Today we take a look at the extensive history of sports venues in Columbus. While many are associated with Ohio State University, the city has a long history of professional sports.
For more than 150 years they have played professional baseball in Columbus – all at the minor league level.
The first true stadium in the city was one of the first in the country to be constructed of concrete and steel. Previously many were built of wood, and often burnt down.
The stadium was called Neil Park. It was located on Cleveland Avenue just north of downtown.
This stadium was the home to professional baseball until the 1930s. Today there is no sign of any history of the venue, now being a facility for Abbott Labs
The next stadium was built on the near west side of the city, along Mound Street. It was originally named Redbirds Stadium, as the team was a farm team for the St Louis Cardinals, and were called the Columbus Redbirds.
The stadium served the city until 2008, although it changed names a few times, usually when the team changed names. From 1955 until 1970 they were the Columbus Jets
Finally it was named after a county commissioner who was able to secure a team in the 1970s after a 6 year absence, Harold Cooper.
Today it sits vacant, partially torn down. It has been the subject of numerous schemes for redevelopment over the years, but nothing has come of it.
The current stadium is called Huntington Park (the naming rights were sold to a local bank). It is located much closer to downtown, in the middle of a large area of gentrification.
The National Football League generates the most revenue of any sports league in the world, with it’s 32 teams scattered across the United States. But the NFL did not start out that way – they started in an assortment of cities and towns scattered around the Great Lakes, including Columbus.
For 12 years their headquarters was in the historic New Hayden Building.
The Columbus team was comprised mostly of railroad workers who worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Panhandle Division. So named because it traversed the Northern West Virginia panhandle, the railroad had a large yard on the south side of the city.
While most of the teams in the league were made up of former college players, the Panhandles were tough railroad workers who quickly became known for their physical play. Their logo was reflective of the Pennsylvania Railroad Logo
Because they worked for the railroad, and had free travel on the trains, they played most of their games in other cities. Their home field in Columbus was at Indianola Park, an amusement park located just north of the city.
Today the former Amusement Park and NFL home is a strip mall and church.
What Columbus lacks in professional football it makes up in college football. Ohio State football. The budget for athletics at Ohio State is over $200m a year, with the football program generating much of that revenue. But it wasn’t always that way.
The first team was fielded in 1890, with 22 players making the trip to the nearby town of Delaware, Ohio for a game again Ohio Wesleyan College.
Later that year they had their first home game. It occurred a few miles away from campus at a field in German Village – now home to a grocery store.
Football quickly became popular and the university built their own stadium – Ohio Field. This field was located on North High Street – near 17th Avenue.
Most people sat around the field until 1907 when the first stands were built. As college football continued to be very popular and by the time the stadium was abandoned in 1921 it has seating for 14,000.
Today a parking garage and campus buildings occupy the site.
With much debate and fanfare the university opened Ohio Stadium in 1922, with an astounding 62,000 seats. Many thought they would never fill it, but by the last game of the year again Michigan they did.
Today it seats over 105,000.
Ohio State football is such a big deal they have this airplane hangar sized indoor practice facility, complete with a statue of legendary coach Woody Hayes out front.
Columbus is home to a number of arenas that have served the city and university over the years.
The State Fairgrounds Coliseum (aka – Taft Coliseum) was built in 1918 with 5000 permanent seats. It has hosted everything from Ohio State basketball to minor league hockey games to horse shows, and one of the venues for ‘The Arnold’.
St Johns Arena
The Fairgrounds Coliseum served as the home to Ohio State basketball until the 1950s when St Johns Arena was completed on campus.
It was opened in 1956, named for a former basketball coach and athletic director. The 13,276 seats are very cool old school wood.
Once Scottenstein Center was completed, the arena has been relegated to secondary sports like gymnastics and volleyball.
The only major league team in town, the Columbus Blue Jackets, play their home games at Nationwide Arena. Completed in 2000 for the expansion Blue Jackets it is typical of the arena’s built in the last 25 years – with a large number of luxury suites, and quirky designs including an ear piercing cannon that they shoot off when they score.
Schottenstein Center – Value City Arena
This 20,000 seat arena opened just a couple of years before Nationwide Arena, so the city has 2 very large indoor venues.
When they were planning both arenas the city wanted the site to be downtown, whereas the university wanted it on campus – 3 miles north. When the university didn’t get what they wanted they ‘took their ball and went home’.
When the MLS started in the 1990s all of the teams played in stadiums built for American football. The Columbus Crew was no different, playing in the 105,000 seat Ohio Stadium.
In 1999 they became the first MLS team to build a soccer specific stadium. This 20,000 seat stadium sits on part of the Ohio State Fairgrounds. Ironically they sometimes played high school football here as well.
In 2015 they sold the naming rights to an insurance company, hence ‘Mapfre Stadium’.
After shaking down the city and state with a threat to move to Austin, Texas the Crew has received 1/2 of the $200m required to build a new stadium downtown.
The artist renderings show what a difference it will be.
Jesse Owens Stadium
Our last venue is on the Ohio State campus, Jesse Owens Stadium. This facility is home to track and field, as well as soccer.
In front is a statue and Ohio Historical Marker detailing the amazing feats of Jesse in the 1936 Olympics.