Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium – Columbia Lions
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Home of the Columbia Lions
One normally associates New York City with the NFL, but there is actually football being played on Saturdays and unlike the pros, this team plays right in Manhattan. Columbia University, part of the Ivy League, has a surprisingly scenic home stadium in the northern tip of the borough. The Baker Field complex has hosted football for nearly 100 years. However, Lawrence A. Wien Stadium is relatively new, as it replaced an older stadium in 1984. Winning and Columbia have never really gone together since it took four years for the team’s first win in the new stadium. Though the Columbia football experience may not have the prestige and history that other Ivy teams, the stadium is worth a visit simply for the view and the rare opportunity to see the fans thoroughly enjoy a win.
Food & Beverage 2
Concessions are barely average at the facility with just a couple spots to buy basic stadium foods. These items include hot dogs ($4.25), cheeseburgers ($5.25), sausages ($6.75), chicken sandwiches ($6.25), and Personal Pizzas ($6.00). Other typical snacks are also available along with Pepsi products.
What enhances a generally boring set of options is the Pre-Game Picnic Area, located just outside the main gates. This little area features free beverages, including beer (this is an off-campus stadium). That’s right: “FREE” and “BEER”. Where do you ever see that at a sporting event!? Water and soft drinks are also available. Also outside the main gates are some tables set up for local restaurants that offer free samples on some of their dishes. It’s enough to make for a light lunch, or if you want, you can actually bring a lunch in as the stadium allows fans to walk in with their own food and drinks.
Most of the seating at Wien Stadium is on the south sideline, and with a capacity over 10,000, there is plenty of room to spread out and pick your seat. I found the top of the stadium to be the most desirable spot to watch the game as the fan has an eye-pleasing view beyond the football field. To the left, is Inwood Hill Park, which is full of trees (an unusual site in NYC). Straight ahead and underneath the Henry Hudson Bridge is the Hudson River spilling into the Harlem River, where a large, blue C can be seen painted on the rocky walls above the water. Lastly, to the right are those towering apartment buildings that are so familiar with the city.
Both shade and sun can be found throughout these sideline seats, and while most are made up of metal bleachers, there is a section towards the middle of light blue chairbacks. A track surrounds the football field, which forces the sections to be further from the game. Unfortunately, the most basic necessity for a fan, knowing the time and score, isn’t handled well here. Though the light blue scoreboard design is nice, the numbers are very difficult to make out when it is sunny. That left a lot of fans (including myself) asking how much time was left during the game.
Opposite the main seating, is a small section of bleachers reserved for visitors. These seats are worn and generally uncomfortable, plus the sun will be in your eyes a little more. The other issue is that these seats are a pain to get to. Columbia does not allow you to walk on the track, so to get to the other side, one has to literally leave the stadium and walk all the way around (getting their hand stamped and passing through the gates again in the process). Plus, there is only a bathroom on the visitor’s side; for any food or drinks, they have to come back over. Even if you are rooting for the road team, it might not be a bad idea to stay in the main seating area.
Located in the northern tip of Manhattan is the neighborhood of Inwood, which is home to Wien Stadium. Inwood is nothing like the touristy parts of Manhattan as the section is hillier and more residential with some rare open park space. Despite the separation from one’s typical view of Manhattan, the area still retains the feel of a New York City neighborhood. There is not too much worth wandering to check out. Unfortunately, the campus for Columbia University is located well away (over five miles) from the Baker Field sports complex that contains the football stadium.
However, a couple local eateries should be visited before or after the game. Down the street from the stadium is the Indian Road Café, named after the road it sits on. It’s a great bistro that is probably best for an early dinner after the game. Before going into the stadium, stop at the Park Terrace Deli. They make excellent NYC-style deli sandwiches and are perfect to bring into the game for lunch.
Attendance for games is not the greatest since the team usually ranks last in the Ivy League attendance standings. The numbers may not be high, but there was a nice mix of alumni, students, and local neighborhood fans that came out for the game, though many wandered in through the first and early part of the second quarter. Given Columbia’s proficiency for losing football, I was not expecting much from the crowd, but was pleasantly surprised to see them really get into the game. Big plays were met with many rising to their feet. When the home squad started with a rare season-opening win, there was a decent roar of approval. To go along with the fans is a small band that reserves most tunes for halftime. It’s a zany group that almost focuses more on jokes and quips than typical marching band music.
By far, the best way to get to Wien Stadium is using mass transit. New York City’s extensive subway system allows for access from anywhere in the city, though it is a 35-minute trip from Midtown Manhattan. Fans can take the 1 or A train to a stop within walking distance from the stadium, which is on West 218th Street. The Inwood area is safe to walk, especially with the majority of games occurring in the daytime. Another means of mass transit comes from a shuttle bus that runs fans to and from Columbia’s Morningside campus location.
For those that do venture to drive, expect all of the headaches that come with driving in New York. Aside from the traffic and the nerve-rattling roadways, the biggest problem is parking. There is none for the general public. Instead, fans can search for a spot on the street or utilize one of several parking garages that line 10th Ave. Arriving early is recommended. Be aware that these parking garages ($15) are valet, which is a pain after you leave the game and have to wait in a line for somebody to get your car. A byproduct of the minimal parking is that there is essentially no tailgating.
Inside the stadium, the concourse behind the main seating bowl has enough room to maneuver as long as there isn’t a huge crowd at the game. Bathrooms, though small, are sufficient as there are at least a few down the length of the concourse.
Return on Investment 4
The only high expense for a Columbia game is if you decide to drive because the parking and tolls are higher priced than a ticket. The Lions do a great job of making this an affordable venture as tickets are only $10. Seats with backs run $25. Given the free food and drinks before the game and the free programs, expense is fairly low. As long as you map out a plan for getting to the stadium, a one-time visit is worth it.
The full name of the facility is a mouthful: Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium at Baker Athletics Complex. The Robert Kraft portion of the name is indeed in reference to the current owner of the New England Patriots. Kraft not only is an alumnus and donor to the University, but he also played sprint football for the school in the 1960s.
One game worth checking out at Columbia is the contest with cross-borough rivals Fordham. It is a newer rivalry that began in 2002, which is surprising given that the schools are only a few miles apart. The winner of the game receives the Liberty Cup.
Follow all of Sean’s journeys at Stadium & Arena Visits.
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Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium
New York, NY 10034
Year Opened: 1984