Events at a Ballpark are a Home Run
Instead of sitting dormant for all but 81 days of the year (give or take a run in the playoffs), baseball stadiums around the country are being made available to host a variety of events – providing event planners with a wonderful opportunity for a unique venue.
“If a year ago you told me Chase Field would be hosting a drone racing league event, I would not have told you that’s feasible,” Ryan Holmstedt, Vice President of Ticket Sales and Events for the Diamondbacks, said in an interview with Front Office Sports. “But we’ve taken a step back and said, ‘We need to stop looking at this like a baseball venue. And instead look at this as a blank slate that’s truly an event venue.’”
Built in 1998, Chase Field is located in Downtown Phoenix, about a 10-minute drive from the airport. In addition to drone races, the stadium has recently hosted a professional bull riders exhibition, Supercross rounds, World Wrestling Entertainment’s Royal Rumble, and nine women's college basketball games (one of which was shortened due to rain). It has also held smaller events, such as yoga classes, a wine tasting and painting experiences. The venue can be rented for company events where dinner is served on the field followed by a private batting practice.
“It’s created a great synergy for anybody looking to come into our building. We’re able to say, ‘Here’s what your event can look like if it falls on a baseball date. And here’s what your event can look like if it falls on a non-baseball date,’” said Holmstedt.
This opportunity to use baseball stadiums for events other than games is relatively new. For decades, the practice was for baseball teams to share a stadium with the city’s football team. It was an ideal relationship since the seasons only overlap by about a month (again, excluding a good showing in the playoffs). For example, the Chicago Bears did not begin to call Soldier Field home until 1971. Before that time, they played on the north side of town in Wrigley Field. There were similar relationships in cities across the U.S., including New York, Cleveland, and Baltimore.
However, as new stadiums began to be built, there was a divergence between the leagues, and the stadium sharing trend fell out of fashion. Football teams wanted larger seating capacity, which is less conducive to viewing a baseball game. So, several baseball-only stadiums were built (a significant boon occurred during the 1990s), and many were surrounded by entertainment districts that included restaurants and shops.
However, if these businesses were dependent on baseball crowds for the majority of their business, that left many days during baseball season and months during the off-season with minimal crowds. This is one reason that stadium management is waking up to the idea of hosting several non-baseball related events.
Fenway Park in Boston, home to the Red Sox, is another pioneer when it comes to innovative uses for the ballpark. It was a mandate that came directly from owners John Henry, Tom Werner, and Mike Gordon when they acquired the team.
“Our executive leadership team challenges us to deliver events that wouldn’t normally be thought imaginable in the ballpark, and that appeal to a younger and broader audience than the typical fan who comes through Fenway Park to catch a Red Sox game,” Mark Lev, President of Fenway Sports Management said to Front Office Sports. “If we’re attracting new audiences into Fenway Park for every event, and they leave saying they want to come back, we’ve done our job.”
Much like the Diamondbacks, Fenway Park has hosted large events – such as the NHL Winter Classic (an annual outdoor hockey game that changes venues each year) and Big Air snowboarding – to smaller ones – like yoga classes and movie nights.
Perhaps one of the most ambitious plans for repurposing a baseball stadium occurring during the 2010 winter in Cleveland. That’s when the Cleveland Indians launched their first Snow Days event.
“When you have lemons, you make lemonade,” Kurt Schloss, Senior Director of Merchandising and Licensing for the Cleveland Indians said in an interview with CityLab. “In our particular case, we wanted to embrace the cold, embrace Northeast Ohio, because that’s what it is. You can’t put up palm trees and hope for sand.”
The Cleveland Indians’ home, Progressive Field, was overhauled to include the "Frozen Mile," an ice-skating rink around the warning track, the "Batterhorn," a 200-foot snow tubing hill on the bleachers, and “The Frozen Diamond” hockey rink. The premiere event drew more than 50,000 visitors throughout the event.
The following year, Snow Days concluded with a college hockey game between Ohio State and Michigan, officially the first outdoor hockey contest in Ohio. Unfortunately, that year Snow Days overlapped with the warmest winter on record (at the time), and it was not brought back for another year. However, that has not stopped Progressive Field management from seeking out innovative uses for the park, which is available for private and corporate events.
“I can’t imagine why a franchise would not want to use a facility like this,” said Joe Marinucci, President of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, “when normally it would be dormant for four or five months.”
Event attendees crave once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The unique draw provided by a non-traditional location, like a ballpark, instantly give an edge to an event. Attendees will get to experience the venue on a much more personal scale without multitudes of people surrounding them. Plus, someone does not need to be a fan of the team, or even the sport, to relish the awe of walking on the field and looking up into the stands.
Also, for events that take place on the field, which was designed to play a game and not host an event, organizers will need some creativity with seating and how they encourage interaction. The available space should inspire new and imaginative designs. If the goal is to deliver something that attendees cannot find anywhere else, a ballpark is a good place to start.
Plus, unlike a cave or castle, which are usually out in the middle of nowhere, ballparks are frequently located in the middle of a major city or a dense suburban area. They are easy to get to and tend to be surrounded by a wide variety of entertainment, shopping, and nightlife options.
“Stadiums are almost like a park,” Dr. Emil Steiner of Rowan University said to Front Office Sports. “They’re beautifully constructed. They have great views of the city or skylines. Their use is only limited by the imagination of the people controlling them.”