I woke up this past Sunday morning like a kid on Christmas. Anxious doesn’t describe my morning. I was trying to busy myself with chores, cooking, and pretty much any task to pass the time faster. Finally 1 p.m. came, and my son, a neighbor, his son and I hopped into the car for the drive to the West End and TQL Stadium.
First off, the drive down I-75 and the exit at Ezzard Charles worked out fine. There are going to be several ways to get down to the stadium, and I am hopeful it won’t be as clogged as Clifton can be. We parked at Washington Park, which will probably be unrealistic on game days, but it worked on a moderately busy day in Cincinnati.
We walked out of the parking garage and were greeted to a sight of orange and blue clad fans walking around the park and Over-the-Rhine. The amount of bars and restaurants along with the park and streetcar should ensure each fan can “pre-game” in their own way. I was really nervous about how the community would take to their newest neighbor, and this area didn’t disappoint.
The boys and I walked west around the north side of Music Hall past the Symphony Hotel & Restaurant where we saw the city’s newest crown jewel. TQL Stadium is beautiful, and while not completely “blending in” to the community vibe, the first impression makes most stop and go “WOW”!
We climbed the grand staircase and waited for the main gates to open. I am sure this area will be incredible, but it still seems to need a little more theming/branding. During the day the LED lights do not stand out as bright, so nothing really jumped out showing FC Cincinnati. A lot of dark concrete that I hope will get a splash of Orange & Blue.
Little Bry and I made it into the stadium about 10 minutes after 2 p.m., and the sight of the field as you walk through the gates made me dizzy. I couldn’t believe I was finally walking into our new home. I say “our” because we are stakeholders in this project. How many of you didn’t miss a game for years due to the task of realizing our MLS bid? Many of us showed up at TIFO nights, the Don Garber Open House, U.S. Open Cup matches, etc. all in an effort to have a permanent soccer club in Cincinnati.
No matter what people say, I believe MLS was the only real pathway for a permanent venue to ensure we could pass the club on to our kids.
Bry and I took our first photos from the terrace looking out over the pitch. I won’t forget the look of amazement in his eyes and his saying, “Is this really where FC Cincinnati will be playing?”
We turned left and went to the south side of TQL Stadium to find our seats in 128. You can see much of the field from the concourse, which is pretty cool. There will be a lot of smaller vendors, but also the mainstays like Heineken, Sam Adams, Rhinegeist, Larosa’s, Skyline and more. You will have no problem getting food or drink in this castle.
FCC is providing many great food and drink options for fans from a specialty chicken joint, BBQ, Gomez, draft coffee (is that a thing?) and more! It looks like we will be able to get out of our seat at halftime and be able to be back before kickoff.
Our group arrived at our seats, and I was not disappointed. I’ve been to many pro sports venues, and TQL certainly has the WOW factor. As we sat, our view, like most, is incredible. I am not sure there is a bad seat in the house. This feels like a “major league” venue. The press box and club to my left look the part of an NFL stadium, while the Bailey to the north is imposing.
While at our seats you could hear the drummers in the Bailey directly across from us. THEY WERE LOUD. The roof redirects sound back at the pitch, and I have to believe this will be one of the best atmospheres in the U.S., if not North America.
After the boys had their drinks and rested after our initial trek, we explored the club area to the west side of the stadium. The two-story club area was cool and had me rethinking my original choice of seat. The upper level had intimate seating areas where groups can sit pregame. It did have a “club” feel, which if you have been to other MLS venues is lacking.
The lower level of the club area had a bar that overlooks the neighborhood. Plenty of televisions to see the other games going on or possibly even the FCC game live. I am not sure what the food area will fully be, as it looked like they were putting it together. Possibly grab-and-go options or even higher-end food. This area seems to be worth the money coupled with the nicer seats.
We finally made it over to the Bailey, and man I couldn’t believe my eyes. More than just cupholders and safe standing, this area was a realization of a dream. I spent every year prior to now in the Bailey. No more delicate balance on the bleacher or people falling down while celebrating a goal. The steep inclined section is going to be loud, fun and intimidating for opponents. I really liked the large drum section and capo stands. This should help take this area to the next level and ensure a loud and raucous venue. Kinda regret not staying in the Bailey for one more season.
The two-story team store is going to be a fan favorite and should make it easy to pick up team gear. Hopefully no more buying from long lines at tents in the concourse. Check out the video from FC Cincinnati with MLS commissioner Don Garber raving about the store.
The stadium seemed to get the little things right. I like the LED main lights inside the stadium. During the day the club put them into a blinking pattern. Excited to see what they do when FCC scores. While there needs to be more themes in and around the stadium, I am pretty excited about how this project turned out. Yes, things were probably sacrificed in the end in comparison to other stadiums, but I will take a smaller concourse and some intimate areas when trading for the location of the West End.
After the Meet Your Seat event, we took the boys to Washington Park and the play area. You can make a day out of an FCC game. One day you can have an adult drink at pubs with your friends or you could take the kids to the park before or after the game and have a fun family day.
There is something for everyone at TQL Stadium and the surrounding area. I am sure there will be hiccups as we all find our niche, but this is our new home and I can’t wait to spend 17-plus days a year there.
CEO and controlling owner Carl H. Lindner III, president Jeff Berding and Co. outdid themselves with TQL Stadium, and I am thankful they wanted to keep investing in our club and our city. This stadium is better than the dream I imagined when hearing Jeff talk about it during a LaSalle Athletic Association meeting. The amount of work done by many individuals from the club and its supporters is amazing to get to this point. We have a place to call our own now, and I hope we make it the best home in MLS. What a day!