New ballparks await their moment
The Texas Rangers didn’t envision christening Globe Life Field, their new $1 billion home, with high school graduations and parking lot concerts. But in the midst of a global pandemic, teams opening new ballparks this year are adapting and getting creative to keep their venues on the minds of fans while the 2020 baseball season remains in limbo.
Last week, Globe Life started its “Concert in Your Car” series, featuring artists performing on stage in front of fans who are parked in their vehicles outside the ballpark, complete with jumbo screens and a designated FM radio channel pumping audio of the show into concertgoers’ cars.
At $40 per vehicle, the four-day concert series from June 4-7, featuring four different acts, sold out on May 15, the day it was announced, so the Rangers added an additional show to each concert day.
The Rangers also offered VIP packages at $80 per vehicle, giving concertgoers guaranteed access in the first two rows of the parking lot. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation to support COVID-19 relief efforts.
“We had no concept or idea of it until we started working with our partner in Triple-A Management to get there. They came up with the idea and we kind of created the execution plan,” said Sean Decker, Rangers executive vice president of sports and entertainment. “We’re excited to use a creative way to host fans here at the facility, and provide entertainment in a way that’s safe and kind of reimagined as we go through these completely unprecedented times.”
The Rangers are also hosting socially distanced tours of Globe Life Field for $25 a ticket. And the ballpark has started hosting some of the 49 high school graduations scheduled there over the next month.
“We’re going to include a Globe Life Field branded mask with every purchase, and ask folks to wear the masks on the tour,” Decker said. “And we’re also going to include a $5 donation to the foundation for every ticket sold to the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation to support those impacted by COVID, whether working on the front lines or those who have been impacted by it directly.”
For designers of these new venues showcasing America’s pastime, the delayed opening is bittersweet.
“I love the fact that we are going to be opening the doors someday soon, but then it is going to be in a modified way,” said Fred Ortiz, who led HKS’s design of Globe Life Field. “It is the largest venue I’ve ever worked on as an architect and to be a part of a larger team to work on something like this, as significant for the city of Arlington and the Texas Rangers, with this being a part of a big vision to create an entertainment district and destination for (Dallas-Fort Worth) — then all of a sudden it’s like ‘timeout.’”
Ortiz said he was most eager for fans to see Globe Life Field’s retractable roof, which is the largest single-panel roof for a sports venue. “But aside from that, so much emphasis was placed on the fan experience, the intimacy of the seating bowl, the ability to roam the concourses, the food market, it feels like a farmers market almost when you walk into some of those food plaza areas. What will that fan experience be now?”
Jason Ford, who led Populous’ design of the new $52 million Atrium Health Ballpark, a downtown minor league ballpark in Kannapolis, N.C., said he was disappointed that opening day didn’t happen on schedule but is happy that the venue has still opened its doors for residents to explore the facility.
“It’s refreshing to see that people are able to experience it right now,” Ford said. “Not at the level that we thought they would be, but just interacting with it, walking around, seeing it and seeing their excitement, I think that’s a positive.”
Matt Millward, general manager of the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers, said residents can go to the city-owned Atrium Health Ballpark to have lunch in its seats and walk around the venue, while observing social-distancing protocols.
The Cannon Ballers, a Class A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, have opened their concession stands and team store and are averaging 1,000 visitors on weekends with a per cap spend of $16. Since the ballpark is classified as a public park, admission is free on non-game days.
“The response has just far exceeded our expectations,” Millward said. “We’ve partnered with Appetize for our self-serve, contactless kiosks, where fans can walk up to punch in their orders, pay with a credit card and then pick it up from the concession stand.”
Millward said the Cannon Ballers will host a few high school graduations, possibly some weekend church services, and American Legion and high school games. It also might partner with a downtown movie theater to show films on the venue’s video screens.
The Rocket City Trash Pandas’ $46 million, 7,500-seat Toyota Field in Madison, Ala., is also opening its doors to keep their fans engaged. On June 1, the team started a day camp for 5- to 12-year-olds and scheduled movie nights at the ballpark.
“We’re hoping later in the summer to have some concerts, maybe some festivals, and everything we’re going to do is going to be within the CDC-mandated guidelines,” said Josh Caray, the Trash Pandas’ director of broadcasting and public relations.
The Trash Pandas remain optimistic that baseball will be played this season, Caray added, even as minor league teams throughout the nation started to lay off players and staff.
“Obviously we were all disappointed but then you look at all the small businesses shutting down and all the other people who are suffering right now and the 40 million people who are out of work,” Caray said. “So once you get things back in perspective and you go back to work and you start turning your attention to this, you realize that you’re actually pretty lucky and we’ll do what we can here. Hopefully we’ll have some baseball, but if not, we’ll turn the page to 2021.”