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Official Review by Christopher Hart, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Northern Kentucky University is a fairly new school, established in 1968. It has quickly risen from a simple commuter college to a strong regional university. Their athletics program has made an equally quick rise to prominence. After only a few decades, they established themselves as a strong Division II program that saw the men’s soccer team win a National Championship in 2010. The growth of the school and the success of their athletics program pushed them to make the leap to Division I in 2012. A part of this transition required the university to invest in modern athletics facilities. The University constructed a brand new arena for the men’s basketball team, the Bank of Kentucky Center, and in 2009 they opened the $6.5 million, 1,000-seat, NKU Soccer Stadium.
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".
There is only one concession stand in the stadium which is directly behind the seats. It is in a very good position as it's just a short walk from the seats and you can still view the game while waiting in line. Unfortunately the food options are very lackluster. They offer hot dogs ($4), pretzels ($3), cheese nachos ($4), popcorn ($4), candy ($3), Gatorade ($4), water ($3), hot drinks ($3) and soda ($4). The concession staff is very friendly, but there is nothing in the selection that is unique or interesting.
The gates open about an hour before the game, but unless it is a big game there really is no reason to get there early. The stadium lacks any type of team shop or museum so the only thing to do is watch the teams warm up before the game. The one unique aspect of this stadium experience is that the players walk through the concourse to get to the field. This gives fans a chance to interact with the players. I even got a chance to speak to one player on the visiting team as he asked me for directions on how to get to the field.
The stadium is very clean, well-organized and easy to navigate. The stands are elevated from the playing surface which provides a much better view from every seat. While the seats are all bleachers they do have backrests which make for a much more comfortable viewing experience. I really enjoyed the view from the seats as the artificial turf field looks great and the field and walls surrounding the field are adorned with NKU Norse logos. You definitely get the feeling that this stadium belongs to the Norse. The view beyond the playing surface is mostly residential although to the left of the stadium there is a large empty grass field. The main complaint with the stadium is that the seats have no cover to protect you from the weather. If you plan on attending a game you might want to come prepared to sit in the rain.
The journey to the stadium from the visitor center parking garage is a nice little walk. You cross an iconic pedestrian bridge that leads you past the Bank of Kentucky Center (basketball arena) and past some pillars that list the NKU soccer programs' successes. This area of campus has the makings of a very nice little sports complex. The town of Highland Heights has started to develop some more restaurants and the soccer stadium is a short walk or drive from the main road.
There are numerous food options there including chains such as Frich's Big Boy, Applebee's, Chipotle, City Barbeque, Jimmy Johns, and Smashburger. If you are looking for something that is unique to NKU I would recommend Skyline Tavern. It is right next to campus and is essentially the student and faculty bar. It's a good place to go if you are looking for cheap beer and bar food.
I was very disappointed in the fan turnout for the game. I saw only 30-40 people in the stands and most of them were fans of the visiting team. I understand that the weather was bad and it was the day after the University's fall break, but it was still pretty disappointing. The few NKU fans that were in attendance did not make any attempt to cheer or participate in the game. I saw advertising for the student cheering section called the Norse Force, but they did not have a presence at this particular game.
NKU is easily accessible from I-275 which is one of the major interstate highways in the Greater Cincinnati Area. If you take the main entrance road onto campus you can easily see the NKU Soccer Stadium and there are numerous parking areas around. The primary parking is shared with the Bank of Kentucky Center and is directly next to both facilities. The Visitor Parking Garage is a short walk from the facility and holds plenty of vehicles, but is a bit pricey at $10. I would recommend Parking Lot T which is not much further and is only $4. Traffic issues can vary on campus depending on if there is an event at the Bank of Kentucky Center and what time of the day you get there. For most soccer games you should not anticipate any traffic or parking issues though.
Overall the NKU Soccer stadium offers a very solid, but unspectacular product. It is very nice looking and clean facility, but does not have anything that makes it unique. The tickets for the soccer games are $5 so when you add that with parking and food you are looking at spending about $15-$20. That's an overall reasonable price considering the NKU Soccer Stadium is a very nice venue to watch a decent collegiate soccer team. I think this rating could go up in time as the school builds up a fan base and is able to create a better game day atmosphere, but they have a ways to go.
Unfortunately, there's nothing additional about this venue that would make it unique or interesting.
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