Growing up, live major sporting events were a treat. Living an hour and a half from Cleveland and two hours from Columbus, many of my biggest sports memories come from watching them on television. Growing up in the mid-90s without the Cleveland Browns and with Jacob’s Field perpetually sold out, when we did get to go to a game, it was a big deal.
Fortunately, raising my two kids in Columbus provides many more opportunities to see major sports live and in person. Both kids have attended Crewsmas (albeit one was still in-utero), and my three-year-old daughter loved watching the progress of Lower.com Field’s construction over the last year.
So when the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend the opening of the Columbus Crew’s new stadium presented itself, we had to take advantage.
My wife and I wanted to make the entire day special, so we arrived in the Arena District early to take in the atmosphere and participate in the March to the Match. At Battelle Plaza, my daughter immediately found Crew Cat and giving him a hug met one of her only two requirements for the evening (getting ice cream at the match being a close second).
The atmosphere around the plaza was welcoming and relatively kid-friendly. As the march approached, I threw my daughter on my shoulders and, with our two-month old in his carrier with my wife, we followed the march down Nationwide Blvd.
This was thrilling and somewhat emotional. It did not seem all that long ago that I was signing a petition to Save the Crew, and here we were walking to the brand new stadium. My three year old loved the yellow colors and all of the singing. She was definitely not the only little one in the march as plenty of families took in this experience.
Arriving at the corner of Nationwide Blvd and Columbus Crew Way, I couldn’t help but get a little emotional. The small office parking lot across the street was our hidden-gem parking area for many Columbus Blue Jackets games when my wife and I were dating, and seeing what was previously a less-than-ideal area become a jewel of the city definitely gave me pause.
Entering the stadium was really pretty easy. Having loaded our tickets on my Apple Wallet, it was simply a quick couple of scans on my phone and we were in. While in line, we met several incredibly welcoming and helpful stadium staff members, a trend we experienced throughout the match. A staff member offered to take a family picture without any prompting and these people felt like part of the Crew family.
Inside the plaza, the sights and sounds were incredible. Our seats (on the opposite end corner from the Nordecke) were right there as we entered. The sold-out crowd buzzed with about 25 minutes left before kickoff. I did experience long lines and waits at concessions (with some computer problems exacerbating the delays), but this is a complaint I have at any well-attended sporting event.
On the topic of glitches, I was unsurprised at the small hiccups in systems and experience. In fact, I expected more. Anyone who has ever experienced a grand opening of a store or restaurant knows that things will not go perfectly. And as you combine a pandemic-delayed construction and innovative new technology in the stadium, getting free food at halftime wasn’t such a bad thing.
The game itself was exhilarating. The crowd’s proximity to the play was noticeably better than at historic Crew Stadium. My three year old was far more engaged than any game prior. We went the entire pregame and match without having to put a single screen in front of her, quite the feat for parents of a toddler!
The Nordecke looked and sounded amazing. An overwhelming presence that visually stood out and audibly led the way in cheers. Even being on the opposite end of the stadium, we could hear and participate in the chants; even the newer fans started to sing along.
And there were lots of new fans. I overheard several people around me asking about the rules of the game, what was going on with the jackhammer, but most of all, commenting on how amazing the stadium was. These fans are going to be crucial if the Crew is going to continue to build its brand and on the success and momentum in this city. Columbus is a passionate sports town and is ready to support success. As more of the fans wearing generic yellow clothes buy Crew merchandise, the club and the supporters will benefit.
With beautiful weather, an amazing atmosphere and a welcoming Crew family, the Black & Gold organization and Lower.com Field truly outdid themselves and made an amazing first impression for the passionate Crew supporter like myself, the new or casual Crew fan, as well as families. One really impressed three year old now wants black and yellow vuvuzelas.
While it might have been a draw on the field, it was an enormous victory for the city of Columbus and the Crew.