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Ohio State Tries To Restrict Game Day Parties As Bars Await Fans

Bartender Billy Search is behind the bar at The Little Bar while wearing a mask.
Adora Namigadde
Billy Seach, a bartender at The Little Bar on High Street, says all their reservations are gone for Saturday afternoon to watch the Ohio State football game.

Ohio State will kickoff its football season after a nearly two month delay on Saturday and while the university is asking fans to avoid gathering together to watch the game, local bars are hoping to see an influx of business.

This year Ohio Stadium will be a lot quieter for the noon kickoff. To help stop the spread of COVID-19, only the families of coaches and players will be allowed to attend the games. The Ohio State marching band, cheerleaders and Brutus Buckeye won't be allowed inside the stadium.

Eventhough fans won't be in attendance, Ohio State Athletics Director Gene Smith says there’s still a risk to spread the coronavirus if fans gather elsewhere.

“We wanna encourage everyone to not host or be a part of large gatherings or large watch parties,” Smith says. “We wanna encourage people to not create environments where they become super-spreaders of the virus.”

Ohio State University’s first home game means big business for local bars. Even so, the pandemic is changing the way fans cheer on the Buckeyes.

Local bars hope to create spaces for people to watch the game without spreading COVID-19. 

Threes Above High is a dive bar near campus. General Manager Aaron Thompson says it’s not realistic to think people won’t get together for the game. 

“People are gonna go watch the game somewhere,” Thompson says. “They’re not just gonna sit in their room and text their friends.”

Thompson says he can provide that gathering space for them and boost his business at the same time.

“It’s definitely essential right now,” Thompson says. “If we had no football season, the conversation would be a lot different about everything we’re doing.”

There are barriers set up in the bar, and groups can only include up to 10 customers. People had to reserve tables in order to watch the game and Thompson says they’re already full for Saturday afternoon.

The sign outside Threes Above High bar reads The Rona is like Michigan, can't beat the Bucks.
Credit Adora Namigadde / WOSU
The sign outside Threes Above High bar reads The Rona is like Michigan, can't beat the Bucks.

“Reservations are booked for Saturday, and we’re full,” Thompson says. “So at noon there’s basically, most Saturdays wouldn’t be booked until about 7 o'clock at night.”

He says since game day will bring in customers a lot earlier than normal, Threes Above High expects to make three times the amount of money they would on a typical Saturday mid-pandemic.

Thompson says they’ll be closely following Columbus Public Health regulations to ensure their patrons’ safety.

“I don’t think anywhere is gonna not follow the rules on especially the first game day when all eyes are on us,” Thompson says of local bars.

Despite bar managers’ insistence that it will be safe to celebrate outside the house, Ohio State is encouraging students to celebrate at home with a social media campaign from the university’s marketing department.

The Little Bar, just down the street from Threes on High, is also taking reservations for Saturday.

“We will have everything booked so that on that day we expect that exact number of people to show up and have the necessary staff to make sure everything is clean,” The Little Bar bartender Billy Seach says.

Tables will be at least six feet apart from one another, and the bar counter itself has clear dividers every six feet.

“The patio will be great, we’re bringing out our huge jumbotron TV so everyone can watch that, and inside we have some 70-odd chairs.”

In a statement, Columbus Public Health says its environmental health compliance team has been out every weekend to ensure bars and restaurants are following state mandates. It plans to send out more people game day weekend to ensure compliance.

Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.