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  • Writer's pictureDavid Welch

Columbus Civic Center – Columbus Lions



Photos by David Welch, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43

Columbus Civic Center 400 4th St. Columbus, GA 31901


Year Opened: 1996 Capacity: 7,573

 

It's Football Time in the Civic Center


The state of Georgia is well known for its love of football – from Friday nights under the lights at high school fields around the state to Saturdays on college campuses or Sundays at Mercedes Benz Stadium, there is no denying Georgia’s love of football. While Georgians have a deep love affair with the game in its traditional form, the alternative forms of the game have found a niche audience in the west central Georgia city of Columbus.


Columbus, Georgia has been a fixture on the arena football landscape since 2007, when the initial incarnation of the Lions would play in the World Indoor Football League. Since that time, the Lions have played in seven different indoor football leagues, finding their most recent home as members of American Indoor Football (AIF).


Over the years Columbus has shown itself to be one of the more formidable teams regardless of the league they played in – the Lions have made the playoffs in all but one of their seasons, and have won four league championships.


Arena football’s core rules are similar to typical football, but the limited size of the playing surface (50 yards long and just over 28 yards wide) calls for specialized rules to compensate for the restricted space the game is played.


Some rule differences are evident right away, such as 8 players per side and different pre-snap motion rules. Other rule changes regarding defensive stunts and blitzing might not be as obvious right away, but overall the rules here are designed to emphasize scoring, to create an exciting game experience.

 

Food & Beverage   4

Concessions at Columbus Civic Center are a mix of traditional stadium fare and a touch of local options. The basic concession stands have a limited menu that includes nacho chips with cheese sauce, popcorn, bottled Pepsi products, and Gatorade. Pepsi vending machines are also widely available around the concourse.


The line at Chester’s BBQ & Grille should be a good sign that it is probably the best bet when it comes to concessions here; Chester’s has a wide selection of chicken tenders, wings, BBQ sandwiches, and just good old scoops of meat (yes, this is an actual menu option). Chester’s is the best bet to get a decent arena meal at a fair price, including several combo meals that offer a well-discounted price.


Besides Chester’s, a combo concession stand serves a limited menu from Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, while the other side serves cones from ice cream chain Bruster’s.  Pizza is also served at The Pizza Place, but $7 for a slice does seem a bit steep.


Full-service bar stations are set up on the exterior concourse on each side of the arena and offer fans domestic beers, mixed cocktails, wine, Nutrl vodka seltzers, and cans of Cutwater premixed cocktails.

 

Atmosphere   3

The exterior of Columbus Civic Center has a rather modern feel to it, utilizing a great deal of windows to the curved entry point of the arena. Once inside the entry foyer is reminiscent of a smaller version of Gas South Arena, with bookending stairways that curve up to a second level. The arena itself has the feel of Macon’s Centreplex, where the seating bowl horseshoes into a wall of what appears to be either offices or suites.



A small, four-sided scoreboard hangs over midfield, but the center sideboards either do not work or are just not used for whatever reason. While the enjoyment of the game is not impacted by the lack of a video board, there is nowhere for fans to get down-and-distance information.


Stoppages in play are typically accompanied by music rather than ad reads, which fans appear to enjoy, as they are quick to their feet to dance along with the music. Players also frequently take notice of the music being played and are excited to join the fans in dancing. Throughout the game the team mascot, Leo, makes his way around the arena, taking pictures and interacting with fans.


There is a lot to make the Columbus Lions experience an exciting one for both those who are there simply to be entertained, and those who are there more for the competition on the field.

 

Neighborhood   3

Columbus Civic Center is part of the larger complex that sits on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, just across the state line from Alabama. The complex is home to several of Columbus’ athletic facilities, including R.G. Jones Field and the accompanying softball complex, which hosted softball during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, as well as A. J. McClung Memorial Stadium, which once hosted the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” between Georgia and Auburn – today McClung Stadium hosts the “Fountain City Classic” between Albany State and Fort Valley State.


On the western edge of the complex is Golden Park, the one-time home of the Columbus RedStixx, and following major renovations, this venue will become the new home of the Atlanta Braves AA affiliate in the Southern League when the Mississippi Braves relocate following the 2024 season. Though not directly on site, the Civil War Naval Museum neighbors the athletic complex.


Just a short drive from Columbus Civic Center, downtown Columbus has a concentration of restaurants, brewpubs, and lodging. The Columbus Riverwalk along the Chattahoochee River also provides access to the Civic Center from downtown, while just across Chattahoochee is Phenix City, Alabama, with more eateries and hotels.

 

Fans   4

The Lions give their fans a lot to get excited about through their performance on the field, and their fans reciprocate with a great deal of support. Columbus Civic Center typically sees a few thousand fans fill the seats of the arena, and they play a big part in setting the tone for a fun indoor football experience.


Columbus players are very interactive with their fans – it is commonplace for players to celebrate by giving fans high-fives as they return to the bench area, or for a fan to help a player tuck his shoulder pad back into his jersey.



The Lions have a long history in Columbus, and it has paid off in a symbiotic relationship, where the team is part of the Columbus community and a source of local pride.

 

Access   3

Columbus is located in west central Georgia, approximately an hour-and-a-half from Atlanta’s southside. Visitors from Georgia’s largest city can access the area via I-85 to I-185. If coming to Columbus from any other direction, be prepared to use US or state highways.


Columbus Civic Center is surrounded by a great deal of parking, close to the front entrance to the arena. The layout of the entrance is a bit strange in that the box office is not accessible from the outside, so visitors will have to enter the arena to purchase tickets. This line might be a bit delayed once security checks are set up.


Once in Columbus Civic Center, curved staircases lead to a concourse that horseshoes around the back of the arena. There is not an inner walkway that passes fully around the seating bowl, but several entry portals allow visitors to easily access their seats. While the concourse continues completely around the arena, security does not allow access to the back hallway, so fans can’t walk fully around.

 

Return on Investment   3

General admission tickets start at $15, which might seem a touch high, but when considering there are no parking fees, it does make the general admission ticket price a bit more reasonable.


Concessions are a bit hit or miss. Pizza prices do seem to be rather expensive with a slice going for $7. On the other hand, Chester’s prices are very reasonable, and they do not shy away from serving good-sized portions.

 

Extras   4

Columbus Civic Center is also home to the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame – three of the most notable enshrined athletes come from the world of baseball: Walter Alston, Enos Slaughter, and Frank Thomas (all three are members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame).


If you look close enough at the end zones, through the black paint, you will notice the logo of the LA KISS of the Arena Football League; the KISS was owned by band members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.


Like other indoor football leagues, fans are free to keep game balls that enter the stands. Players are also rather generous in tossing touchdown or turnover balls to kids, or to some of the more passionate adult fans.


Following the game, fans are invited onto the field for 30 minutes for a player meet-and-greet to get autographs, take pictures, or just interact with players.

 

Final Thoughts

The Lions play a fun, high-speed, high-scoring style of football – the problem is they might be too good, making many of their games not very competitive. It’s a good problem to have, though; no one wants to be on the other end of that equation.



American Indoor Football seems to be struggling to establish a competitive balance and sustainability for its league. The 2024 season started with plans for seven teams, but one folded midseason, another moved to a non-league schedule, and a third never got operations off the ground.


Games have been so lopsided this year that the playoff format was even changed midseason. The instability of the league does not seem to hurt the Lions as an organization, however, as they appear to be head and shoulders better than the rest of their competition in the league.


Regardless of what the future holds for AIF, Columbus appears to be on solid footing when it comes to the stability of their franchise and should continue to prosper regardless of what the 2025 arena football season might bring.

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