A century into its life, the iconic Horseshoe should last another lifetime (2024)

Bill RabinowitzThe Columbus Dispatch

The notion that Ohio Stadium will no longer exist seems almost unfathomable.

It’s unlikely that anybody alive today was at the first game at the Horseshoe 100 years ago. But one day, the stadium as it stands, will not host Ohio State football games. Nothing lasts forever.

But that sad day is so far in the future, many of those reading this won't be around to mourn when the beloved Horseshoe is no more.

When the stadium underwent a $207 million renovation from 1999-2001, it was done to update and preserve the stadium for at least 75 years. More than 20 years after that project, that timetable still holds.

“There isn't really a direct number, but 75 years seems about right,” said executive associate athletic director for internal operations Mike Penner, who oversees the facility.

Consider how many stadiums have come and gone already since the Horseshoe opened in 1922. Crosley Field was the Cincinnati Reds’ home from 1912-1970. Riverfront Stadium lasted from 1970-2002. Cleveland Municipal Stadium, home to the city’s baseball and football teams, opened in 1931 and closed in 1995.

While it seems certain that Ohio Stadium will last for the foreseeable future, it is not guaranteed that its name will remain the same. Asked if Ohio State would consider selling name rights to the Horseshoe, athletic director Gene Smith was succinct.

“Yeah," he said. "In today’s world, the way costs are, we’ll evaluate that. We dipped our toe with a great partner in Safelite with the field.”

Safelite, a Columbus-based auto glass company, purchased naming rights for the artificial surface playing field at Ohio Stadium earlier this year. Two company logos are on the field. Ohio State has not disclosed the financial details of the deal.

Smith said there are no current plans to sell naming rights to the stadium itself.

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“There’s nothing happening,” he said. “There’s no effort to do that now. I’m just saying the answer to your question is, ‘Sure.’ That could be five years or 10 years or 15 years (away). But to say we’d never do it, that’s just not the truth. The truth is, at some point the university may do that.”

Ohio Stadium’s name might feel sacrosanct, but it would be a sign of the times. This year, Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown removed his father’s name from his team’s stadium when Paul Brown Stadium became Paycor Stadium.

Whatever the Horseshoe is called, those entrusted with it vow to keep it iconic. Maintenance requires constant work that costs roughly $2 million dollars per year.

“Every year, we evaluate areas of the stadium concrete that needs to be repaired,” Penner said. “Those are stairwells and decks and cracks. Maybe a little piece falls out here and there, and we have to repair that.”

He said the north Rotunda and the stadium’s four towers look a bit patchy.

“We’re looking to see how we can patch that concrete, repair those cracks and replace some joints and put a clear sealer or semi-transparent concrete coating to make them look a little bit better,” said Penner.

The stadium has 54 restrooms – 23 men's and 31 women's – and Penner said Ohio State is evaluating what it would require to upgrade and renovate those by improving the flooring and adding wall finishes and new partitions. Adding televisions outside the restroom while people wait is under consideration.

Those are small touches. Penner said Ohio State is continually working to improve the game-day experience. College football attendance is lagging across the country. Buckeye fans continue to pack Ohio Stadium for most games, but the Buckeyes aren’t immune from the trend. Last year’s game against Tulsa drew only 76,540.

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With big-screen high-definition televisions the norm, Penner knows the stadium experience must be special enough to lure fans off their couch.

“It’s important for us for people to come experience a game,” he said. “Usually, if they come to a game, they want to come back.”

Penner said Ohio State is blessed to have its famous marching band and a team that’s always good.

But he said that “every day” he and his staff try to envision enhancements to the stadium experience. Wi-Fi was added three years ago. Penner and Smith said Ohio State is considering changing the stadium lights to LED ones. Ohio State might upgrade to larger video boards on the north and south sides of the stadium.

“The basics will always be here,” Penner said. “There’s always going to a football game and the marching band and all the people that love to come to campus and tailgate throughout the day and then come to the stadium and enjoy the game.

“I think technology will be the differentiator, all the things we can do with technology. How can we connect the game experience to people’s phones? How much more information can we give them while they’re in their seats so that they can get the replays and all the stats you can get while you’re at home? You’d get the best of both words – the information you get at home and feel the energy of being in person.”

Bells and whistles are necessary to stay with the times, but the greatest appeal of Ohio Stadium is that it’s timeless.

“It's a huge responsibility," Smith said, "to oversee such an iconic facility and ensure that it is maintained and taken care of the way it deserves and in a way that Buckeye Nation and visitors can truly enjoy it and respect its history and tradition.”

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A century into its life, the iconic Horseshoe should last another lifetime (2024)


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