When people think of the hotbeds of lacrosse in the United States, the east coast comes to mind. The NCAA finals always pack NFL stadiums in Baltimore, Boston, and elsewhere with schools like Syracuse, John Hopkins, Duke, and other traditional lacrosse powers. Meanwhile, the game has been growing in the Midwest, and specifically in Ohio. Major League Lacrosse has long coveted the Columbus market. An exhibition game took place at Columbus Crew Stadium before the league had any franchises situated, with the 2002 Championship game and a regular season game between the now-defunct Chicago Machine (no relation) and the Long Island Lizards being held there a couple seasons ago, as well. Finally, the area was awarded an expansion franchise for the 2012 season and the Ohio Machine was founded. The Machine are actually the second pro lacrosse team in the area, as the (indoor) National Lacrosse League had the Columbus Landsharks at Nationwide Arena from 2001-2003 but fans never took to the more hockey-like indoor version. It was a bit surprising then, when the team announced it would make Selby Stadium its home. The structure, which was built in 1929 by the same company that built the original Yankee Stadium, sits on the campus of the private Methodist school Ohio Wesleyan University, in Delaware, Ohio, about 30 minutes north of downtown Columbus. Delaware actually has a long lacrosse history with Selby serving as the home of OWU’s NCAA Division III men’s and women’s teams, the Battling Bishops. Now Delaware gets to host a major league team of the fastest growing sport in the country.
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All the basics (hot dogs, popcorn, candy) are available at decent prices. There's just one concession stand underneath the west grandstand and it backed up pretty quickly with the strong crowd present. However, I don't think fans were aware that the team set up two more portable stands on each open end of the grandstands. While the main stand was packed, the one 20 feet away was empty and people walked right up to get what they wanted.
Technically, Selby is a campus facility so I was surprised to see they sold beer. Domestics were $5 for 16oz. plastic bottles, not a bad price, really, when considering the typical stadium prices.
It was a bit of a surprise when the team announced it would play at Selby instead of other options, like Crew Stadium. However, MLL averaged about 6,400 fans per game last season and lacrosse would have potentially drowned in Crew Stadium, with that average being a little over a quarter of CCS's capacity.
Selby turned out to be a great choice. The policy of selling the west grandstand first and using the opposite side as overflow helps manage the atmosphere.
Selby Stadium is a really nice historic facility. It was built in 1929 by the same company that built the original Yankee Stadium, so keep in mind the aisles are a bit tight, though the bench seating is roomy enough to be comfortable throughout the game. A downside to the stadium is the track, it pushes the fans back and separates you from the action. Obviously, there's not much anyone can do about that and the seats are low enough that it's not really detrimental, just less than ideal.
Another detriment is the open endzones of the stadium, big swathes of red running track. The ends have high protective netting, perhaps it would help the atmosphere to move some of the fan festivities to those areas, or stage some sort of party deck for fans to watch from that area.
Just outside the stadium fence, there was a Warrior lacrosse trailer showcasing the latest gear and also a big inflatable field area for kids to play in, those two activities could possibly be moved inside the stadium to help fence the game in.
As for gameplay, the game moves fast. It's high-scoring so there's no room for goal horns and that sort of thing, because the next faceoff happens quickly. Obviously, lacrosse is a team sport, but it's similar to basketball in that it can allow for personal creativity in the run of play. The Machine have two attackers, Chazz Woodson and Connor Martin, who have made a name for themselves with their highlight reel goals, with a few being included in Sportscenter's Top 10 plays, on occasion.
Selby sits on the eastern edge of the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University. The campus is beautiful, with plenty and tree-lined pathways to tour the area. If you're a fan of architecture at all you'll enjoy the setting filled with buildings in the Neo-Romanesque and Greek Revival styles.
A couple blocks away to the west, on the other side of the campus, is downtown Delaware, with plenty of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops to hang out in. All in all, the whole town is a very idyllic setting and suits the family-friendly crowds. If you're strapped for time or don't want to sit down and eat, there's a litany of chain restaurants and fast food places along Columbus Pike (U.S. 23), and along the south end of Sandusky Street.
