If you thought that 2013 was one crazy year in the world of Cleveland Sports, 2014 once again proved that there is rarely a dull moment. There were good times and bad, hirings and firings, wins and losses, homecomings and award winners. As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last six years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the ten biggest sports stories to grace our local sports scene over the last 12 months. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one. Do enjoy.
You are not the key target market for a professional sports team. This is because, you, a loyal sports fan reading a local sports blog, are already committed to the cause. You like sports. You LOVE sports. You like reading about sports. You like watching sports on TV. You listen to it on the radio. You like attending sports games – you do so several times a year. Perhaps you already have a season ticket plan.
But for professional sports teams like the Cleveland Indians to survive, they must be focusing their efforts on attracting the non-sports blog readers out there. These are the casual fans, the ones who might not read about sports in their free time or watch on television. Sure, they enjoy going to games with friends or family. Those trips, however, are much more dependent on the up-to-date experience at the stadium.
This basic principle is why this year’s announced renovations to the 22-year-old Progressive Field should not have been a surprise to anyone. Keeping the in-stadium experience fresh, exciting and hip is the constant struggle for today’s sports teams battling an ever-expanding array of fan entertainment options. This was a big story of 2014, but certainly not the most shocking.
Why would a family of four go to a baseball game when each member could be entertained individually at home? Why would a millennial go when he or she could hang back and just watch Netflix? A 2014 professional sports team has to innovate with regards to its stadium and the available amenities in order to win this battle. And they have to win that crucial in-stadium experience or risk losing the casual fan to further modern apathy for the product.
The multimillion-dollar privately financed1 renovations of Progressive Field revolve around a complete upheaval of the Gate C center field entranceway. This is where the Bob Feller statue was located and fans often experienced long waits in lines entering the stadium. Whereas previously the view from the entrance was blocked by an eating area, tiki bar and actual seats, the new entrance will feature more open air and a view of the actual field.
The bullpens, previously oriented vertically along the right field line and in center, will now move horizontally stacked on top of each other in center field. Fans in the new right field bleachers will be actually sitting next to the relievers, right up close to the action. This is the first of many areas where the Indians are actually reducing the capacity of Progressive Field.
The Gate C concourse also is being completely changed. It will feature five new locally inspired eating spots – another pivotal aspect of connecting sports franchises to their respective communities. There will be a new bar for millennials and their friends to gather. The Kids Clubhouse will be expanded to two levels. The mezzanine concourse area also will be getting a facelift.
By Opening Day 2015, the right field upper decks will have an entirely different look and feel. The deserted seats of yesteryear – where the “455 THE FANS” retired number used to hang in a sentimental fashion on top of purposefully empty sections – will be no longer. Instead, these hangout spaces will connect the fans to each other and will help them embrace the in-stadium experience. Bob Feller’s entrance way home will look much, much different2.
Why was all of this necessary? While it might not seem like it, 20 years is a fairly old age for a sports stadium. That is especially true in today’s hyper-competitive sports world where teams try to one-up each other regularly with the newest and the greatest.
Progressive Field, although wonderfully located and an aesthetic design, has not aged beautifully. The concourse areas were not kept up to date. The food and beverage options were behind the rest of the league and other professional sports. Generally speaking, not all that much had changed from the original 1994 stadium. It was too large, too old-school and too boring.
The common narrative is that Progressive Field was created right at the start of the modern era of baseball-only stadium construction. It was built shortly after Baltimore’s Camden Yards and constructed by the same industry leader, HOK. But that narrative is slightly off. The stadiums of the mid ‘90s were a necessary evolution, but not the future.
By the late ‘90s and early 2000s, stadiums in Phoenix, Seattle, San Francisco, Detroit and Milwaukee were constructed with a more intimate atmosphere. Again, this was a complete rejection of the massive coliseum-like stadium of the ‘70s. But upper decks and tall edifices were further de-emphasized. If you want a perfect encapsulation of the modern ballpark, just look two hours east at Pittsburgh’s gorgeous PNC Park.
From 1995 through 2012, 18 new stadiums opened across Major League Baseball. They almost all featured smaller capacity sizes than Progressive Field. Atlanta actually will be replacing its new stadium in the next few years. Of the 10 other stadiums constructed before 1994 (since the Rangers’ home also opened that year), several are historic landmarks. Kansas City’s Kaufman Stadium received a new facelift, too.
The entire Progressive Field renovation plan will remove nearly 7,000 seats, nearing the stadium’s capacity to a range of 37,000 to 38,000. That shouldn’t be the slightest issue except about two or three games per season. There’s no doubt the stadium’s extended honeymoon is over and a new reality is here:
These renovations plans should be welcomed with open warms by loyal fans and casual fans alike. By making the in-stadium experience more intimate for the fans that do attend, the Indians will increase their odds of having that fan spend more money and return again a next time.
With a season ticket base at 8,000 or less for five years running, the Indians have to do anything possible to increase their attendance numbers somehow. There is hope these changes could give a new facelift to the Cleveland baseball experience. That would be a good thing to match the team’s recent on-field success.