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How the 2023 MLS Cup Became a Second Chance for a Big Celebration in Columbus

From 1,500 fans to 20,000, see how Columbus Crew's recent championship celebration was vastly different from its crowning in 2020.

On Dec. 9, Columbus Crew beat LAFC 2-1 in the MLS Cup Final. A parade celebrating the championship was held Dec. 12.
On Dec. 9, Columbus Crew beat LAFC 2-1 in the MLS Cup Final. A parade celebrating the championship was held Dec. 12.
Photo: Courtesy of Columbus Crew

COLUMBUS, OHIO—Three years to the day the Columbus Crew won its second MLS title, the team and city finally got to enjoy a championship parade. Even better for all parties involved is that the 2023 celebration was sparked by the franchise’s third championship—and first since moving into Lower.com Field.

The downside of winning it all in 2020? It came at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 1,500 fans, who had to be spread out across Historic Crew Stadium, could watch the MLS Cup in person. The parade was a no-go.

Fittingly, given the time spent apart in 2020, Molly Zaluski, the Crew’s senior director of events and grassroots marketing, conceived of the team’s “All Together Now” campaign that ran through the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs into the championship game. A record attendance of 20,802 fans came together for the grand finale in December 2023. A similar number attended the parade.

Some 20,000 fans are estimated to have attended the championship parade.Some 20,000 fans are estimated to have attended the championship parade.Photo: Courtesy of Columbus Crew

Three players from the last championship squad were still on the Columbus roster, and all three of the franchise's championship trophies—the first was won in 2008—were displayed, helping connect the COVID year to this more festive occasion. 

“We finally got to celebrate with our fans the way that they deserved,” recalled Zaluski.

As the MLS Playoffs unfolded, watch parties grew from local pubs to Chase Plaza and Lower.com Field. The word “parade” was taboo for fear of jinxing the team until the Eastern Conference Finals.

“You don't want to start talking about a parade too far in advance,” said Zaluski, who signed partners to nondisclosure agreements before an official celebration was in order.

Columbus Crew player Juan Camilo Hernández celebrated at Lower.com Field.Columbus Crew player Juan Camilo Hernández celebrated at Lower.com Field.Photo: Courtesy of Columbus Crew

Columbus, which won the Eastern Conference on the road against FC Cincinnati, got an early start to the festivities by virtue of hosting the MLS Cup against Los Angeles. The finalist with the best regular-season record hosts the title match.

The team went about branding the city with a reverse car wash, sponsored by OhioHealth, in which the Crew logo was stenciled on vehicle windows. Pop-up shows and rally towels also percolated in the week leading up to the game.

“All Together Now” was a Columbus Crew campaign that ran through the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs into the championship game. It was stenciled onto cars during a reverse car wash that took place in the week leading up to the final match.“All Together Now” was a Columbus Crew campaign that ran through the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs into the championship game. It was stenciled onto cars during a reverse car wash that took place in the week leading up to the final match.

Indeed, it was important for the Crew and Greater Columbus Sports Commission to spotlight the destination and new stadium, particularly in a year in which Major League Soccer received significant international attention once World Cup hero Lionel Messi joined the league. “It was cool we could put the city on the map,” said Zaluski.

Lower.com Field is the heart of Columbus’ arena district, allowing for huge waves of attendees to walk together for each match. Confidence was high entering the final that a parade would be in the offing. “We knew we would win the game at home because Lower.com is our fortress,” said Zaluski.

2023 marked the franchise's third MLS championship.2023 marked the franchise's third MLS championship.Photo: Courtesy of Columbus Crew

The Crew sent out an excused absence note via social media to convince companies to let fans take off Tuesday, Dec. 13, for the game. The timing was a balance of catching peak excitement while allowing Columbus businesses time to prepare for the moment. 

“There was some fear about how much work we had to do in a week, but it was work we wanted to do,” said Zaluski. “I’m really proud of what we did. The whole team came together.”

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