There’s an old saying that when one door closes, another door opens. That phrase could not be more fitting than for what’s gone on with the Columbus Crew the last few weeks.
While it was sad to say goodbye to historic Crew Stadium after more than 22 years on June 19 — although it’s really more like ‘see you later,’ as that venue is converted to the team’s new OhioHealth Performance Center — the Crew will open it’s brand new Lower.com Field on Saturday evening. While two other Major League Soccer stadiums opened this summer, the venue in downtown Columbus is truly the league’s new crowned jewel.
“The stadium is spectacular and it’s defied all of our expectations,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said at Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at Lower.com Field. “It’s modern… It’s not your traditional stadium that’s been being built in so many environments around North America. I think it represents the modern view of the city and its young, aspirational focus.
While portions of the new stadium were viewed by various groups over the previous week, the ribbon-cutting ceremony allowed for the Black & Gold to show off the venue before Saturday’s opening game against the New England Revolution, the same team that helped Columbus open historic Crew Stadium in 1999. Tours of Lower.com Field showed the progress of the club with more than just the steel structure that allows for the Crew to play games but moving into the modern era of sports.
In addition to the beautiful pitch, which features a hydroponic heater that can raise the field temperature by 20 degrees if needed and an aeration system that can drain the field in less than three minutes, this stadium has all of the amenities making it fit into its new Arena District home.
For the diehard fans, there is the new Nordecke, the steepest and second-largest supporter section in MLS. With a roof built to help keep sound in the stadium and direct it back to the pitch, the Nordecke will help make Lower.com Field one of the most intimidating environments for visiting teams.
“I walked all the way up to the top with Dee in 100-degree heat, and it is the steepest rate of any in Major League Soccer. It’s the best seat in the house,” Garber said of the Nordecke. “That environment with those metal seats, if you will, under a metal roof is going to make this stadium a place where visiting teams are going to really struggle.”
“It’s going to be a crazy environment,” Crew investor-operator Dr. Pete Edwards said of his expectations. “It’s going to be something that everyone can feel the energy. Even if you’re not in the stadium and around the stadium, it’s going to be so loud and people are so excited. It’s going to be a fabulous, fabulous day on Saturday.”
Fans will experience a venue that, despite being similar in capacity to historic Crew Stadium, is 150,000 square feet larger to make moving around to the numerous concession stands and restrooms that much easier. Unlike at historic Crew Stadium, a trip to the facilities won’t require walking down long ramps, but instead only a few steps. And there are views of the field from nearly every part of the stadium, meaning fans waiting in line won’t miss the match.
For those with the means, suites are no longer small, cramped boxes, but actually fit the term “luxury.” The west side features a suite level with 24 suites with a perfect view of the field like nothing found in stadiums around Ohio. The suites include an indoor area with tables, couches and a television, along with food and drink, so those using the boxes have access to all they could desire during the match.
Below the suite level are two of Lower.com Field’s nicer hangout spaces. The River Club and the West Field Club provide fans an experience they did not have at the old venue, allowing them to eat and drink in an upscale bar/restaurant setting while still being at a sporting event. The West Field Club will also be where the players of both teams will enter the field pre-match, allowing fans with access to take the same route as the teams to their pitch-side seats.
The east side of the stadium features the Lower.com Lounge where you will find the highest of rollers. These suites, which sold out all 10 boxes that each feature 12 seats, were created for companies to host guests. Those with access to this area will have pitch-side seats and then be able to enter the Lower.com Lounge, featuring multiple common areas with a bar and televisions, as well as their own private room to mingle before and after matches.
“They’ve done things that are outside the box from a hospitality perspective,” Garber said of the Crew’s new home. “It feels very much to me like what you’d see in a high-end, urban basketball arena. Some of the corporate hospitality ideas I think will be replicated in future stadiums, whether it’s an NFL stadium, a basketball, hockey arena or another MLS stadium. They’re off the charts.”
While much of the stadium’s excitement will come from the fans, the team also has reasons to look forward to its new home. The players will get a new, beautiful state-of-art locker room, the largest in MLS. Head coach Caleb Porter and his staff have their own dressing room in which to prepare for addressing the team before and after the match.
The media space is a major upgrade from historic Crew Stadium as well, featuring a press box that seats more than 50 people and a lounge area in which those covering the game can eat and spend time prior to kickoff. The postgame interview room is larger than the one at historic Crew Stadium with a glass viewing window for those that walk through the tunnel.
Any way you slice it, Lower.com Field is a major upgrade over the quaint but out-of-date historic Crew Stadium. It will be a benchmark for the rest of MLS for years to come and fitting home for the defending MLS Cup champions.
“We’re so excited for our community that this asset, for the whole community, is going to be here,” Edwards said. “The fan experience is going to be fabulous. We can’t wait to show it off this weekend.”