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April 30, 2010


Old New Stadiums, Revisited

by Neil deMause

The New York Times' Ken Belson has been writing a lot on the stadium beat of late, not all of it good. But today's paper brings an interesting look at the Orioles' plans for upgrading Camden Yards, which is (gulp) 18 years old this season — a cause toward which they've brought back Janet Marie Smith, who was project manager for the park's original design.

Whatever you think of Camden Yards (I'm in the "overrated, bland other than the warehouse" camp myself), Smith is undeniably great at tweaking stadiums to make more fan- and revenue-friendly without mucking too much with their character, something she most notably put on display with her oversight of the recent renovations to Fenway Park. Smith has already ruled out wrap-around ad boards, à la the light show that rings New Yankee Stadium, telling the Times, "Let’s not look like the NBA."

The most interesting bit of the article, though, may be an aside about the kinds of rethinking that teams in '90s-era ballparks are now considering, as they see their stadiums' honeymoon periods disappearing in the rear-view mirror:

The club levels at Camden Yards will get a second look because the corporate appetite for expensive suites has diminished. It hasn't helped that the Orioles last had a winning record in 1997 and drew their smallest crowd ever at Camden Yards earlier this
Orioles are not the only team thinking about makeovers. The Cleveland Indians, who opened Progressive Field in 1994 (it was Jacobs Field then), are among the 10 teams looking at ways to revive their parks, said Earl Santee, a senior principal at Populous, the architectural firm that designed Camden Yards, PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Coors Field and other retro stadiums.

This is something I've been wondering about for a while now: What do you do with modern stadiums designed for the luxury market when that market evaporates? In olden times, it was easy enough to just rejigger ticket prices, reclassifying a level from "box" to "reserved." Today's class distinctions, though, are cemented in concrete and steel — you can't easily take a chunk of glassed-in seats with their own restaurant and private entrance and turn them back over to the great unwashed. Cleveland in particular is going to be an interesting test case for this, with that vertical wall of club seats that separates its lower deck from its upper. Given the team's current attendance woes and the dismal local economy, they're going to need to find some way of redemocratizing their architecture, but it's not likely to be easy.

In any case with the number of candidates for new stadiums now countable on one hand (A's, Rays, conceivably the Jays or even the White Sox if they decide that modern luxury seating and food courts don't make up for missing out on Camden's retro sheen) and the economic doldrums looking like they're not going to end anytime soon, these kinds of retrofits are the sort of thing we're likely to see spreading across baseball in the next few years. That'll be good news for Janet Marie; whether it will be for fans, especially the less-deep-pocketed kind, remains to be seen.

Neil deMause is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Neil's other articles. You can contact Neil by clicking here

9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Maybe some of these sections can become blogger pressboxes?

The Indians are starting the look for ways to allow them access & this might solve that issue without taking away a normally sold section of the park.

Some of these teams could use the added excitement in its fan base!

Apr 30, 2010 11:08 AM
rating: 0

Jeez, it's bad enough that the Orioles are playing so bad, now you're dissing our ballpark too! "overrated, bland"?? Wow is there any reason to go to an Oriole game?

Apr 30, 2010 11:35 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Neil deMause
BP staff

The warehouse is a pretty awesome backdrop, and makes a trip to Camden Yards worthwhile IMHO. But it's hard to credit that to the stadium design (though props to Larry Lucchino for fighting to have the building preserved).

Apr 30, 2010 14:46 PM
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Just spitballing here, but given the fact that most of the available markets have been maxed out in terms of the need for (and ability to pay for) a new stadium, I wonder if the firms that built the existing parks will pitch similar "upgrades" to their clientele as a means of creating more business.

Apr 30, 2010 11:54 AM
BP staff member Neil deMause
BP staff

Possibly - I guess HOK did the renovation of Anaheim Stadium and Kauffman Stadium, so they might be actively looking for more work along those lines. I expect that what's going to be driving this is the search for new revenues by low-attendance teams, though, more than any HOK sales pitches.

Apr 30, 2010 14:53 PM

"conceivably the Jays"? Hopefully the Jays! I can go on about the problems the Rogers Centre has - both structural and in-game presentation. Have you heard anything about anything changing there?

Apr 30, 2010 15:36 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Neil deMause
BP staff

Nothing new since the Jays bought SkyDome. Though if the fans keep showing up disguised as empty seats, I expect that'll change.

So is SkyDome really that irredeemable? I haven't actually been to a game there (I peeked at the field from the Hard Rock Cafe once), but I find it pretty hard to believe that the first stadium to draw 4 million fans in a season is considered unacceptable for baseball less than 20 years later.

May 01, 2010 06:35 AM

Among the problems:
- poor lighting configuration that has the lights in your eyes if you look up just a little bit (especially from the lower level)
- poor air circulation when the roof is closed, and the roof is closed way too often
- turf is very ugly - visible seams everywhere
- expansive empty areas (there are always many) give the place the feel of a cavern)

My proposed solution: Punch out block of seats (mainly in the upper area) and either open that area to the elements or transform into a sort-of concourse. Keep the roof open unless it is raining or there are high high winds. Go green-grass. Make sure the lights are pointed at the field only. And turn down the volume. Make the place a pleasant one to be during a game and people will consider it better bang for their buck.

May 01, 2010 06:52 AM
rating: 0
Isaac Lin

Hopefully the new turf, which comes in large rolls rather than the many trays of the previous FieldTurf installation, has improved the visual appearance of the field (I haven't caught any highlights yet from Rogers Centre).

May 02, 2010 08:11 AM
rating: 0
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