Thursday, November 24, 2011

Arena Report: Nationwide

Columbus probably isn't at the top of anyone's list of place to take in an NHL game. It's a non-traditional market with a perennially struggling team. Getting there is a pain in the ass: the return trip from Vancouver required 28 hours of travel, five airports, and six flights. And what is there to do in Columbus? (Aside from hang with good friends, of course?) Enough to keep me busy for a few days, it turns out.

Columbus has got a pretty great zoo — complete with otters — some kick-ass locally-made ice cream, and of course, The Ohio State University. It'd be pretty impossible to overstate the importance of OSU to Columbus. At least 1 in 10 of the people I saw out in public were decked out in OSU gear. The Buckeyes stores are ubiquitous, massive, and carry everything from the official OSU candy (George, you'd love these; they have the perfect ratio of chocolate to peanut butter) to underwear to expensive jewelry and signed merchandise. The campus is huge and gorgeous, and as an institution inspires impressive loyalty from the populace.

Loyal locals are an owner's dream, but Columbus's struggles as a hockey market are well-documented. And really, who can blame the fans? One post-season appearance, in which they were swept, in 10 seasons leads to a lot of empty seats. I was on hyper-alert for any hint of a hockey fan. I zeroed in on the guy in the Blue Jackets coat when we grabbed breakfast at Panera one morning. Another in a Jackets t-shirt at at the OSU arena. A hockey equipment store in the northern 'burb where I was staying. And...that's about it.

But we hit the (one and only) hockey bar in Columbus on Saturday night, and lo and behold, shortly after the 8pm puck drop the place filled up. R Bar was standing room only by second intermission and, while there were more than a few OSU-clad fans, the vast majority were in Jackets jerseys. They wore hats and scarves and screamed at the TV. Drinks were decent, our server told me to help myself when I asked if I could have a Blue Jackets pint glass, and there was Leafs graffiti in the bathroom. Just like home... ;)

Game day was the Monday to start a holiday week in the US, so I guess it's not surprising that the announced attendance, just over 11,000, was an exaggeration. Still, it boggles me that you can pick up row six seats for $25 on game day.

Not bad for the "cheap" seats.
There were maybe 30 people watching the warmups (which may explain why there was a close-up of me on SN), and lots of empty seats. This was my first game in a non-sellout building, and it's...different. The crowd was quiet, and it felt really tiny because the stands in Nationwide aren't very steep — it creates a cavernous, empty feel. But there are some definite benefits to a small crowd. I never once waited in a queue for the toilets. During the second intermission, I used the bathroom, went back to my seat to finish a drink, trekked back to the concourse for more beer — where I made friends with the guy in front of me by chatting about how the Jackets can strengthen their fanbase (winning was the consensus) — and was still back in my seat before puck drop. Sorry, wi, I skipped out on the food of choice (which is a "cheese coney," basically a chili cheese dog. And since I don't like pie, I'm sure you can all guess my feelings on that). But the beer...

They sell local microbrew in Nationwide, from Columbus Brewing Company and Great Lakes Brewing, among others. It's not cheap, but arena beer never is, and it was worth the extra dollar or two to avoid the Bud. And like I said, no queue :)

They have their own strange rituals at Jackets games. The crowd tried to get the occasional "Let's go Jackets!" going, but after the first one to start the game, they never got any momentum. Later, a few loud patrons went with "Let's go Clitsome!" and, when that died off, "Get some Clitsome!" which lasted even less time. Sorry, wi ;) After Columbus's third goal, everyone in the place stood up and started chanting "CHILI!" in what was the loudest goal celebration of the night (Apparently a ticket stub gets you free chili at Wendy's if the Jackets score three or more in any game.) No one sings along with Locksley after a goal. Maybe they're still getting used to a new goal song? Or maybe they're just recovering from the cannon. Because the Jackets have a CANNON! And while I heard it too often for my liking on Monday, that's pretty cool :)

(Thanks for inviting me to join the team, wi. I'm very long-winded, so I hope you aren't regretting this already ;) I even have an anti-Canucks post all ready to go in my head week or something.)


walkinvisible said...

i am massively proud of this first post, and very grinny right now.

yay !

now. where's baxter at ?

JA said...

holy shit those candies look good. my god.

JA said...

let's go clitsome!

ahahahahahha I am dying

Sarah said...

Sorry, wi, Baxter only travels with my dad. The rest of the fam tolerates him somewhere on the scale of amusement and disdain (Baxter, that is. We all love my dad.)

JA, I wasn't thinking. I should have brought a box of buckeyes home for you. 'Course, that assumes I wouldn't have eaten the whole thing before you got them. Maybe I'll make some for Christmas...

mikeH said...

I'm really disappointed that Johnson ignored Clitsome all night. Maybe he just couldn't find him. One of these days those two will connect, and its going to be orgasmic!

Well done Sarah. I would have appreciated a little more commitment to the arena snacks, because now it looks like we're going to have to go back (and you know how I hate travelling to go to see sports). :) Most importantly, how did the otters taste?

Sarah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah said...

There are a handful of other things I should have added about Nationwide, but left out in favour of candies and zoo animals. Clearly I am the best blogger ever ;P

Not sure Nationwide is worth the trip just for a chili cheese dog (ugh), especially if that's how the Flames are going to play there. Columbus' record against Flames at home? 15-4-2. I say we all head somewhere warmer instead. Florida? California?

Shockingly, they didn't want us eating the otters at the zoo. Not the penguins either, nor the fishing cat kittens. Kind of a wasted trip, when I look at it that way.

pay per head reviews said...

that is a pretty nice report, and I would like to know a couple of hot girls like those in the last picture haha