Sports Teams Turning Venues Into Theaters

    • With fans not allowed to attend sporting events, some teams are finding creative ways to bring them out to the stadium.
    • Clubs like the San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers are redesigning their venues to appear as drive-in music and movie theaters for their supporters to visit.

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Although sports are slowly returning to a sense of normalcy, teams are turning to drive-in entertainment to bring themselves directly to their fans. 

Originally supposed to open on March 23 ahead of the MLB season, the Texas Rangers’ new $1.1 billion home, Globe Life Field, is no longer a baseball field – at least for now. After officially opening its doors on May 29, the Rangers converted their stadium’s parking lot to host a four-day, drive-in concert series called “Concert In Your Car” spanning from June 4 to 7. 

The Rangers were also able to secure buy-in from musical acts like Eli Young Band, Whisky Myers, Josh Abbott Band, and Kevin Fowler. Each group performed hour-long acoustic sets for visitors to listen to from their vehicles.

In 2019, Sean Decker, the Rangers’ executive vice president of sports and entertainment, saw artists like Jason Aldean, Billy Joel, and Paul McCartney perform in front of 35,000 to 40,000-person crowds at the-then Globe Life Park in Arlington, Tx. For the Concert In Your Car series, his thoughts are on how to put it on for only 400 cars. 

For starters, the Rangers decided not to have any public address announcers onstage so visitors can stream the music through the FM transmitter in their cars. The musicians performed on an SL250 Stage that comes down onto the back of a truck, making the set-up process easier and requiring fewer people, Decker said. He does not expect more than 10 people to be involved with the onstage preparation. 

The drive-in concert series will also not have any food and beverage concessions or merchandise available to spectators. 

Despite the strict regulations, Decker is excited at the feedback he has seen from the Rangers’ fanbase. He saw its potential after each 9:00 p.m. show sold out within minutes of going online. The quick turnaround even encouraged every artist to play a second show, Decker said. 

The Rangers did not respond to a request for comment on how much money the team made off of the four-day concert series.

“From a fan engagement side of there, certainly it seemed to strike a chord with enough folks that were excited to get out and experience it,” he said.

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During a typical year, Jaclyn Lash estimates that the San Diego Padres host 300 events annually that add significant revenue for the club. As the Padres’ vice president of special events, she wanted to find a way to hold events despite the circumstances.

The Padres began experimenting with drive-in entertainment after doing drive-in-style graduations for local high school students, Lash said. The experience brought about 250 cars, and the team arranged a stage with three video screens for the graduates to talk across.

Following the drive-in graduation, Lash saw both movies and music concerts as ways to keep the trend alive. It led to the Padres creating a drive-in cinema experience – the first of its kind at Petco Park – centered around Anchorman – The Legend of Ron Burgundy. The movie had two sold-out showings on June 6.

“The process of getting those cars in, making sure that everyone stays safe and within their car – that’s a whole new world for us,” she said. “But, we are event experts, so we’re able to just pivot what we know in terms of event production and event logistics and make it work.”

The following day, the Padres transitioned from movies to music by hosting the “FEED THE NEED” Drive-In Concert shows, which were presented by partner Baker Electric Home Energy. Taking place in the team’s Lexus Premier Parking Lot, performers include Switchfoot, Hirie, and a separate 12 p.m. show headlined by B-Side Players with SM Familia and Los Sleepwalkers. Like its Anchorman sales, the Switchfoot-Hirie concert show has already sold out.

The “FEED THE NEED” music concerts will be the first in California since shutdown orders began in March. Net proceeds will go toward Feeding San Diego, a local hunger-relief charity. 

A Padres spokesperson declined to comment on how much revenue was generated from the drive-in movies, but that they raised upwards of $50,000 to $55,000 for Feeding San Diego.

“By hosting this concert and other drive-in events, we hope to give San Diegans a unique entertainment experience in the safe and comfortable confines of their vehicle while raising funds for a great organization in Feeding San Diego,” Erik Greupner, the Padres’ president of business operations, said in a statement.

While there is still uncertainty surrounding the 2019-2020 MLB season, both Decker and Lash have expressed their interest in continuing these drive-in shows in the future. 

Although his first preference would be to have events inside the Rangers’ new $1.1 billion home, Decker is even looking into the possibility of hosting drive-in shows with different genres. 

“The fact that we’ve created a bit of a new opportunity when times like these hit, it’s certainly something that we’ll continue to harken back to and keep an eye on,” he said. 

Lash is also open to the move of more drive-in concerts and movies at Petco Park. Watching multiple shows sell out within minutes, she thinks it is reflective of a fanbase that is looking for any way to connect with their favorite team. 

“As the Padres, we’re looking just for ways to bring some positive light to San Diego and do these special events,” she said. “If they’re successful and until we’re able to host events inside the ballpark, I think we would consider continuing to do stuff like this.”

In a matter of months, the United States could see the return of nearly every major sports league. Whether or not there will be thousands of fans there to take in the excitement is anyone’s best guess.

Even if they are allowed to be in attendance, many wonder if fans would be interested in sporting events. In a poll of 1,109 Americans from FiveThirtyEight and Ipsos in mid-May, only 24% of respondents said they would either be very likely or somewhat likely to attend an event in person; 58% said they would be, “not at all likely.”

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That uncertainty is what makes Brad Horn, Syracuse public relations professor and sports PR professional, believe that drive-in shows are a part of sports’ future. Already, the Miami Dolphins have announced plans for two outdoor theaters – an open-air and drive-in theater – at Hard Rock Stadium that will showcase classic moments from the team’s history. 

“I think this can be a good, supplemental way to create opportunities for brands to engage with the community,” he said. “I could see a baseball team, when the team’s on the road or when their facility’s out of use, filling those off days with this drive-in experience. From a team management experience, your staffing is far less than it would be if the stadium or ballpark were open to manage individual transaction sales.”

“I think that there’s probably both community engagement as well as some financial benefit to continuing it, even once we get back to regular-season activity.”