When the Columbus Blue Jackets opened in Nationwide Arena on Oct. 7, 2000, I don’t think many people in central Ohio could anticipate the impact the expansion hockey team would have on the area.
After all, Columbus is a football town. Always has been, and always will be. Even the recent (at the time) 1999 Final Four run from the Ohio State basketball team only fleetingly captured the attention of the locals.
But the citizens of Columbus have embraced the Blue Jackets as the “little brother” to Ohio State football, despite seeing very little in return: The Jackets have made the playoffs just one time in their 10 year existence, and don’t seem to show signs of significant improvement for the future.
(Note: All scores are given on a one-to-five scale, one being poor and five being exceptional/unique.)
FANFARE Score: 19 out of a possible 30 points
F ood and Beverage: Three
You know what you’re getting at most sporting events: A traditional array of food from popcorn to pretzels, hot dogs to pizza, and snacks for the kids as well.
However, Nationwide Arena offers places that are a little more upscale, if that’s your taste. Outside of the arena (with a few places that are actually connected to the arena), places like the “Black & Blue Grille” are great bistro options for those who want to sit down and soak up the atmosphere.
In addition, the Blue Jackets also offer several unique settings for group or company outings, such as the “Pizzuti Club Lounge” restaurant and “Bud Light Terrace,” to name a few. These places offer great views of the arena bowl and most offer a full bar and menu.
However, don’t expect to get into these places for cheap.
With a plethora of beer and food stations on the concourse, it’s easy to tell that Nationwide Arena is one of the newer, more up-to-date arenas on the NHL circuit.
A tmosphere: Three
An arena that’s only hosted an NHL team for 10 years and has seen just two home playoff games in that time can’t really be considered historically significant.
But don’t tell that to the die-hards, who continually show up to each game with focused and unbridled intensity.
The fans are trying to make their mark, whether it’s saluting the national anthem singer before the game with a unison scream of “Leooooooo” or starting the “Let’s Go Jack-ets” chants at the most opportune times.
Again, despite only being in the league for 10 years, the fans are very knowledgeable of the sport.
Even though the Jackets were far out of contention on March 15 and playing without their best player (Rick Nash), you would never be able to tell judging just from the crowd noise and energy.
That’s what impressed me the most.
N eighborhood: Four
The arena surrounding Nationwide (appropriately now known as the Arena District) offers fantastic options for virtually anyone wanting to check out a Blue Jacket game.
The city really went all out in renovating the downtown area to accommodate the Jackets, and it shows; there is an excess of establishments within a half-mile radius of the arena.
If you feel adventurous, stroll over to the corner of Park & Vine St., no more than a half-mile away from Nationwide. There is a murderer’s row of bars that are frequently visited by denizens of German Village and downtown Columbus, as well as upperclassmen from The Ohio State University.
Park St. Patio, Gaswerks, and Brothers are all very large bars with outdoor patios, though it’s definitely fit for the younger crowd.
There’s also the incredibly unique North Market, located just across the street from the aforementioned bars. North Market, while primarily a place to shop for food (which might not be something you want to do before a hockey game), still offers several places to sit down and eat while soaking in the Columbus atmosphere.
"Best of the Wurst" is a great place to grab a hot dog or panini, while "Holy Smoke BBQ" is indeed a holy ground for ribs, wings, and chops.
Of course, if you don’t want to leave Nationwide Boulevard or the Arena District, you wouldn’t be blamed. There are quick, simple places to grab a bite, such as W.G. Grinder’s and Chipotle (I know some parts of the country are sans Chipotle, and if you’ve never had a burrito from this place, your life isn’t complete).
If you want to sit down and enjoy the area, check out Columbus’ own Max & Erma’s, a relatively cheap Applebee’s-type place with better food and atmosphere (and don’t leave without getting the chocolate chip cookies…but order them with your meal, so they come out warm).
Columbus completely redesigned the entire area around Nationwide Arena, and you have to consider the area a smashing success.
F ans: Three
There’s one thing that an outsider always has to keep in mind when in Columbus: this is a football town. Period. There’s no getting around that.
That being said, for some reason even a local such as myself can’t comprehend, the fans here are really passionate about the Blue Jackets. They are intense, loyal, faithful, and like I said earlier, have developed a real knowledge and passion for the game of hockey.
I give them an average score simply because they haven’t been taken to the next level yet; they haven’t hosted a big playoff game, or really, even a game of significance (other than two losses in last year’s playoffs that eliminated the Jackets in the first round).
If that day comes, expect the fans to jump up a level.
A ccess: Three
Get off 670-East at Neil Ave., and boom, there you are.
Parking is prevalent outside in the half-mile radius outside the arena (though I was fortunate enough to have a parking pass and pull up right next to the arena), but you might have to pay a few extra dollars to stay close. But even if you don’t, you’ll enjoy Columbus’ scenery as you stroll to Nationwide.
Bathrooms are quite widespread and frequent throughout the concourse.
R eturn on Investment: Two
I must admit, I’m a bit biased on this simply because I’m not the world’s biggest hockey fan (don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching it, and going to games takes the experience to another level).
But the tickets we had were $80 face value for section 117, row N—not very good seats—but for a team that’s made the playoffs once in 10 years, it seems quite excessive. And there were few discounted seats for the lower level, despite the fact that the arena was only 65-70 percent full.
But I guess my beef wouldn’t really be with Nationwide or the NHL, but with the organization of all major sports. Owners and management of losing teams in MLB, NBA, and the NHL don’t put out a consistently quality product, but expect fans to pay like they’re going to playoff games.
In an ever-changing digital world that allows fans to get closer through HD-TVs, live updates on phones, etc., owners can’t expect fans to keep paying egregious prices when it’s becoming more and more attractive to just stay at home or watch at a bar with your friends.
E tc. (Bonus Points): One
One bonus point for the fans who still turn up night-in, night-out to support their Blue Jackets. Maybe they’re simply trying to fill the void in between football season, but it doesn’t seem like it.
Quite simply, Columbus just wouldn’t be the same without the Jackets—something I never thought would happen in just 10 short years.