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Official Review by Brandon Gee, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
First, Welcome Stadium is not named so as a friendly gesture, it’s actually named after Percival Welcome, a former Director of Athletics for Dayton Public Schools, whose high school teams share Welcome with UD. Though Welcome sits within the sport complex of this private, Catholic university, the school district actually owns the stadium. Built in 1949, specifically for high school football, UD moved here in 1974.
The program has spent time at many different levels in the NCAA. Currently the Flyer football program is a member of the Pioneer Football League, a conference made up of 10 schools (with two new members joining in 2013) that do not award athletic scholarships. In 2013, the conference will, for the first time, place an automatic qualifier into an expanded 24-team FCS playoff.
Dayton, Ohio is not known for its legacy in football. This small city in southwestern Ohio boasts a great tradition in college basketball. The city hosts two Division I programs, the Flyers here at UD and also across town at Wright State University’s Nutter Center.
Despite the pervasive basketball culture in town, Flyer football has been going strong for well over 100 years and has been elite competitors at every level they’ve participated in. With so much access to football, either through broadcast, or live around the state, there seems to be hope amongst the UD fan community that perhaps the conference’s elevated status with a pathway to post-season competition may be a major key to grabbing the attention of Dayton sports fans.
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 nothing spectacular, but the food is hot and prices are solid. Hot dogs, pretzels, and other standard stadium items are here like you would expect. One nice touch is the Skyline Chili stand selling coneys 3 for $5, which is only a slightly higher than what they cost in the restaurants. It was chilly during my most recent visit so the $2 hot chocolate and coffee was appreciated.
Welcome Stadium is a well-worn structure composed of two fairly tall stands that line the sidelines. This being a multipurpose facility, there's a wide track area that separates the fans from the playing field. Since there's no seating in the endzones, there are just two open swathes of red running track with a decent-sized automated scoreboard/videoboard on the stadium's south end.
Dayton has always been known as a basketball school, with the fantastic and imposing UD Arena next door to Welcome Stadium. What I happened upon as we drove into the massive surface parking lot surrounding the venues was a pleasant surprise. The lots had pockets of bundled up revelers tailgating, with the smells of grills and beer in the air. With the chill of a fall afternoon, this is what people refer to as "football weather". The number of people around wasn't huge, but those in attendance were having a good time, making for a jovial atmosphere.
The stadium itself is rather sterile, and it is definitely odd that after calling this place home for almost 40 years, there's absolutely nothing on the grounds that lets you know this is the home of UD football. I have no idea if there's some sort of issue between the school district and the university, but it just seemed strange.
The complex that contains Welcome Stadium also features UD Arena and separate stadiums for the baseball and softball teams. This all sits just across the Great Miami River from the UD campus. It's a 5 minute drive across the Stewart Street Bridge and you're at the UD campus. Drive for a few blocks and you'll hit Brown Street, a major commercial strip in the campus area that features plenty of local and national restaurant/bar choices.
From Welcome's stands you can look across the river and see UD's new River Campus expansion and its neighbor, the namesake tower of Carillon Historical Park standing above the fall foliage. A carillon is an instrument made of different amounts of bells and is usually housed in a tower. The park is a massive 65 acres of nature and buildings housing a cafe and exhibits including the Wright Brother's original 1905 Wright Flyer III airplane, and many other spaces dedicated to Dayton's history as a settlement and manufacturing. This would be a great destination for families.
Dayton is a small enough city that it's not really a far drive to get to most of the interesting places in town. For a neighborhood that has a bit more eclectic choices for food, or if you just want to avoid college bars, the Oregon District is about a ten minute drive north (cross Stewart, make a left onto Patterson, turn right when you hit 5th St.).
During the 2011 season, the team averaged about 3,200 fans a game, which is still low for the FCS level, but still higher than the PFL average. On this occasion, the announced crowd of 5,077 was enough to fill the west sideline to capacity with some spillover to the east sideline. Unfortunately, this was the high of the year in 2012 with some attendances dipping down into the low 2,000s in some cases. With the reputation Flyer basketball fans have, especially the intense student section, it would be great if the school can find a way to transfer that enthusiasm to the football field.
This should come with an asterisk, as Welcome Stadium, as well as all of UD's sports facilities, sit right next to exit 51 off I-75, just south of downtown Dayton. If you, like I did, drive in to Dayton from the south, this is incredibly convenient as you take exit 51 (Edwin C. Moses Blvd.) and the parking lots are right there. It's an easy and painless trip to go this way. However, all the downtown Dayton exits north of exit 51 have been closed for some time as I-75 has been under a massive realignment for what feels like an eternity. If you're traveling from the north, I would advise you to find an alternate route as the construction changes may not yet be noted.
Dayton football is really affordable with tickets for adults costing $10 and children $5, with no additional ticket service charge. Food was adequately priced and there was no charge for parking. An adult ticket, hot dog and a soda will still only run you about $16.
As for the quality of play on the field, since Dayton stepped up to the FCS level (previously known as Division I-AA) in 1993, the Flyers have earned at least a co-championship in the Pioneer Football League 11 times. That's an incredible ratio over the 19 seasons of the Pioneer Football League.
Going into the 2012 season, Dayton has posted the 2nd highest winning percentage in all of FCS football since 2000.
One point for the Flyers who have gone on to find success in football after their playing careers are done in Dayton. Alumni include Super Bowl winning coaches like Hall of Famer Chuck Noll ('53) and Jon Gruden ('86).
Welcome Stadium serves its purpose. Its features are adequate and the recent updates have helped to modernize the place a bit. However, I can't help but wonder if the game experience could benefit from a smaller, more intimate (no track) stadium. The University of Dayton's campus is gorgeous and the aged Welcome Stadium doesn't quite fit in, despite the modifications and fresh coats of paint. A team that has been this competitive deserves to be playing in front of better crowds and in a stadium that better fits in with the campus. This isn't necessarily UD's fault. They don't own the stadium so they're hamstrung when it comes to upgrades.
Thinking of the type of stadium that would work for UD, I'd like to see something along the lines of a fellow FCS football stadium like California-Davis's Aggie Stadium (capacity 10,000) or if someday the Welcome site could be modified while keeping the track intact, Robins Stadium (capacity 8,700) at the University of Richmond would be an apt model.
I don't know if the space is there, and there would be other issues to take care of, like parking, but perhaps expanding the school's soccer stadium (and an old home to football), Baujan Field, into a 6,000-7,000 seater would make for a better atmosphere and tie the tradition of football Saturdays into the campus setting.
This is all daydreaming of course. The University of Dayton is a private university and would likely need donors to step up to fund the changes. For now, it would be great to see Dayton Public Schools and UD partner more to further renovate the stadium, but who knows if that's likely to happen. Regardless, Welcome isn't a bad stadium, it's just generic and it just doesn't seem to fit the level of pride and history this program has developed.
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101 E Stewart St
Dayton, OH 45409
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