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  • Brandon Gee

Fifth Third Arena – Cincinnati Bearcats

Photos by Conrad Klank, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43

Fifth Third Arena 2700 O'Varsity Way Cincinnati, OH 45221

Cincinnati Bearcats website Fifth Third Arena website

Year Opened: 1989 Capacity: 13,176


A Lair Fit for a Bearcat

Opened in 1989, Fifth Third Arena (formerly the Shoemaker Center) brought Cincinnati Bearcat basketball back to the uptown campus for the first time since 1976. Since then, the Cats have gone on to 18 NCAA tournament appearances. Fifth Third Arena is a case of making the best out of what you have. A space that is really a functional gymnasium was turned into one of the area’s most imposing courts.

Food & Beverage 3

Concessions at Fifth Third Arena offer pretty standard fare at decent prices. Hot dogs, peanuts, pretzels, and french fries all cost $3.75. There are also cheeseburgers ($4.50) and chili cheese fries ($7) along with pizza from the regional chain Donatos.

Cincinnati sells beer at games. There are the standard domestic choices ($7) plus a couple of drafts from Goose Island and Blue Moon. Pepsi has soft drink rights with $5.50 large/$3.75 regular, or bottled water for $3.50.

Atmosphere 3

If you can avoid it, stay away from the corners. The distance from the court plus the way the seats are oriented over empty portions of the gym take you out of the action a bit. These dead zones are made doubly worse if you have to sit in the upper decks’ backless bleacher seats (which start at row 16). The best value would be to sit either in the chairback seats of the upper deck’s center sections or along the baseline in 112 (again, bleacher seats) next to one side of the student section.

With all that said, in spite of the poor sightlines, a packed house here can be an amazing experience. Taking a cue from the pep band and the students posted up on both baselines, the crowds can be boisterous, giving the team a real home-court advantage. Speaking of which, the team has enjoyed a winning percentage at Fifth Third Arena of over .820. When the crowd shows up, this is a hostile place for the opposition.

Neighborhood 4

The UC campus is a boon for fans of architecture. In 2012, four campus buildings were honored on this list of the Top 50 Examples Of College Architecture along with past honors from Forbes Magazine as an “inspiring campus.” Being an urban university, the surroundings are historic but much more contemporary than some midwestern schools.

Just off-campus, the university is in the midst of a development project on the school’s southern border. Most of the businesses along Calhoun and McMillan Avenues were bought out. The buildings were replaced with massive mixed-use developments. If you went to the school ten years ago, this area would be unrecognizable. The upside for visitors is the variety of bars and restaurants that have come in. “Fast Casual” places like Lime Mexican Grill and Pieology Pizzeria, the mac-&-cheese haven at Keystone, and beer-centric restaurants like The Brass Tap and The St. Clair are all a short walk from the arena.

At the same time, the main drag on the east side of campus, Short Vine, has seen a resurgence with new restaurants like Hang Over Easy (all-day breakfast food), waffles from Taste of Belgium, Alabama Que (barbecue), and more.

Fans 4

Bearcats fans have been averaging around 9,000 per game, but keep in mind the weak attendance for early out-of-conference opponents drags the numbers down. If you can catch a game with a conference opponent like Connecticut, South Florida or SMU, you’ll see crowds north of 12,000, and the now-restored home-and-away series with crosstown rival Xavier is always a raucous sellout.

Access 3

Fifth Third Arena is on the southeastern side of the Cincinnati campus, just ten minutes north of downtown. There are numerous parking garages around the area, the closest being the Corry & Clifton Garages which sit on the other side of Marge Schott Stadium from the arena. Both are easily accessed from Corry Blvd. There’s a lot of on-street parking along the east side of campus, but with school in session, there are rarely open spots. With the long walk in colder weather and time spent trudging around for a spot, you’re probably better off just paying for a garage. If you’re planning on eating off-campus before the game, you can park at one of two garages on Calhoun or east of the campus off Vine Street.

As for getting around inside the arena, Fifth Third Arena can be a challenge due to the number of stairs you have to climb. You have to walk up a steep flight to enter the actual arena at the top of the lower bowl, then go up or down from there.

As for transit options, the campus is a major hub of Cincinnati’s METRO bus service, with various routes to the uptown campus. Planning is underway to hopefully extend the under-construction streetcar route from downtown up Vine Street to the campus.

Return on Investment 4

The school uses a three-tier system for game prices. Rivalry games (Xavier, major conference opponents) range from $20-$75, Premier games (marquee out-of-conference opponents, select conference games) from $15-$55, and Regular at $10-$40. The bleacher seats aren’t great, but being the cheapest seats in the house, those aren’t bad prices to just get in the doors.

Adding in decent food prices (or the ability to find food around campus) and the cost of parking make Bearcat basketball a worthwhile expense.


Extras 3

One point for the nods to the history of the Bearcat basketball program. The school has done a great job of honoring the school’s NCAA tournament success along with former greats of the program (Oscar Robertson’s statue is outside the southwestern entrance).

One point for the Bearcat band and cheerleading squad. They’re lively and keep the energy up during breaks. The Bearcat Dance Team, which often performs at games, holds multiple titles at the national and world levels of competition.

One point for the arena staff. It’s always nice to see helpful ambassadors around to direct fans.

Final Thoughts

The Cincinnati campus is a patchwork of iconic architecture, so walking up to Fifth Third Arena is sort of jarring. It is a utilitarian brick box from the exterior, built before the school had begun investing in new structures from a who’s who of designers. News has come out that the university is consulting with the sports architecture firm Populous on a potential $70 million renovation. As much as the interior needs to be modified, one can hope there’s enough in the budget to bring the exterior in line with the rest of the campus environs. However, it is the team and the fans that give this building life. It is well worth your time to check out a Bearcat basketball game, just be sure to be a little choosy about where you sit.

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