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Nationwide Arena was built near the site of the former Ohio Penitentiary, which had an eastern border of West Street. The arena itself is built over the prison's former parking lot. The arena's parking lot and an apartment complex are built where the prison formerly stood. The arena was constructed in 2000.
On March 16, 2002, 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil was struck in the head by a deflected puck during the Blue Jackets' game against the Calgary Flames at Nationwide Arena. She died two days later, becoming the only NHL fan to be killed in a game-related accident. As a result of her death, the NHL mandated safety netting in all its arenas.
The venue is named for the arena's original majority owner, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, whose world headquarters are located across the street. On March 30, 2012, arena owners Nationwide Insurance and the Dispatch Publishing Group sold the facility to the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority (FCCFA). As part of the sale, Nationwide agreed to lend the FCCFA $43.3 million to finance the arena's purchase which will be paid back by 2039 with casino tax revenue collected by both the City of Columbus and Franklin County. In addition, the Ohio Department of Development agreed to a 10-year, $10 million loan to the FCCFA to assist with the facilities purchase. If the Blue Jackets meet annual roster payroll requirement, $500,000 of this loan per year will be forgiven. Nationwide Insurance will also pay the Blue Jackets $28 million to retain the arena's naming rights until 2022 as well as $58 million to purchase 30% ownership stake in the franchise. The Blue Jackets, in turn, agreed to remain in the city until 2039 or pay $36 million in damages.
While the Blue Jackets held sole operational control of the arena from 2000 to 2012, the team contracted day-to-day operations and event booking to venue management corporation SMG from the arena's opening until June 30, 2010. On May 12, 2010, the Blue Jackets announced that SMG would not be retained as arena managers and further announced that a one-year, annually renewable, management contract had been signed with The Ohio State University. The contract called for the university to take over both day to day arena operations as well as booking non-athletic events, with the Blue Jackets booking athletic events and maintaining overall control of the arena. This arrangement made Nationwide Arena a sister venue to OSU's on-campus arena, Value City Arena. The university started booking acts in May 2010 and assumed day to day control of the arena on July 1, 2010. As part of the 2012 sale of Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets and OSU joined with Nationwide Insurance and the FCCFA to form Columbus Arena Management (CAM). Columbus Arena Management currently operates both Nationwide Arena and Value City Arena and oversees budgeting and event booking at both arenas.
The arena is of a brick design and serves as the center of an entertainment district located about one-half of a mile north of the Ohio Statehouse. Seating capacity is approximately 18,500 for hockey, 17,171 for arena football, 19,500 for basketball, and up to 21,000 for concerts. The death of Brittanie Cecil from injuries sustained from a hockey puck flying into the stands at a Blue Jackets game on March 16, 2002 led to the installation of nylon netting to catch pucks that fly over the acrylic glass at all professional ice hockey arenas in the NHL, AHL, IIHF, and ECHL.
The area surrounding Nationwide Arena, called the Arena District, is a mixed-use neighborhood developed by Nationwide Realty Investors featuring restaurants, bars, offices and residential buildings. The Columbus Clippers, a Triple-A baseball team of the International League, play in Huntington Park, also located in the Arena District and developed by Nationwide Realty Investors. Columbus uses the arena as a drawing point for the city with the other establishments feeding off of the foot traffic. The Express Live! concert venue adjacent to the Nationwide Arena property, completes the entertainment complex.
On October 7, 2000, the arena hosted the Columbus Blue Jackets' first game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Bruce Gardiner scored the franchise's first goal in the first period (which was also the first goal scored in the arena's history), but the Blackhawks won the game 5-3. Twenty days later, on October 27, 2000, the Blue Jackets picked up their first home win at the arena by defeating the Washington Capitals 3-1.
The PBR's Built Ford Tough Series bull riding tour has held an event every year at Nationwide Arena from 2000 to 2012 (events prior to 2000 the event were held at the Ohio Expo Center Coliseum; there were no BFTS events in Columbus from 2013 to 2017 and in BFTS events since 2018 have been held at Value City Arena). It was the last event of the BFTS regular season (not counting the PBR World Finals) between 2000 and 2007.
On Tuesday, April 21, 2009, a record hockey crowd of 19,219 watched the Blue Jackets play their first postseason game at home, where they lost to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings by a final score of 4-1 in a Western Conference Quarterfinal game. They would eventually get their first postseason win at Nationwide Arena on April 23, 2014, against the Pittsburgh Penguins, by a final score of 4-3 in overtime.
On March 11, 2020, the Blue Jackets announced that they would play all of their remaining home games in the 2019-20 season behind closed doors due to an executive order by governor Mike DeWine that banned public gatherings of 1,000 people or more inside the state, which was enacted in order to combat the COVID-19 outbreak.
UFC 68 produced a number of attendance records for a mixed martial arts event. It was the first MMA event outside Japan to have at least 15,000 people in attendance. This record has since been outdone on a number of occasions, with the current holder being UFC 193 which had 56,214 people in attendance.
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra - December 18, 2004; December 7, 2005; December 6, 2006; December 27, 2007 (2 shows); December 20, 2008 (2 shows); January 3 (2 shows) and December 28 (2 shows), 2010; December 18, 2011 (2 shows); December 30, 2012 (2 shows); December 26, 2013 (2 shows); December 28, 2014 (2 shows)
ESPN The Magazine declared it "the No. 2 stadium experience in professional sports."
The Ultimate Sports Road Trip rated it the best arena in the NHL saying "This newer arena in downtown Columbus is the anchor for the emerging Arena District, already burgeoning with shops, restaurants and hotels. The venue is spectacular, from its nostalgic brick and stone veneer to its sweeping concourses with blue mood lighting and modern amenities. The arena bowl has state of the art scoreboards and surround LED graphics boards which look 21st century high tech. With a separate practice rink built right in the facility, theme restaurants and great food selection, not to mention a raucous hockey atmosphere, this NHL venue is a must see!"