Fortress Obetz – Ohio Machine
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The Motor in the Machine
The year 2017 was an extremely important year for Major League Lacrosse. It was in 2017 that the league took a major step forward into uncharted territory. The Village of Obetz, south of Columbus, Ohio and the MLL franchise, the Ohio Machine would partner on the first ever field lacrosse first venue that a MLL franchise would call home.
The Ohio Machine were founded in 2012 as an expansion team in Major League Lacrosse. They would use the colors and moniker of the old Chicago Machine team that had folded and begin their MLL life outside of Columbus, in Delaware, Ohio, at Shelby Field on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University. In 2016, the Machine would move into Columbus proper and play at Panther Stadium on the campus of Ohio Dominican University. Neither facility was ideal for the fledgling team, but a solution was on the way. MLL stalwart and New Balance owner, Jim Davis is the owner of the Machine and it is under his guidance that the ambitious project of Fortress Obetz became a reality. Owned by the Village of Obetz, Fortress Obetz is the first lacrosse first facility and is built on the land of the former Columbus Motor Speedway. Part of a larger recreation complex, Fortress Obetz is not only a unique facility, but also an inspiration to future projects of similar nature in Major League Lacrosse. The opening of a lacrosse first facility for the Chesapeake Bayhawks is not far off. For now, Fortress Obetz is content to be the envy of other MLL franchises.
Concessions at Fortress Obetz are not too bad. Fortress features one main concession stand outside of the main grandstand, on the back side of the fortress area. At this spot fans will find basic offerings including pretzels, hot dogs ($2), pizza ($3), popcorn ($2), candy and chips. Pepsi products are available to drink also ($3) as well as water, slushies, Gatorade, and coffee. A surprisingly wide array of beer selections are also available including Budweiser, Bud Light, and Michelob Ultra. Craft beer is also available with North High and Goose Island products available.
Between the fortress and grandstand, food trucks also provided concessions. Meatball Mafia, Max & Ermas, Tropical Chill and Donatos Pizza were on location.
There is definitely an advantage when it comes to having a lacrosse facility for a lacrosse team. Most of the rest of MLL plays in football stadiums, which does not offer the best atmosphere for lacrosse. Fortress Obetz is located on the former site of the Columbus Motor Speedway and is part of a larger sports complex with baseball and softball diamonds, as well as other sports facilities. When approaching Fortress its unique design becomes immediately apparent. Essentially, Fortress Obetz is comprised of two main parts. From here on, they will be referred to as the fortress and the grandstand.
In the front of Fortress Obetz is the fortress. Black and ominous, it is the fortress that gives the stadium a unique look that is unlike anything in sport. From a distance, the fortress looks like a large, black, castle-like structure. Upon closer inspection is where the surprise comes in. The fortress is built with repurposed shipping containers. If there is one thing the fortress lacks, it is windows. Upon passing the security gates, fans are welcomed with the entirety of the fortress. Stretching east and west as gate-like, inside, the fortress acts as a square. It is a terrific spot to meet friends and there are games and promo tables to keep fans entertained. The upper level in the square has the lounge, which is open to all patrons. It’s a nice spot to stop for a drink or a bite if reaching the game early. Inside the square, and outside the fortress, there are large video boards to keep fans entertained and informed.
After leaving the square, fans are welcomed with the grandstand. Between the fortress and grandstand, there is plenty of space and it is in this area that fans will find the main concessions, washrooms and food trucks. Welcoming fans to the grandstand is yet another videoboard. The grandstand is a fairly simple, yet large, steel grandstand structure. The grandstand sits on the west side of the field, which runs north to south. The grandstand features seven sections, each with approximately 30 rows. The first 20 rows in the center three sections have traditional stadium seats. The rows behind are bleacher benches with backs. The two extreme north and south sections are all straight bleacher benches. When choosing a seat, beware of the camera platform in the middle of the grandstand as it can obstruct the view. However, at this point in time, there is little to worry about moving down the row or to a different section as crowds are far from the 6,500 capacity. The east side of the field features two more video boards. Fortress Obetz differs from its peers in that it is clearly the home of the Ohio Machine. Huge banners of Machine players Marcus Holman and Tom Schreiber among others welcome fans. There are also a number of other banners throughout the stadium. Although many banners feature the logo of the 2017 Steinfeld Cup Champions, there lacks a true championship banner or flag that is readily noticeable.
