Fifth Third Arena – Cincinnati Bearcats
Photos by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
Fifth Third Arena 2700 O'Varsity Way Cincinnati, OH 45221
Year Opened: 1989 Capacity: 13,176
Everything but "The Shoe"
Opened in 1989, the Fifth Third Arena is the home of the University of Cincinnati Bearcats men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball teams. It is known as one of the most hostile places to play college basketball. As of this writing, the Cats have won close to 83 percent of its home games for an incredible 452-93 record.
The place also went through an $87 million renovation during the 2017-2018 school year, which resulted in a state-of-the-art facility that seats 12,012 for basketball games. The arena features two 360-degree concourses, court-centric seating, new club seats, loge boxes, and premium seats. There are also video boards and ribbon boards, along with The Arena Club, Champions Club, and Mercedes-Benz Courtside Club.
Basketball began on the campus of UC in 1901 and reached its zenith in 1959-1963 when the team made five Final Four Appearances, won two national championships, and was runners-up. They were led the first two years by one of the game's greatest basketball players, Oscar Robertson, but did not win the NCAA championships until he turned pro in 1961 and 1962. The Cats would make one more Final Four appearance in 1992.
Food & Beverage 4
There are well over increased points-of-sales since the building’s renovations in 2018, and fans can find the city’s most well-known food products and locally brewed beers that will satisfy fans in attendance.
The Skyline Chili concession area (sections 123 and 214) offers cones that are beloved in the area. They are miniature hot dogs topped with mustard, onions, Cincinnati-style chili, and a heaping portion of shredded cheddar cheese. Many pick them up in two, along with a side of locally made Grippo’s BBQ chips, another cherished item from the city.
Buffalo Wings & Rings (section 203) offer bone-in rings and fries with various sauces. Another popular item is Sweet Buckets popcorn. The variety includes regular, Buffalo, kettle, cheddar, and Oreo flavors. There is also a bucket stuffed with cotton candy.
The other concession stands feature more traditional items: grilled chicken sandwiches, smashed burgers and hot dogs, chicken tenders baskets, pretzel bites with cheese, nachos, and a hummus plate with veggie sticks. You can wash this all down with various Pepsi products in either 24 and 32-ounce cups or a larger souvenir cup.
The beer selection features traditional favorites, including Bud, Bud Light, Sam Adams, Miller Light, Michelob Ultra, and Yuengling, and local favorites from Mad Tree, Rhinegeist, Esoteric, and Great Lakes, out of Cleveland. There are two giant bars and social areas to enjoy these tasty drafts: The Armory, named after the Cats original basketball venue, and the Queen City Bar.
The decimal levels are known to be among the loudest in college basketball; from the student section, The RUCkus, to the rest of the fans in the building, the place gets extremely loud and provides a home-court advantage. The facility is a basketball fieldhouse, and its 12,000-plus seats make it an ideal place for basketball.
The arena aesthetically includes an artistic gray and white design on the exterior of the building that includes statues of its most iconic basketball player Oscar Robertson and the school’s bearcat nicknames. Inside, there is a picture tutorial of how the team picked the name and its design evolution over the years.
The Armory Bar is decorated with the arena's former basketball court in an artistic flare, The Queen City Bar features a map of the city, and The Overlook Bar offers fans a place to sit and watch a baseball game through the window.
The cheer and dance team is energetic and provides a lot of on-court action in between games. They will toss t-shirts into the crowd, perform dance routines, pump up the crowd, and bring in the Bearcat mascot on a litter (a wooden platform) carried by members of the cheer team.
Fifth Third Arena is on campus in the Clifton section of town. The venue is behind the right-field scoreboard of the ballpark and near the football stadium Nippert Field. Streets twist and turn up and down the small hills as patrons park their cars in one of the series of lots or parking lots near the stadium.
A few great places are within a few blocks or minutes of the stadium. Minutes away on foot is Vine Street, which has transformed into a happening spot for breakfast spots, ghost tours, and entertainment over the last decade. While a few miles further is the Clifton Gaslight District, a residential area of post-Victorian homes and eclectic little shops, bars, and restaurants.
Vine Street offers two great breakfast and brunch destinations; Hangover Easy and Ladder 19. Alabama Que has wonderful prices on pulled pork, rib tips, and turkey tips. Island Frydays has what many call the best Caribbean food in Cincinnati, and Taste of Belgium is an official sponsor of FCC, specializing in crepes, waffles, and frites.
The Gaslight District is a neighborhood I used to call home, and worth a visit any time of the day. Habanero offers Mexican and American cuisine, Stillwell’s Coffee House is a funky little joint to enjoy a cup or pint of brew, and Proud Rooster is another fabulous place for breakfast or brunch. The city's two iconic institutions: Graeter’s Ice Cream and Skyline Chili, are on the block.
Reingest Brewing is a mile from the stadium in the Over-the-Rein section of town. The area is up and coming; however, the old 1890 warehouse building is packed with customers and features a top floor with taps, cornhole games, tables, and happy customers.
The Bearcats have an energetic supporting cast in the stands. The decibel levels are boisterous, and the student section is active throughout the game, holding up with the best of them around the nation. The fans contribute to the atmosphere of the arena.
Traffic moves briskly through the seating bowl and concourse levels, and with the majority of open sections, it is relatively easy to find seating, bathrooms, or concession stands. The handicapped seating is at the top of each aisle on the main concourse.
There are three lots for cars: Campus Green Garage, Woodside Garage, and University Ave. Garage. The price per vehicle is $10. Ticket offices are located on the south side of the stadium.
Return on Investment 4
The cost of a UC basketball ticket starts at $20 for seats in the 200-section. They top out at $50 for tickets closer to the action on the court. At the game, the price of concessions and merchandise are reasonable and on par with other major sporting events in the city.
Fifth Third Arena earns a point for being a basketball fieldhouse and not a multi-purpose venue. It means that the view of the court is close, and the interior is decorated with UC basketball lore.
A second point is for the impressive designs at The Armory and Queen City bars. They identify not only the university but the city as well. The Armory is decorated with pieces of the former court on the walls. A third point is to the student section dubbed The RUCkus. They are located on both sides of the court under the basket providing a home-court advantage to the Cats.
A fourth point is awarded to multiple renovations from the gray and white swirls on the arena’s exterior, the curved ribbon boards on the corner, and the modern seating.
Overall, the atmosphere is top-notch and hangs its hat with some other local palaces for basketball at the University of Dayton, Indiana, Louisville, and Kentucky. Cincinnati is a college basketball town with all the pomp and circumstance one would expect at a college basketball venue.