As has been the assumption for a while, today Tom Groeschen reported that the Bearcats are likely heading south of the river to play 2017–18 home games at BB&T Arena while The Shoe undergoes its $87 million overhaul. As with anything that happens in this city, some people were happy and others were ready to burn the Carew Tower to the ground.
Moving to BB&T Arena for next season is the right move, and it’s not close.
First, I think there are two major reasons why US Bank Arena is the wrong move:
- The place sucks. Simple enough. I’ve been to games there, and it’s a terrible place to watch a basketball game. It’s old, it hasn’t be updated in 20 years, and it even smells bad. The facility is owned by Nederlander Entertainment and AEG, who have done absolutely nothing to invest in it. They thought the Bearcats would fall into their lap when UC was deciding on a permanent basketball home in 2015, and they were wrong. They thought the Bearcats would fall into their lap when UC was deciding on a temporary home for the 2017–18 season and they were wrong again. You snooze, you lose.
- It’s way too big. The arena seats 17,000 in its basketball configuration, which is entirely too large — especially for a subpar venue and especially for one that’s off campus. The Crosstown “Classic” was played there for two seasons and drew 14,500 in 2012 and 10,250 in 2013. The city’s biggest basketball game couldn’t even flirt with capacity. The Bearcats playing a team like Lipscomb or Tulane would be brutal. There aren’t 17,000 people that will pay to watch the Bearcats play off campus in a dump against bad teams.
I understand there are a couple positives to playing downtown. First, there’s definitely some allure to calling The Banks home for a season. Positioning the Bearcats next to Cincinnati’s other major teams — the Reds and Bengals — would be kind of cool.
Second, there’s the nightlife. There are some nice restaurants and bars at The Banks, and OTR would be a short taxi or Uber ride up the street. Local business owners and supporters of the downtown economy have already hopped on Twitter in an attempt to take UC to task for not supporting downtown businesses. Newsflash: The Bearcats don’t give a damn about downtown businesses, and why should they? They have to operate in their best interests, and they aren’t going to choose an inferior location in an attempt to keep bar owners happy. Sorry. I feel bad for businesses in Clifton that will be forced to ride out the season without the boost from the Bearcats. The bars downtown, however, will not be much farther from games than they were before.
Pros of BB&T Arena:
- It’s a great venue. It opened for the first time in 2008, 11 years after US Bank Arena saw its last renovation. In recent years, it’s hosted concerts by artists like Jay-Z and Bob Dylan. If you’re a national act who wants to stop in Cincinnati, you don’t go to USBA, you go to BB&T. It’s Greater Cincinnati’s best indoor venue. I want to watch games there.
- It’s the perfect size. In its basketball configuration, the building seats 9,400 fans. Last season, the Bearcats averaged more than that. I’d much rather have a packed house in a small, updated arena than a 60% capacity crowd an a crumbling trash heap.
- It’s easier to access for many fans. Many UC fans and alumni live out in the suburbs near the I-275 loop. Instead of fighting their way into the center of the city to get to Fifth Third Arena, now they can hop on 275 and take it to Northern Kentucky. For fans who live inside the loop, BB&T is not that much farther south than campus is. Let’s say you live in Madeira. Your drive to the Bearcats game just went from 18 minutes to 22 minutes. If you live in Reading, your drive goes from 21 to 26 minutes. Obviously that will change a bit with traffic, but my point stands.
- I’m petty and want to stick it to US Bank Arena. That place is pretty mismanaged and they don’t deserve to reap the benefits of UC basketball.
Cons of BB&T Arena:
- It’s hard for students. I remember being a student when the Bearcats played the 2014 football season at Paul Brown Stadium. That really sucked, because there wasn’t a super easy, cheap way to get to games. As a result, games at inopportune times (weeknights) saw student attendance suffer which negatively impacted the game atmosphere. Playing basketball in NKY is going to be rough, because that means more games, which means more long trips for students — the lifeblood of the program. If you’re a student, you’re probably either annoyed with today’s news or you’ve made the decision to skip a ton of games next season. Both of those reactions are understandable, and it sucks.
- Playing in another state will be weird. I dunno. Playing in Kentucky will just feel a bit strange, even though northernmost Kentucky is virtually indistinguishable from Cincinnati. Plus, yes, I’d prefer to keep the money in the city and have an abundance of nightlife surrounding the arena. Unfortunately, the pros far outweigh the cons here.
To be fair to fans on each side of this argument, I should state that there isn’t really a perfect solution. We saw it in 2014 with the football team. Some games will be perfectly fine, and others will be brutal. We’ll all miss home and count down the days until The Shoe reopens as the glorious basketball mecca that Mick has deserved for years.
I’d rather not go anywhere, but we have to leave to make way for something better. During our exile, I think BB&T Arena is the place to be.