Soccer stadiums for Crew, FC Cincinnati compete for rankings title

Hell is Real — especially for sweaty Crew fans melting on the East side of Field during sunny summer afternoon matches.

But for the rest of us? The LDC is so cool. 

Is it cooler than TQL Stadium, home of in-state rival FC Cincinnati, who like the Crew is playing in spiffy new digs this season? That’s what I set out to learn.

My assignment: attend one Crew and one FC Cincinnati game at their home venues before Friday’s Hell is Real match and evaluate the two experiences.

Columbus Crew and Cincinnati FC:How the ‘Hell is Real’ soccer rivalry came to be

FC Cincinnati wave flags during a game at TQL Stadium.

The only rule beyond sampling stadium food and beverage on the company dime — a tough gig, but somebody had to do it — was to attend both games as “Joe Fan.” The idea was to show up as a soccer civilian, not as a media muckety-muck. That meant no freebies. No wining and dining in the club or premium seating areas. No parking within a corner kick of the entrance.

In other words, roughing it.

This analysis attempts to put aside Capital City cheerleading while abstaining from anti-Queen City bias. In other words, an apples-to-apples comparison, even if Columbus is a Honey Crisp and Cincinnati a common Red Delicious. (so much for fair and balanced, eh?) 

Crew fans cheer during a game at Field.

Each visit analysis is broken into six categories: ticketing/seats; parking; nearby bar-restaurants; stadium complex; concessions; and overall vibe. Each is rated 1 (horrible) to 5 (excellent).  

Ticketing/Seats for TQL and

Procuring ducats was a breeze for both games: Crew vs. Seattle Sounders on Aug. 21 and Orlando City vs. F.C. Cincinnati on Aug. 7. I paid $40 for my FC Cincinnati seat (plus another $8 for the SeatGeek service and processing fees. Grrr) in the upper-deck section 215 near the Bailey, which is Cincinnati’s version of the Nordecke. I dug deeper for the Crew ticket, paying $59, which put me in section 105, located almost directly behind the goal at the opposite end of the Nordecke.

Fans get an up-close look at Crew goalkeeper Eloy Room at Field.

Being nearer the action at Field was worth the extra money, although the Crew fans around me may disagree. We were close enough to practically ride piggyback on Crew goaltender Eloy Room, then Seattle scored twice in the closing minutes to erase a 1-0 deficit and shock the Black and Gold 2-1. Suffice to say the fans and families around me didn’t need to see that car wreck from so up close and personal.

Score: Crew 4, FC Cincinnati 4.

Parking for TQL and

I had heard so much negativity about available parking around Field that I went into this comparison with FC Cincinnati already ahead. But while Cincinnati’s parking situation was better, the difference was not drastic. Cincinnati benefits from a plethora of parking garages, in part to house vehicles for Reds and Bengals games but also because TQL Stadium is not wedged into a relatively tiny urban space the way Field is.

A sign selling parking near TQL Stadium in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati also comes out ahead for in-close parking. I was able to park just around the corner from the stadium for $30. But if affordability matters more, Columbus is the pick. If you’re willing to walk at least half a mile, that is. Granted, the 15-minute walk from the $10 surface lot just off Convention Center Drive near Nationwide Arena was no fun in 90-degree heat — and wouldn’t be a treat in freezing temperatures, either — but it also gets you in the mood to see a game.

Crew fans march into Field.

There is nothing like streaming toward a stadium with hundreds of other fans to raise the anticipation level of a sporting event. Cincinnati has some of that, but walking under the train trestle that crosses Nationwide Boulevard adds a definite trendy urban feel to the Crew festivities.

FC Cincinnati fans march to TQL Stadium.

That said, most fans want parking convenience, as long as it doesn’t break the bank. Cincinnati simply has more available spaces. 

Score: Cincinnati 4, Columbus 3.

Nearby bar/restaurant options for and TQL

Not everyone drinks alcohol, but enough do that this category is essential. And this is where two divergent and highly subjective themes begin to develop between games held at Field and TQL Stadium: urban neighborhood vs. urban new. 

Columbus has plenty of bars and restaurants in the Arena District, but who wants to walk (stumble?) for a half mile or so from field to pub and vice versa? No, this face-off comes down to two spots: Betty’s Bar & Grille (Columbus) and The Pitch Cincy (Cincinnati). 

Betty's Bar attracts Crew and Clippers fans before and after games.

Located on Nationwide Boulevard a stone’s throw from the LDC, Betty’s is a borderline dive bar — I mean that as a compliment — that charges $2 for cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and $5 for most other domestic pints. It is the kind of place where you will find a not-so-serious sign reading “Thong Barmaid Needed, Thursday 4-8.” 

Tongue firmly in cheek, I asked the bartender if thongs were a requirement of employment. She gave a devilish wink and answered, “I got one on now — and every day.”


The Pitch Cincy is popular before and after FC Cincinnati games.

If Betty’s is a bar you can walk past almost without knowing it exists, The Pitch Cincy is a place that shouts, “Look at me!” Opened for the first time in May, the two-level bar located directly across from TQL Stadium is clean scrubbed and more expensive than Betty’s. But different strokes for different folks. The Pitch also has large TV screens everywhere and a rooftop patio that offers views of the distant hills.

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