Nippert Stadium – Cincinnati Bearcats
Photos by Brandon Gee, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
Nippert Stadium 2700 Bearcats Way Cincinnati, OH 45221
Year Opened: 1924 Capacity: 40,000
You Can Go Home Again
After construction forced Bearcats football to spend a year away from the Cincinnati campus at Paul Brown Stadium, the 2015 season saw the program return to a new and improved version of its 91 year-old stadium. The fifth-oldest venue in college football, Nippert Stadium’s major addition is the field-long premium seating structure, which adds revenue opportunities for the school, but also adds an imposing physical structure to a small stadium already considered a tough venue to play in for visiting squads.
Food & Beverage 4
Beer is sold at this on-campus venue with prices topping out at $7.50 for 20oz domestic drafts or 16oz cans of craft beers. The school has been good about featuring local or regional brews and do not disappoint with offerings from Cincinnati’s Rhinegeist and Cleveland’s Great Lakes. Part of the renovation saw an expansion of the concession stands and there are now new spaces on both the east and west sides to handle the flow of customers. There are the requisite stadium options but some stands offer barbecue and the Stadium View Cafe in the open end offers some more interesting options like the Sante Fe Chicken Egg Rolls and the Pretzel Bun burger.
Despite its modest size, Nippert has been hailed as one of the louder venues of its size. With the sunken bowl design and the surrounding buildings being so close the stadium, dealing with the noise has long been an issue for opposing teams. Now that the addition extends the entire length of the field, it should only heighten the atmosphere. Day games can feel a bit more relaxed. The crowds are active, but it’s a different feel. As the schedule is usually dependent on tv windows, and the Power 5 teams dominate afternoons, Nippert usually sees a good number of night games. In my opinion, this is when the place comes alive. As was the case when Miami (FL) came to town in October of 2015, in front of a record-setting crowd, this place feels electric under the lights.
Under Tommy Tuberville, the energetic passing offense is still in place, but the Bearcats defense will definitely give up points. Depending on who you’re cheering for, this can be entertaining or absolutely maddening. The 2016 season schedule will feature home games against BYU as well as strong conference foes like East Carolina, Memphis, and 2015’s AAC Champion Houston.
Now if I can add a critique, it’s that as the stadium now feels more modern, it would be nice to see more history of the venue put on display. Maybe there’s not much real estate to work with, but it would be nice to see more reminders of how long this ground has hosted football.
Give yourself time to stroll around the area and campus. It offers a unique mix of architecture from some of the biggest names in the profession. This means that while the school lacks some of the charming, unifying themes of some traditional universities, the school offers an interesting clash in building styles, with dissimilar structures tucked side-by-side into the urban space just north of downtown Cincinnati. The area surrounding the UC campus continues to evolve, but the pre and postgame options are still plentiful. What was once a mix of rundown campus housing, independent shops, and fast food joints has slowly been overtaken by a partnership between developers and the university. Calhoun Street, the east-west street that forms the school’s southern boundary would be unrecognizable to someone who left the area 10 years ago. Now, this area features a number of mid-rise condo buildings with street level retail and restaurant spaces. There are some good beer selections over at Keystone (also features a dedicated menu of mac & cheese dishes), and The Brass Tap. Also, there’s a Waffle House. You can read more about the area here.
That same plan has transformed the eastern edge of the university on what is referred to as “Short Vine.” Bogart’s Music Hall is basically the last vestige of the street’s grittier days. Now the area has filled up with condos and casual food options like local favorite Taste of Belgium (waffles, crepes, etc.) and Hang Over Easy (breakfast foods served all day).
For a more “authentic” neighborhood, venture a couple blocks north up Clifton Avenue to Ludlow Avenue. You can find some low-key bars and interesting shops along with two of the major outposts for Cincinnati’s gifts to the culinary world, Graeter’s Ice Cream and Skyline Chili.
The school has continued its effort to foster tradition amongst the student population. Efforts paid off with the student section selling out for the 2015 season. The increased capacity meant new attendance marks to hit and the fans delivered. Five of the six home games in 2015 brought crowds topping Nippert’s old attendance mark and had two games with over 40,000.
The team further ingrains its way into the city’s sports consciousness each season, and being away from Nippert for a year before this return perhaps served to remind locals of what a great experience Bearcats football can be.
There is only so much that could be done to expand the concourses. Nippert sits in the middle of the UC campus and is surrounded on all sides by other buildings. One of the best additions is the walkway for the eastern upper deck. Previously, all fans on that side of the stadium were forced to the same concourse at ground level. This, of course, led to logjams for restrooms and concessions. Now, all fans in the upper deck are first led onto an elevated pathway and can walk above the lower bowl traffic straight to the new permanent facilities on an elevated plaza near Sheakley Lawn. The east’s lower bowl traffic now has access to a wider concourse with new concessions and actual restroom facilities (as in the past the concourse would be dotted with port-a-potties). The west concourse got some breathing room, as well, as previously lines for the concession stand would back up and block the flow of traffic. Now, this side has received new concession stands on the edge facing the student section and the far side of the premium seating buildings floor level. Additionally, new restrooms and an additional concession stand was built into the area near the steps on Bearcat Plaza in the stadium’s northeast corner.
As for getting to the stadium, UC’s location north of downtown and between the city’s two interstates makes getting to the campus convenient. There are numerous garages scattered around the area (check this map of the campus). There are lots and garages off-campus, but if you’re early you may be able to snag on-street parking east of the campus. If you want to avoid driving altogether, Metro buses are easy to catch from downtown to the campus and both Lyft and Uber are in the area.
Return on Investment 3
The 2015 season was a bit of disappointment on the field as the Bearcats were picked to contend for the AAC title. Instead, they finished 7-5 (4-4; 3rd in the AAC East). A bright spot is the squad still posted a 5-1 record at Nippert Stadium. Ticket prices are decent with many price points starting at $20 for the east end of lower bowl. Food and drink costs are less than the pro teams and parking is affordable.
An extra point for the urban nature of the stadium. The setting makes for one of the more unique experiences in college football. It’s certainly not the biggest stadium, and by virtue of its location it can’t be, but the new version of Nippert feels like it fits very well with the university’s collection of architecture and offers an environment somewhat uncommon in college football. A point has to go to the UC students. Student season tickets sold out for the year in 2015 and broke the previous sales record by more than a 1,000. Along with the new C-Paw laid out on the students seats, their section in the horseshoe end has a name, The Ruckus. Never hurts to have 4,000 rowdy fans to take the lead on creating that noise and hostile atmosphere.
With UC still (unofficially) prepping for a possible invitation to a Power 5 conference, the experience at Nippert should see continued improvements. Even as Cincinnati now shifts its focus towards the reported $85 million renovation of Fifth Third Arena next door, the football stadium may enter another phase of changes soon. UC’s Athletic Director has mentioned some of those changes already planned, including a new scoreboard and sound system as well as shifting a women’s restroom on the east concourse into a men’s restroom in order to better manage traffic there. Future improvements may include public wi-fi and possibly extending the LED ribbon boards the length of the upper deck.
Then there’s also the looming arrival of the professional FC Cincinnati soccer team who are set to use the stadium indefinitely. That club serving as the stadium’s main tenant through the spring and summer may bring its own changes to the environment.
Regardless, Nippert Stadium is one of the more unique settings in college football. You’d be well served to catch a game here. For those traveling to town to see the Bengals, if you can line up the schedule between the two teams, it can make for a great weekend of football.