What makes a great ballpark?

About Kirk Wakefield

Kirk Wakefield is Executive Director of the S3 Program, publisher & editor of the Baylor S3 Report, author of Team Sports Marketing (www.teamsportsmarketing.com), and is the Edwin W. Streetman Professor of Retail Marketing at Baylor University.

My favorite is AT&T Park. You don’t have to love baseball to love going there. And that really is the business issue: How do you build or maintain a park that attracts people who don’t really care about baseball? The Cubs aren’t spending $500 million in renovations because baseball fans don’t love Wrigley. They’re concerned about the long-term attractiveness of the park and providing all fans, baseball lovers or not, with a good experience.

What makes a good park?

In the past two weeks I visited  Dodgers Stadium, Petco Park (Padres), and Citizens Bank Park (Phillies). On this three-park trip I focused more on the team stores in addition to the sportscape. Let’s take a quick look at the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let’s start with the good.

sportscape-factorsSan Diego’s Petco Park is also one of my favorite parks. The location is perfect, adjacent to the Gaslight District for fine eating and close to major thoroughfares and public transportation for easy access. Walk two blocks and you’re good for a stroll along the bay. I’ve been here many times, so the pictures highlight a few things you might not notice if you’ve only been here once or twice.

Many team stores are designed as an after-thought. Not so at Petco Park. The Padres team store opens to an exterior retail street. The merchandise assortment, displays, lighting, and layout are as nice as any comparable upscale retail store. (Place cursor over pictures to pause & read comments.)

Philadelphia’s Citizen’s Bank Park is located in the same area as all of the Philly sports facilities. Public transportation is great (take the Phillies Express to the AT&T subway station), parking is fine, but if you plan to do anything else besides go to the game, forget about it. Outside of the Xfinity Live! establishment on the corner by the football and baseball stadiums, there’s nothing but concrete for miles.

Great parks have signature foods and restaurants–not only in the club level–that fans actually want to consume beyond standard hot dog & beer fare. Outside of maybe the Philly cheese steaks, this is not one of them. The food service on the club level is above average, but the general access food is typical. Overall, the layout and design of the park is easy to navigate and the size of the stadium makes for good sight lines and seats all around.

With respect to the team store, fans may be deceived by the relatively small storefront visible from the concourse. The store is very large and contains an extensive collections of kids and women’s clothing. As with the Padres, the Phillies offer some exclusive items you can only get at the park. Good call.

Dodger Stadium is iconic. Any baseball fan will love it.

Dodger Stadium Access

Dodger Stadium Access

Any non-fan? Not so sure. You may have heard it’s in a ravine. From a traffic standpoint, the vast majority of fans assume the only entrance is off the 110 via I-5 or the 101 (blue line on map). The reality is not that LA fans are fashionably late. They are all stuck in traffic about a mile from the stadium.

After sitting at a complete standstill for 15 minutes coming off the 101, I took off to explore an alternate route (the black line) away from the traffic jam. (“Yes, dear, it IS better to move no matter what than to stand still in traffic.”)

In short order I ended up parked–for free–on a nearby street where all the locals obviously go. Traffic was still piled up at the bottle-necked entrance as I walked past the $20 parking. All it would take would be a few traffic cops directing to the less traveled routes. Alternately, like the San Antonio Spurs and others have done, teams can place traffic directions on the website for newcomers. Better yet, email to new ticket buyers.

Now to the apparel and a few other things. Since I love Magic Johnson and the Dodgers I will just let the pictures speak for themselves.

The smaller team store, drab concrete floors and facades, and cramped serving areas are problems with any park built back in the Stone Age of stadiums (1950-70s). Food service areas, passageways, restrooms, and virtually anything that should provide amenities were designed as discomforts. That said, the lower levels have better food service, but fans aren’t allowed to go below their seated level.

Franchises can make some changes. The Dodgers could generate millions in new revenue by moving the press box out of its prime space directly behind home plate. Other parks (e.g., White Sox, Astros, etc.) moved press boxes and immediately sold out all of the new premium seats.

Want more?

These are just snapshots of a few things baseball franchises (MiLB and MLB) should be monitoring. As part of Baylor’s Sports Sponsorship & Sales (S3) program, we go into these issues and many more. If interested in an in-depth treatment of sportscape management, you may want to read more at www.teamsportsmarketing.com. As information, this text contains frequent attempts at humor.

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