The Major League Lacrosse gameday experience tends to be far less a production than its indoor cousin. This continues with the Machine. However, there are a number of production aspects that add to the game experience. The Machine take advantage of having the video boards and use them throughout the game to help promote the game and show replays. The Ohio Dance Machine cheerleaders perform, cheer from the sidelines and engage the crowd. The PA system is surprisingly clear and the Machine even use it to play some very subdued music during the play. Overall, a great gameday experience.
The Village of Obetz is located just south of Columbus. The former Columbus Motor Speedway is a vast property and there is pretty much nothing that is walkable from Fortress Obetz. There are some chain restaurants that can be found on High Street. For fans looking for pre or post game fare, the best bet is to take the car into Columbus. A good neighbourhood to try is Germantown which features the legendary Thurman Cafe and Schmidt’s Sausage Haus und Restaurant.
There are plenty of other sporting options in the Columbus area. The Columbus Blue Jackets of the NHL can be found in Nationwide Arena. Right across the road from Nationwide is Huntington Park, which is home for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers of the International League. A little further north and fans can find the US’ first soccer specific stadium in MAPFRE Stadium, home of the Columbus Crew SC of MLS. However, it is the Ohio State University which Columbus is most known for. Buckeye football can be found at Ohio Stadium and Buckeye basketball and hockey are played at the Value City Arena at Jerome Schottenstein Center. Other entertainment options in Columbus could include a visit to the Ohio Statehouse, the Ohio Theatre or the Jack Nicklaus Museum.
There are a number of hotels in the area and for fans who wish to stay in Obetz there are also options. The Quality Inn and Holiday Inn Express are both solid options.
The Ohio Machine have taken a bold move in their move to Fortress Obetz. They have been rewarded with a bit of a bump in attendance. The move to Fortress Obetz along with a 2017 championship season have bumped the attendance for the Machine up to averaging over 2,500 fans per game in both the 2018 and 2017 season. This puts the Machine 5th in attendance in MLL. That is about middle of the pack. Hopefully, attendance for Machine games will continue to increase. The fans in the stands are knowledgeable and loud and into the game. Finding a spot closer to the field and the majority of the fans will increase the energy felt in the game.
Getting to Fortress Obetz is not difficult. Obetz is located just south of Columbus and not far north of I-270 for fans coming in from out of town. The Fortress is just off of Williams, but traffic is generally encouraged to come off of Alum Creek Dr. There is plenty of parking at the complex which goes for $5. Unfortunately, for fans who wish to get to the game by public transit, it is cab or car which are really the only options to get to the Fortress. The structure of the fortress makes getting around super easy. The washrooms are located on the inside of the fortress and they are also built out of those repurposed shipping containers. The washrooms are more than adequate for the number of fans in the stands.
Return on Investment 4
Ohio Machine lacrosse offers great value for the sporting dollar. Tickets for a Machine game at Fortress Obetz go for $44, $26 or $18 depending on the type of seat. Concession prices are excellent and parking is very reasonable at $5. The gameday production and product on the field make for an enjoyable experience. Fortress Obetz is also a very unique venue that requires a bit of exploration. The return on investment would be better if there were more fans in the stands and more energy in the stadium.
An extra mark for Fortress Obetz as possibly a trend-setter as the first MLL pro venue.
An extra mark for no football lines on the field. This is the way that field lacrosse was meant to be watched.
An extra mark for the recycling of materials in building Fortress Obetz by using repurposed shipping containers.
It is great to see the Ohio Machine with a facility where they are the top draw and hopefully this is the future of Major League Lacrosse. Until then, Fortress Obetz might just be the top experience in MLL. A great repurposing of the Columbus Motor Speedway and those shipping containers make this a must see experience for lacrosse fans.
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