Located at 410 Woody Hayes Drive, St. John Arena is described as a multi-purpose arena on Wikipedia. While that might technically be true, none of the arena’s current “purposes” involve hosting an Ohio State game, match, meet, dual, or any other varsity sporting event.
And frankly, that is a shame. Because for many years, it was the raucous (at times, let’s not get carried away) home of OSU basketball. The men hooped at St. John from 1956-1998, while the women began play in 1965. The arena also hosted men’s and women’s gymnastics, M&W volleyball, and wrestling during its six-decade run as the indoor athletic hub of the Buckeyes, which came to an end in 2019.
Dozens of concerts were also held at St. John, primarily in the 1970s, but the last of which was Black Sabbath on Oct. 7, 1980. From a performance venue for Ozzy Osbourne and of course, many legendary Ohio State athletes, to a vaccination clinic and designated technology pickup location for students, the old arena is certainly and unfortunately not what it used to be.
But if I was in charge, St. John would be on the receiving end of an arena facelift, modernizing and upgrading the facility to make it the home of OSU basketball once again.
For those who were never fortunate enough to attend a basketball game (or any other event for that matter) at St. John, the atmosphere was exponentially better than that of the Buckeyes’ current home, Value City Arena at the Jerome Schottenstein Center. There are some, perhaps many, who will argue that the latter has been an upgrade, but the “vibe meter” tells a different story.
St. John is/was a smaller, more intimate venue with seats near the action, great views, and great acoustics. Whereas Value City is a corporate mecca imagined as a general entertainment space rather than a sports-centric arena... In my humble opinion, of course. And since we’re doing an “if I was in charge” theme on LGHL this week, I will act as if my humble opinion is the only one that matters!
And I will scream from my own personal mountain top that St. John Arena is the rightful home of Ohio State basketball and needs to be treated as such. So if I ever was placed in charge of whatever hypothetical decision-making process we’re talking about here, I would demand that immediate and necessary upgrades be made to the ol’ fortress, in preparation for bringing Buckeye ballers back. But we’re not talking more seats and more suites. No, no, no...
Some people believe that increased or greater capacity automatically equals a larger crowd, louder cheers, and more money spent on concessions. But what if 20 percent of the invited or intended crowd never shows up, spends most of the game or event on their phone, and/or refuses to pay $12 for a small bag of popcorn? The fact of the matter is, if the ambiance sucks and a portion of the attendees are only there for a complimentary snack bar available in one of the lifeless suites, then the venue is likely missing its target(s).
I guess that’s where the supplementary events and sponsored concerts come into play, to make back some of the money. But guess what? Half empty concerts where the only eye contact made is via jumbotron, those suck too! Unlike a smaller event where a singer’s voice nearly blows out your eardrum.
Yes, I am exaggerating, but having attended games at both arenas and concerts on Borror Drive (Value City), I can tell you that the experiences are not one in the same. Value City is for guests and acquaintances, St. John is/was for diehards and real fans. Of course, students and lifers are going to flock wherever, but you get my point.
Tom Izzo on Value City Arena: "I would say one thing about this place: I was disappointed in their fans. I thought the way his team has played and how hard they play, this place should be rocking and packed." #buckeyes— Adam Jardy (@AdamJardy) March 4, 2022
Which is that St. John does not have to be the Carrier Dome (capacity 34,000+) to offer and provide a fantastic game experience. Hell, Cameron Indoor Stadium, where Duke plays its home basketball games, holds just over 9,000 fans and is arguably the loudest, most insane atmosphere in college basketball. Sure the venue probably isn’t booking Taylor Swift anytime soon, but who cares!? The fans love it, the players love it, and isn’t that sort of the point of a sports arena? An enjoyable experience for all?
Here is what I would be asking for in my new and improved St. John Arena:
- Some new, comfortable seating. I admit that the old wooden options were a literal pain in the ass. But only some, not all. We’re keeping a portion of the bleachers for ambiance.
- A modern jumbotron. I don’t need the monstrosity inside “Jerry’s World” aka AT&T Stadium, let’s just spruce up the current version a little bit.
- The retro Block O in the middle. Ohio State has brought it back a time or two, make it permanent.
- Speaking of retro, find the old proprietor(s) of Catfish Biff’s and Bring. That. Sh*t. Back! I want it available in every corner of the arena.
- And finally, better parking. Whoever I delegate that responsibility to: Hire professionals, make it palpable. If you have to knock down a stupid chain restaurant or some Campus Partners money grab, in order to put up a garage, do it. Just leave Buckeye Donuts and Out-R-Inn alone.
Now, you might be asking: What about the tiny, dated display board above the tunnel(s)? Or, is this peculiar visionary going to offer in-arena Wi-Fi? My answers are “not touchin’ em” and “nope”. I love the familiar, old-school look, and if you want to scroll Twitter during a game, do so at home.
If I was in charge, OSU basketball would return home. Where the Buckeyes are meant to play, at St. John Arena. If only the world we so lucky...