The fans were a pleasant surprise as I saw lacrosse fans from all over the state come out to support a major league team. Clearly the owners naming the team Ohio as opposed to Columbus was a shrewd move as I encountered fans from Dayton and Cincinnati, as well as fans from the major cities in the northern part of the state, Toledo and Cleveland. It also helps that Delaware is still close to the hotbeds of lacrosse in Central Ohio. All matter of men's and women's teams from the youth, high school, and club levels were present, everyone coming together to support the state's major league outfit. The merchandise booth was shocked by the demand and fans ended up buying most of the stock by the third quarter.
Overall, while people were into the game, cheering great offensive plays or saves by the Machine goalie, nobody got out of line. This is a very family-friendly atmosphere. A reporter for the Columbus Dispatch noted to me a quote by the MLL commissioner, David Gross, who was in attendance, and said there's never been an arrest at an MLL game. Sounds like a challenge (Kidding, kidding).
Delaware is situated 30 minutes north of downtown Columbus along state route 23 (Columbus Pike). You can access Selby easily from all directions. The team has a page to educate fans on how to get to the stadium here, but you should be aware that lots A, B, and C are all reserved for season ticket holders. There's a church lot open to the public near the corner of S. Henry and E. Williams Street. It's 5 bucks and is right across from the stadium. Another option would be to find street parking in downtown Delaware and just walk over, as South Sandusky is two blocks over and has plenty of on-street parking. Depending on what time you arrive, there should be no charge for the meters and it's a five minute walk past the beautiful Ohio Wesleyan campus. With the scale of this event, it's fairly easy to get in and out without too much of a wait or traffic issues.
Most single game seats are $18, a decent price for the talent level on the field. While lacrosse isn't the biggest marquee sport, these are still the top players in the world. Concession prices were average, and beer was priced way better than average. Merchandise was moderately priced and in line with other sports franchises in the area. I should mention that if you buy your tickets from the Machine site, you'll be glad to see there are no ticket charges tacked on to the price of the tickets.
One point for the big fish/small pond component of the Machine's location in Delaware. Choosing a small town as opposed to a location in Columbus elevates the focus on the team. Hopefully, the Delaware community will continue to support its hometown sports team.
One point for Major League Lacrosse coming to Ohio after many years of flirting with the Columbus market.
One point for the rapid growth of the game in Ohio. When my high school started up a program my sophomore year (many moons ago), there was about a third of the high school teams there are now in the state. The game is poised to continue to grow at all levels in Ohio and hopefully the Machine will benefit from this expansion, while also aiding in helping grow the game locally.
One point for the marketing of the team. Lower-level major-leagues like the MLL still have to fight hard for attention or to sell tickets and have to be aggressive, like minor league baseball or hockey. The Machine have a featured promotion for most home games that adds to the value of the ticket price.
I came away from the Machine's inaugural home game both impressed and hopeful. The attendance for this game (6,126) looked great at Selby. The scale of the town and stadium makes everything fit well. The costs for everything are a bit lower than expected, and the ease of getting to the field is low-stress, which makes this a very appealing event. I hope as the Machine improve on the field, that the fans continue to come out and support them. There's a good base of corporate support, both locally and at the league level. As well, the team will get exposure with games broadcast on CBS Sports Network and ESPN3.com, with a local TV deal with regional sports channel, SportsTime Ohio.
The Machine's arrival is another great step for the game of lacrosse growing in the state and will show the rest of the lacrosse community how strong the game is supported here in Ohio.
My experience was that the Ohio Machine brought a solid product to the field for the first home game. Just like any new experience they have a few items to remedy - cutting down on fans cutting across the stadium and blocking view of those in the lower seats - but I'm sure they'll get it worked out.
The food was reasonably priced but the quality was ho-hum at best. We made the decision to make sure we ate at one of the downtown restaurants before the game next time and avoid concessions - her pretzel was hard as a rock and the $1 extra cheese cup tasted like it was straight from a "Government surplus store" and my hot dog was a basic cheap hot dog.
Beyond that, it was an excellent experience and a great addition to Delaware and Central Ohio.
(One correction to the original review is that there is a relation between Chicago and Ohio Machine as it has the same president and general manager.)
6 S Sandusky St
Delaware, OH 43015
259 S Sandusky St
Delaware, OH 43015
18 S Sandusky St
Delaware, OH 43015
4850 Powell Rd
Columbus, OH 43065
1779 Home Rd
Delaware, OH 43015
236 Pennsylvania Ave
Delaware, OH 43015
175 E Town St
Columbus, OH 43215
1720 Columbus Pike
Delaware, OH 43015