Ohio Stadium comes alive

Dave Ghose

Summer is no longer a dead time for Ohio Stadium, as this month's Champions Cup soccer match highlights.

Ohio State officialsexpect a packed house for the much-anticipated July 27 showdown in Ohio Stadium between two of the most popular soccer teams in the world, Real Madrid of Spain and Paris Saint-Germain of France. The International Champions Cup match could attract around 100,000 people from all over the country to the home of the Buckeyes, a rare opportunity to see such top players as Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale and Saint Germain's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva on an American pitch.

The event also highlights a sea change in how Ohio State views its iconic football stadium. Once an offseason dead zone, Ohio Stadium is becoming a hot spot for summer events. Last year, the 'Shoe hosted three major concerts-the Rolling Stones, the Buckeye Country Superfest (a two-day event) and One Direction-after 12 years of offseason inactivity. The Buckeye Superfest returned for its second year in June, while this month's Real Madrid-Saint Germain faceoff, the first major international soccer match hosted by Ohio Stadium, should set a new record for attendance for an offseason event at the venue.

"We have seven football games a year that are obviously very important to Ohio, Central Ohio, Columbus and our university, but it's such an iconic and functionally useful facility, we needed to make sure that we found other ways to take advantage of this capacity," says Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith.

Smith says the change has been a priority of his for a long time. Shortly after arriving at Ohio State in 2005, he concluded it didn't make economic sense to keep the stadium essentially dormant during the offseason (the period between spring commencement and the first home football game in early September). When Ohio State replaced the grass field with artificial turf in 2007, a major motivation was to allow for more offseason events.

Concerts once weren't that uncommon at Ohio Stadium. From the late 1980s to early 2000s, the 'Shoe hosted such acts as Pink Floyd, U2, George Strait and Metallica. But then a desire to protect the grass turf (plus ongoing renovations) ended that tradition. "Part of the strategy was to get us to a point where we could bring events into the stadium without worrying about the wear and tear on the grass-turf system," Smith says.

That point arrived last summer, the first time Ohio Stadium had ever hosted three concerts in one year. "My primary goal is to get concerts, which I think have the biggest impact of all the different events that we could have," Smith says. Last year, the Rolling Stones attracted more than 60,000 people (the highest attended show on their tour last year), while the other 2015 shows also boasted big numbers: more than 90,000 flocked to the two-day Buckeye Superfest and more than 40,000 watched One Direction. Ohio State declined to release revenue figures for those shows, but Leslie Lane, vice president for Columbus Arena and Sports Entertainment (the Ohio State division that oversees concert programming), describes the three 2015 concerts as "financially successful" for the university.