The 2015 MLB season is finally upon us after a frenzied MLB off-season that saw blockbuster trades and huge contracts. However upgrades weren’t confined just to rosters. Many teams have been working behind the scenes to enhance their ball parks to continue to improve the fan experience.
Here are five of the best MLB Ballpark Upgrades that open to fans this season:
Cleveland Indians cut seats, add value by creating new social spaces
Indians President, Mark Shapiro said at the announcement of the proposed renovations in August 2014; “We’re really adapting the building to the current sports landscape and the size of the market”.
The Indians average attendance in 2014 was 18,428, second lowest in the majors. This is a far cry from the halcyon days from 1995 to 2001 when the Tribe played to 455 consecutive sell-outs.
The renovations will see seating capacity cut from approximately 42,400 to 35,400. (It’s worth noting that the Indians only exceed the new capacity three times last year, two of which included Opening Day and 4th of July).
The renovations will see new spaces being created in place of seldom used seats that offer more standing areas and social spaces areas for families and younger fans.
“The social connection theme came up not just through listening to our fans but from going to other ballparks and [seeing] what sections currently are the most popular ones,” Shapiro said.
“That’s areas where they can actually interact with each other and still see the field and be connected with what’s going on in the game.”
Connection to community, players, neighbourhood and history are also components of the renovations.
The Indians claim that across baseball, capacity is down approximately 15 percent over the last 20 years, and that new teams are opting for smaller venues.
Most of the works will be complete by Opening Day, with the remainder to be completed early in the season.
Bonus points to the Indians for keeping fans updated on progress through the TribeVibe blog.
Cincinnati Reds Offer In-Stadium Nursing Facility
The Reds will open 2015 with a brand new facility targeted at nursing mothers.
And they haven’t spared any detail. Built by a local home builder and sponsored by Pampers (note: owned by Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble), the Nursing Suite features breast- or bottle-feeding and diaper changing spaces, restrooms, a kitchen area, refrigerators and lockers.
Not forgetting the reason these parents are there in the first place, there are also large flat screen TVs to keep up with the game.
The suite is branded brilliantly also. You may be in a Nursing Suite, but rest assured you are in a Reds one.
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) March 30, 2015
This is a prime example of a team nailing a target market and of removing an obstacle for NOT coming to a game.
San Francisco turn a parking lot into a major destination with a pop-up village
The Giants have consistently been one of sport’s most innovative franchises. The Yard at Mission Rock is a pop-up shipping container village, open 7 days per week, year round.
Dubbed an experiment in architectural urbanism, The Yard gives surrounding neighbours the opportunity to experience the future Mission Rock neighbourhood on a smaller scale.
Besides the obvious attraction as a pre-game meet up, it is also a terrific way of engaging community before any larger scale development takes place.
Seattle Mariners become first MLB park to install LED lights
Adoption of LED lighting has reached a tipping point at stadiums. They offer a number of advantages for sports presentation, players, broadcast and the environment. And Mariners fans will get to see them in all their glory this season.
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) January 21, 2015
From the Mariner’s Blog:
For the players, that means fewer shadows on the field and less glare. For fans in the stands, and those at home, especially if you’re watching on an HDTV, the lights will make everything will look crisper and more vibrant. Because the light is more evenly distributed across the spectrum, there’s no flicker, which is necessary for today’s super-slow motion replays. In addition to benefits for players and fans, the new lights are a lot more efficient than the old metal halide lights. They’ll reduce electricity consumption by 60%-70%, and each fixture should last 50 or more years (as opposed to three years for the old lights).
Its also worth checking out how Chelsea FC has revolutionised its pre-game entertainment through the use of LED lighting.
San Diego Padres and New York Mets unveil bigger, better videoboards
The race for larger screens is not new. However HD and 4K is changing the game and will see more and more venues upgrades their scoreboards in coming years as the technology gets better and cheaper. Although just 6 years old, Citi Field will see $5m of upgrades for the upcoming season with the centerpiece being a new center-field scoreboard
Not to be outdone, the San Diego Padres will launch the 3rd largest screen in the majors
This video from Channel 10 gives a good overview of what the Padres are setting out to do. They’ve also recruited Matt Coy, as Senior Director of Game Day Presentation, a role he performed most recently for AT&T Stadium in Dallas. You could say he has experience with big screens!
So why bigger and better? Simple. Teams are trying to convince fans that they don’t need to stay at home to see the detail and close up action the their TV does.
Future trends in ballpark renovations
The definite trend in the past two years has been towards making better use of underutilised spaces coupled with an emerging desire that spaces need to become more social. Baseball by its nature is a social, shared activity.
The Colorado Rockies led the way last year with the launch of their stunning Rooftop at Coors Field, described by Sports On Earth as “The hottest seat in baseball, as it turns out, doesn’t actually come with a seat at all. It’s simply a place to stand with a 10-inch wide rail for you to rest your beer”.
Whereas the upper deck seats in right field were once reserved only for pigeons and not patrons, it’s now a gathering space for foodies, families and that demographic baseball keeps chasing (ages 21-30), making Coors Field another big league ballpark that has made or is considering changes to keep up with the fan experience and how they consume a game.
All eyes are now on Chicago and the enormous job the Cubs have to renovate Wrigley Field to include all the modern amenities today’s fan expects, yet maintain its heritage.
Play ball! And go White Sox!