I went to see a sporting event at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, and it wasn’t bad at all

So as part of my vacation last week, I got to attend the Women’s World Cup semifinal in Montreal between the U.S. and Germany, which was kind of a good game. Since the Women’s World Cup isn’t nearly as big of a deal as the Men’s World Cup (because, duh, girls), the tournament isn’t occasioned by the construction of massive new stadiums that nobody will ever use again, but rather is played in whatever stadiums the host nation already has available.

For the U.S.-Germany semifinal, this meant Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, the erstwhile Big Owe that helped drive the Expos out of town. I’d been there once before in 2001 for an Expos game, and found it to be a weird place to watch baseball, though mostly because baseball in a cavernous indoor space with only a couple thousand fans is always going to be weird. Since the Expos left, it hasn’t been used for much — Alouettes playoff games, Impact spring games when the weather is too awful to go outside, occasional concerts.

Packed with 50,000 screaming (mostly) USA fans, though, it proved to be a great place to watch soccer. (Albeit soccer on fake turf, but that’s an issue with all the venues for this World Cup.) Olympic Stadium is a “concrete donut” era big oval, which is okay for soccer, and the sightlines seemed fine, though given that we were right behind one goal our sightlines would have been fine regardless:

bigopano

freekickWhat was less fine was the scene outside the stadium when we (and a couple hundred other USA fans) showed up at 2 in the afternoon, two hours before gates opened, hoping to find some souvenirs or food to buy or other cup-related activities to take part in:

outsideoNow, I honestly don’t know whether the near-complete lack of activities (a feeble fanfest finally opened a couple of hours before the game) was because FIFA doesn’t care about women soccer players unless they’re wearing hotpants, because vendors were all busy with the Jazz Fest across town, or because of some traditional Quebecois aversion to providing timely service. But the point is that there was nothing wrong with Olympic Stadium that some better concessions options (and turning over more of the washrooms to women — predictably at a women’s sporting event with half men’s rooms, the women’s room lines were appallingly long) wouldn’t have fixed. Some renovations and a more attentive concessionaire (there were no USA player t-shirts on sale anywhere, which at most stadiums would be enough to get your marketing director fired, then rehired just so that you could fire him again), and Olympic Stadium would still be far from modern, but would be a perfectly okay place to watch a sporting event.

And that’s at a stadium that is perpetually ranked among the worst ever. Consider, then, to what degree bad management and disinterest in upgrading a facility that you want out of anyway contributes to the flaws that are being perpetually trotted out in support of arguments that pretty much any stadium over 15 years old is ready for the junkpile. The fact of the matter is that if the game is fun, it’s going to be fun pretty much anyplace; and if it’s not fun, a ride on a baseball-shaped Ferris wheel can only do so much to save it.

Anyway, soapbox off. Suffice to say that I went to a soccer match at what is rightfully considered one of the worst stadiums ever built, and had a great time. It seems like there should be some kind of lesson in that.


16 comments on “I went to see a sporting event at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, and it wasn’t bad at all

  1. Meanwhile, the USA-Guatemala friendly at the “old” LP Field was an unmitigated disaster. Modern stadium, prehistoric planning? https://storify.com/EmptySeatsPics/usmnt-fans-fed-up-with-nissan-stadium

  2. I have been to Olympic Stadium for baseball and football.When they have a good crowd its a fine place to watch these events.Nice and warm for the Grey Cup games.Skip it for rock shows unless you really love the band.Have a good summer Neil !

  3. I know the whole thing is basically so complex that it would cost more than a new ballpark, but I’d love if they took out the roof/most of the overhang and left the pillars up. Could be quite the thing.

    My only complaint was that it was fairly quiet, even with a big crowd. Except for the locals who have a neat clapping motion with the metal seats.

  4. It was not remotely quiet last Tuesday. And there were too many people there for there to be room to do the clapping thing.

  5. Neil, We were there last week as well. Great atmosphere! I’ve been there for several Expos games in the past (including in 1998 when the roof was off while being replaced), and I’ve never had a problem with the stadium. As you know, ownership was more of a problem (the whole problem?) with the Expos demise….

  6. I wonder how, say, the Rays would do if you pulled them out of St. Pete and put them at the O. (Not that their lease would allow this but, you know, thought experiment.) It’s the kind of thing owners would consider, if they weren’t constantly angling for stadium cash.

