitely want to consider are the Hot Chicken Takeover and the Schmidt's Sausage Haus stand. Schmidt's especially is a Columbus staple and was featured prominently on the Man vs. Food television show. Their stand has brats, German Potato Salad, sauerkraut and their signature Bahama mama sausage. Also available are their massive cream puffs.
As far as beverages go, Pepsi products are available throughout the stadium including Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew ($4.50/$6.50). The real surprise is in their selection of beers. Budweiser, Bud Light, Heineken and Michelob Ultra are available at most stands ($8.50/$11). However, if you are looking for something unique and local, hit the local Ohio brew concession in the west grandstand. The selection of local beer is phenomenal including Land Grant Stiff Arm IPA, Jackie O's Mystic Manor, Jackie O's Razz Wheat, Columbus Brewing Co. IPA, Great Lakes Elliot Ness Amber Lager and a whole host of others ($9.50).
Mapfre Stadium provides a great atmosphere for watching Major League Soccer. The exterior of the stadium is larger and more daunting than expected upon first view. If entering from the south, the large, open plaza will greet you. This is a great spot to meet, or grab something to eat. It is here in the south plaza where you will find the bronze statue of MLS legend and Crew founder, Lamar Hunt. Around the statue you will find a number of stones that commemorate great moments in Crew history. There are also stone memorials for former coach Tom Fitzgerald and former player Kirk Urso, both of whom have passed away.
Around the exterior of the stadium fans are greeted by large gold banners featuring current players. Upon entering the concourses fans can't help but notice the huge banners above each tunnel announcing great moments in Crew history. These include team accomplishments, like the Supporters' Shields and MLS Cup the Crew have earned, as well as individual accomplishments like Stern John's 1998 Golden Boot. The northwest side of the stadium also features a pitch for youth to play on.
The seating bowl has a two tier seating configuration. The pitch runs north-south with the north side of the stadium dominated by a large stage. Unusual by MLS standards, this stadium feature is no doubt designed to attract other events to the stadium. During Crew games it is used as a large bar area. The majority of the seating at Mapfre Stadium is in the east and west grandstands, which each have two levels of seating. The fascia on the east grandstand upper deck has shields honoring the Supporter Shields earned in 2004, 2008 and 2009, the US Open Cup earned in 2002 and the MLS Cup Championship earned in 2009. The fascia on the west grandstand fans will find the honored members of the Crew including Brian McBride and Freddie Hejduk.
Seating is not the greatest as the majority of the stadium is filled with aluminum benches with backs. Not the most comfortable of seating, but not entirely uncommon for MLS. The seating at center-pitch does have traditional stadium seating, but that seating is pretty limited. The other area of note in the stadium is the northeast corner of the stadium where the supporters sections are. The supporters are known as The Nordecke. These sections feature the most vocal and active fans, as well as a number of creative and entertaining signs. Sight lines at Mapfre Stadium are great, so selecting a seat should be done considering price, proximity to the supporters and type of seat.
The game production put on by the Crew is what you would expect for any MLS club. Both teams enter the pitch together accompanied by children, to the usual dramatic entrance music. The Crew's mascot, SC, travels the stands entertaining kids and taking photo ops. In a unique move, the Crew do their salute to the military person at the beginning of the game. The honored military person is presented with a Columbus Crew SC scarf by ambassador Freddie Hejduk, who does his best to pump up the crowd. After that, Hejduk and the veteran head over to The Nordecke, where the supporters really whoop it up.
As is often the case, if you have a stadium with a plethora of parking, it goes hand in hand with a weak immediate neighborhood. There is plenty of parking for fans at Mapfre Stadium. However, there is not much in the way of neighborhood interests. Mapfre is just north of the Ohio Expo Center and State Fair grounds, but there are very few restaurant options. Just to the north of Mapfre you can find a Frisch's Big Boy and a Wendy's. If you are looking for some good food options, you are best to be in the car in a different neighborhood. A Columbus staple would be Schmidt's Sausage Haus which can be found in German Village.
There are plenty of local sporting options to be found in Columbus. First and foremost, Columbus is known as the home of the Ohio State Buckeyes. The hockey and basketball teams play at the Schottenstein Center while the Buckeye football team plays at the horseshoe of Ohio Stadium. The NHL has a presence with the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. The Columbus Clippers of the International League play at Huntington Park and the Ohio Machine of Major League Lacrosse play at Panther Stadium.
There are not a ton of hotel options in the immediate area, however there is a Holiday Inn Express not too far north of Mapfre.
Crew fans are strong supporters of their team. Columbus has had fairly consistent attendance over the duration of its existence. The Crew faithful have been averaging over 16,000 fans per game for the last three years, which places them in the bottom portion of the league with regards to attendance. However, their percentage of capacity is strong.
The centerpiece of the Crew fan experience is the supporter group. Over time the various Crew supporter groups were consolidated into one group. Now known as The Nordecke, which translates to North Corner from German. The Nordecke are as boisterous as any other supporter group in MLS and do a great job of keeping the rest of the crowd into the match also.
Getting in and around Mapfre Stadium is not too difficult. The stadium is located immediately southwest of I-71, so getting to the stadium, especially if you are coming from out of town is not that difficult. If you prefer public transportation, then you can find buses on Summit St and N 4th St or E 11th Ave. Check out the Central Ohio Transit Authority website for maps, schedules and fares.
There is plenty of parking in the surface lots that surround Mapfre Stadium. The cost for parking is $15 and is probably the best way to get to the game. As with most stadiums that have such a plethora of parking, getting in and out of the area after the game can be a bit of an issue. Tailgating is a pretty decent activity here, so many fans will continue their tailgate after the match while the crowd thins out of the parking lots.
The main ticketing gate is at the south of the stadium and is outdoor. Lineups are not a big issue. Security is what you would expect, and getting in is not too bad.
Getting around the stadium is not a big issue as the concourses are more than wide enough. Washroom facilities are also adequate.
Attending a Columbus Crew SC game is a great family experience, offering a terrific return on a modest investment. Tickets for the Crew are in the $27 to $70 range. There are a ton of tickets that are in the $40 range, which isn't too bad for this type of event. Parking for the the day will be $15 and the concession prices are pretty decent. If you are a real MLS fan, then Columbus is one of those destination experiences that you must experience. The atmosphere is great and the fans contribute to making a Crew match a worthwhile experience.
An extra mark for an extra special promotion. On the date of the review, the Crew ran a $1 beer and brat promotion, which is exactly what it sounds like.
The influence and pioneering efforts of former owner, the late Lamar Hunt and how the Crew recognize their importance as part of MLS deserves an extra mention
An extra mark for the rather unique Hometown Hero treatment that the Crew promote for their honoring of the military.
Columbus Crew SC was at the forefront of MLS success and have been a pioneering force in the league for their tenure. The Mapfre Stadium experience is as good as any in MLS and has historic significance. If you are a big fan of MLS, then a trip to see the first team in Major League Soccer is not an option, it is a necessity.
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.
Experiencing the history of a sport is something that can only be done in a special setting. Mapfre 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.
The food has recently been revamped to include "Schmitt's" sausages, gourmet hotdogs, and various food trucks on the plaza. The Noredeck helps keep the fans and players alike energetic and enthusiastic even in poor weather. Ticket prices are fair if purchased at the box office or through third party, however Crew SC uses ticketmaster which leads to outrageous fees. Lamar Hunt Statue. Goal/match start streamers. Humorous player interviews during halftime.
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