I am a huge Columbus Crew fan. Been a fan since the team started and MLS began.
Last night, I had the opportunity to attend my first championship match in major professional sports in the United States — MLS Cup Final. The hosts were Sporting Kansas City and the guests were Real Salt Lake. This was also my first trip to an MLS stadium outside of Columbus, Ohio. I have seen a few from the road — Colorado Rapid’s venue and Chicago Fire’s venue. Then…countless others on television. So, my suggestions aren’t thoroughly tested, but just mere thoughts on potential avenues for improvement.
Sporting KC and their supporters section, The Cauldron, have really made an impact in the American soccer scene. The park was recently noted for making the in-game experience better for fans.
Check it out:
I had the opportunity to sit behind the goal that’s in the left of this picture. I was two rows off the behind the left post. You probably saw me if you were watching the ESPN broadcast. This picture is shot from the opposing fan section(s) — it’s on either side of the corner aisle steps. The famed KC Cauldron sits behind the north goal, the far side of the picture.
Basically, there is NO bad seat in the park. I had the opportunity to walk around and see everything. It is absolutely gorgeous. The fans are standing at all times. And…RSL fans did tremendous travel AND had tremendous support for their team (congrats to that too).
Here is the seating chart for Sporting Park:
No, I think I gave a good background of Sporting KC and Sporting Park. Onto the topic at hand, what I think Columbus needs to do to get more support and make the environment better.
I have been to numerous games at Columbus Crew stadium over the course of my life, but definitely more in the last 2 years (2011 & 2012, only a few games in 2013).
Here’s the typical view:
Now, there are a lot of problems in the picture…but it starts before the stadium.
1. Parking. I parked a mere 3 minute walk from Sporting Park…no paying for parking. I’ve been to numerous Crew games and each time, $10 for parking. It may seem like something small to park, and I agree, but it’s the mere fact that not only do you have to travel, tickets, gear, food, and then parking?! Parking for Crew stadium has not been a problem for me. That’s a plus. But, for every two games I attend, my parking fees could pay for a third game ticket! I was astonished that Sporting Park did not have paid parking in their general parking — and this was for an MLS Cup championship game!
This is just a tremendous thing to do with and for fans. It’s a small gesture, but much applauded. Thank you Sporting.
2. Seating. Could you tell a difference in the seating options from Sporting Park to Crew Stadium? No, I am not talking about the sparseness of Crew Stadium. The biggest thing I saw at Sporting Park from Crew Stadium is the lack of upper deck. Sporting Park has “standing room only” tickets for those not in the lower bowl. The only “upper deck” is the box seats. Everyone else…you are in the lower bowl. This is an awesome way to increase the stadium appearance of attendance. When you spread 15,000 fans out in a 20,000 seat stadium (like Columbus does) it often appears like the above picture. Instead, put them in the lower bowl UNTIL you need to open up the upper deck. This is how Seattle has done it as well. They will not seat in the upper deck unless it is needed.
Something else about the seating that I have vocalized before, but saw at Sporting happened. There was almost a “designated” seating area for different types of people. It was segregated by any means. But if you wanted rowdy, you could have it. If you wanted leisure, you could have it. I do believe that there should be some designated seating areas in all stadiums. There should be a “family” section — where kids can be kids, where moms don’t have to worry about beer being spilled, etc. Why not have a high school section? Why not have a “high class” seating area where those that have money would rather be associated with themselves instead of everyone else? What about standing room only at Crew Stadium — there’s areas for it!
Or…my favorite…which is what I was — “GA.” Yep, that’s right, for the MLS Cup championship had GENERAL ADMISSION seating. It was prime seating too. It was behind the south goal. Man…was it awesome too. No one had to argue about where to sit. They came in and sat where there was an opening. And everyone partied together.
3. Fan Support. Sporting, to my knowledge, had a limited but major impact in how the fans support the team. There were Sporting KC flags attached to PVC pipe spread around the stadium for the fans to use. I assume there was some strategic placement of the flags so it appeared, when waved, there were more flags than what there actually were. But…there were A LOT of them. The flags were supposed to be returned (or left in the seats) after the game, but numerous fans were walking out with them — I wish I had one!
At Crew games, I have not seen this once. I actually had a flag pole confiscated upon entrance to a USMNT game at Crew Stadium. Yeah, they have a scarf night (which were the crappiest scarves I’ve ever seen). Yeah, there may be some other give-aways (who would turn down a free can of Barbasol?). But, I would assume that Sporting sets the flags out AT EVERY GAME. Maybe not, but it is a small gesture that increases fan support. I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t like waving flags?
4. Ticketing Gates. There were absolutely no issues at Sporting when entering into the stadium. I haven’t had too many problems at Crew Stadium, just one thing was vastly different — the frisking. I saw one person with a metal detector at Sporting Park at the gate I entered. Every time I’ve been to Crew Stadium, it seems like I get patted down every time. At the front gates of Crew Stadium, they’ll take everything from you. I’m not saying it’s ALL that bad, but at Sporting Park, I never saw one person get anything taken from them.
I guess what this could mean is: you could potentially sneak some drinks and/or snacks in. I am not against that. If it enables people to come in, why not? Now, I don’t want to jeopardize fan safety for some food…but, it was nice! I wore some “abnormal” soccer attire to the Sporting match and never got checked. At Crew Stadium, I wear traditional soccer gear and get frisked.
It’s the little things, sometimes.
5. Supporters Section. I love watching the supporters at the matches. I am a huge supporter, but I’m not one to sit in a supporters section. But…I LOVE THEM. They are essential to any match. The player’s love them. The rest of the crowd loves them. It’s just awesome. It definitely makes for a GREAT environment.
I don’t want to offend the Nordecke; La Turbina Amarilla, Hudson Street Hooligans, or any other supporters group for the Crew…they are great. But…being stuck in a corner isn’t. Sorry, but I do not think that corner is the best place for you guys. The KC Cauldron had the whole endline behind the north goal. The whole endline! Meanwhile, Columbus relegates their supporters to a corner, that’s also far away from the player’s entrance.
I do understand there was a need for an amphitheater in Ohio and Columbus. But…can we please do something that allows for even more support from the supporters?! The stage could be greatly utilized for supporters. Put some temporary bleachers in there or something?
For those that don’t know, the Columbus Crew removed around 2,000+ seats to put a stage in Crew Stadium (this was done several years ago). Unfortunately it is also right behind a goal. It did drop the seating in the stadium from 22,000-some to 20,000-some. It’s the largest amphitheater in Ohio now. Much needed, I would say, but also another big perk for the Crew to have — i.e., $$$$$$$$$$.
I’m not going to touch a new stadium or anything. I know it’s been talked about. I believe these small things can help increase fan experience. I believe these small things are inexpensive to accomplish. I would love for lower ticket prices, cheaper gear and food vending options (same could be said for all parks, I imagine), but that’s not going to happen. Please make the experience better. Do something that helps fans enjoy the matches.
This is my takeaway from one MLS match outside of Columbus. I hope to get to Colorado, at least, in 2014. Until then…
Columbus ‘til I die!
Columbus ‘til I die!
I know I am, I swear I am
Columbus ‘til I die!