  7. Kel,

    I read the article link and I would have to say that management underestimated the amount of tickets that would sell. If anything, USA Soccer should have helped management. On the other hand, not having all the gates and concession stands open is the fault of stadium management. Hopefully Super Bowl 56 is a much better experience.

  8. Didn’t FedEx field have a similar experience for a non-NFL event recently (maybe an Argentina v. Someone friendly)?

    Who is responsible? By which I mean who is making the money. Seems that if there are no contractual obligations for some of the non-NFL events it is absolutely ‘hire no staff and keep costs as low as possible crowd size be damned.’

    I don’t live in Nashville but now I think worse of it, the Titans and Nissan. Good job. Good effort.

  9. Finally a voice of reason. The Big O is far from perfect as a sports venue but it is not NEARLY as terrible as it has been made out to be (particularly by the English Montreal media.) It gets the job done and has never negatively impacted my experience of viewing an event there.

    It is a pretty depressing venue when its nearly empty (it’s quite big after all) but it is awesome when there are 30 000 or more spectators and beyond awesome when it is packed.

    The sight lines are good from 35 000 seats for baseball (and terrible for the other 20 000). It’s perfectly fine for football and soccer. I saw Pink Floyd there in 1994 and the sound was surprisingly good.

    It is so easy to get in and out of there either by car or Metro even with a huge crowd. I have never bought the whole “wrong end of town” thing. A 15 minute Metro ride to/from downtown. Who cares?

    When I was there for the Blue Jays series over the past 2 years I was actually surprised at how good of shape the structure seemed to be in, generally (apart from the roof of course) despite the lack of proper maintenance.

    Cosmetically and technologically, it is 25 years overdue for a reno. The area beyond centerfield is (and always has been) an eyesore and is the greatest contributor to the “cavernous” feeling. That area of the stadium has never been finished.

    The biggest problem with the Big O is that it has always been seen by Montrealers as a liability as opposed to an asset. It has rarely been kept up to date and in a proper state of repair (even when it was almost new).

    Hopefully some people with vision will realize the potential of this robust architectural gem (in the rough) someday.

  10. I went to that Women’s World Cup Semifinal game between the USA and Germany and a match a couple weeks before that where England defeated Columbia in front of 13,000 energetic yellow-clad Columbians and about 800 English and assorted others. I sat in the lower bowl for one match and the upper deck for the other. The sightlines for soccer were good and the atmosphere in the USA game with over 51,000 fans (seemingly 97% American) was terrific. Olympic Stadium and the leaning tower above it is an architectural icon in Montreal that the tourists love and the locals don’t appreciate. Well-built and striking still at 40 years old, the stadium allegedly needs over $200 million to put into good repair and even then there is no team that wants to use it day-in and day-out. It’s a sad situation — I would love to see it in regular use again but it’s really hard to argue with the Quebec government that there aren’t higher priorities for $200+ million. Even with regard to tourism, the city spent about $250 million redoing the entire Quartier des Spectacles over a number of years and that location hosts the the hugely popular Jazz Fest and the Francofolies and Just For Laughs festivals among others and is busy all summer long.

  11. I went to an Expos game in 2001 also, and the Stade was fine, although *all* indoor baseball is weird; I saw a game at the astrodome once and it felt like being a submarine. I also remember a lot of linoleum and carpet, which is also a little strange.

    I would love to see the rays move to MTL, but feel strongly about the National League heritage there; perhaps they and the Nationals could swap leagues, returning Washington back to the American league.

  12. I’m not convinced baseball would work even giving it a 2nd try. However I suspect it would have a better chance than last time at least being in the AL East assuming it’s the Rays that move. Games against Toronto would help a lot and boost any television deal. Combine that with Boston in close proximity who they have a good hockey rivalry with, and the glamour of the Yankees.

    It might work but I have my doubts.

  13. You went to stadium that is 40 years old, you could have been killed, or worse, found not able to buy a club seat.

  14. I’ve seen dozens of baseball games at the Oakland Coliseum in the last decade, and people always seem mystified when I say exactly this. I went to the game and had a great time. What, exactly, is the problem?

  15. Such a shame the retractable roof didn’t work at Olympic Stadium years ago. It could be tried again. This time the roof can retract similar to the one at BC Place Stadium but the price might be a lot more expensive in the 2010’s.

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