Take Me Out To The Non-Ballgame

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Photo Credit: Billy Weiss, Red Sox.

Yoga class? Snowboarding? Drone Racing? As teams like the Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks seek new revenue sources, a day at the ballpark is taking on a much different meaning.

Most Major League Baseball stadiums used to stand empty on non-game days and during the offseason. There might be an occasional concert, but that was usually it.

Those days are over. More MLB teams are employing alternative events to drive revenue. They see their stadiums as blank canvases. All-purposes venues that can be the setting for any event in any season. 

The Red Sox’s venerable Fenway Park has hosted sporting events ranging from the NHL Winter Classic and Big Air snowboarding to college football and European soccer.

But did you know that fans could also buy tickets to everything from yoga classes (or FenwaYoga) and movie nights to $21 walking tours of 107-year old venue?

The strategy comes right from Red Sox team owners John Henry, Tom Werner and Mike Gordon, according to Mark Lev, president of Fenway Sports Management. Since it opened in 1912, Fenway has been a “gathering place” for the greater Boston community, he said. The current management team set about restoring that tradition as soon as they bought the team/ballpark.

“Our executive leadership team challenges us to deliver events that wouldn’t normally be thought imaginable in the ballpark, and that appeal to a younger and broader audience than the typical fan who comes through Fenway Park to catch a Red Sox game,” said Lev. “If we’re attracting new audiences into Fenway Park for every event, and they leave saying they want to come back, we’ve done our job.”

The strategy is working. The Red Sox won’t disclose financial information. But the readers of TripAdvisor voted Fenway the No. 1 tourist attraction in all of New England.

The Diamondbacks sold $25 ticket packages to a “Yoga at Chase Field” event this season.  

But the 49,000-seat ballpark also hosted the WWE’s Royal Rumble in January. That was the first time the event was held inside a baseball stadium. It was a big hit. This September, Chase Field will host its first Drone Racing League event. 

The Diamondbacks also market smaller, more intimate experiences for fans. Baseball-loving couples can get married right at home plate at Chase Field. “Celebrate your special day with the largest diamond you’ll ever find,” promises the team.

Companies can “buy out the ballpark” for private outings, conference and holiday parties. These corporate groups may eat dinner on the infield, then have their own private batting practice. There’s even an elegant “Evening on the Diamond” fundraiser on the infield, with proceeds going to charity. 

“If a year ago you told me Chase Field would be hosting a drone racing league event, I would not have told you that’s feasible,” said Ryan Holmstedt, the Diamondbacks vice president of ticket sales and events. “But we’ve taken a step back and said, ‘We need to stop looking at this like a baseball venue. And instead look at this as a blank slate that’s truly an event venue.’” 

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Holmstedt oversees sales for both baseball and on-baseball events. The proliferation of alternative events on the Chase Field calendar make his job easier. He declined to cite numbers but said the revenue generated by the team’s Events & Entertainment unit has exceeded his expectations.

“It’s created a great synergy for anybody looking to come into our building. We’re able to say, ‘Here’s what your event can look like if it falls on a baseball date. And here’s what your event can look like if it falls on a non-baseball date,’” Holmstedt said.

In November, Stadiumlinks will invite golfers to tee it up from the upper reaches of the New York Mets’ Citi Field, then hit golf balls to the field below. Stadiumlinks has held similar events at NFL venues such as Levi’s Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium. Prices generally start at $75 per person for the standard package.

It’s not just MLB ballparks. More football teams like the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are using their cavernous, pigskin palaces for non-football events, according to Mike Lombardi, a former NFL executive with teams such as the Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles and the Oakland Raiders.

“You have to do it,” said Lombardi, who currently is an NFL Insider for The Athletic. “Pro stadiums are like airplanes. When they’re not running, you’re not making money.”

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Dr. Emil Steiner of Rowan University sees states and municipalities employing sports stadiums for more civic events in the future. After all, many are financed by taxpayer dollars.

“Stadiums are almost like parks. They’re beautifully constructed. They have great views of the city or skylines. Their use is only limited by the imagination of the people controlling them,” Steiner said.