20 June 2005

Wolff likes "neighborhoods"

CoCo Times columnist Neil Hayes spent some time recently with Lew Wolff and his family at A's games, and from all appearances, Wolff is getting more and more attached to the team with each passing day. There was little new on the ballpark front, except for a small nugget towards the end of the article:

(Wolff) envisions a new ballpark divided into "neighborhoods."

What exactly are "neighborhoods" in a ballpark? Generally they are distinct seating areas within the stadium that give them a separate, though not necessarily segregated, feel from other areas of the park. This can be accomplished by breaking up the grandstand in the multiple structures with varying heights, as was done at Petco (San Diego), Comerica (Detroit), Citizens Bank (Philadelphia), and Great American (Cincinnati). At field level, it's a little easier to foster neighborhood environments with the tiered pricing structure. The Coliseum, for instance, has always had distinct neighborhoods in the MVP sections which hold season ticket holders, and the left and right field bleachers, which are a younger demographic and unique unto themselves. SBC also has neighborhoods in the bleachers in straightaway left (Bonds Squad), center (family bleachers), and the arcade (party atmosphere).

The Coliseum and SBC's development of neighborhoods was more an organic, evolutionary process than Petco, where it's intentional. The Western Metal Supply building in the left field corner not only holds party suites, but it serves as an anchor for a party atmosphere. The Beachers section in center is the family-friendly spot with the big sandbox, while the seats that jut out into right field act as a soapbox for hecklers. Even the mezzanine club level is broken up into three sections: first base, home plate, and third base.

Whether or not the creation of neighborhoods will ultimately be successful is dependent on how fans take to the concept. A major goal is to get fans circulating around the ballpark to explore each of the different neighborhoods, sample concessions, and foster the larger ballpark community. Another goal is to get fans to find a place they can call home within the ballpark, get season tickets, commune with others in their neighborhood, and over time become fixtures or institutions as they pass the experience on to their children, grandchildren, etc. The potential upside is that those season ticket rolls may rise as a result. The downside is that the ballpark itself will have a natural sense of discontuity which might make it hard to foster an overall crowd energy, especially if fans are more likely to mill around than sit and stay focused on a game. In the end, it's seat pricing that's going to be the determining factor. It's not uncommon for fans to be priced out of being full season ticket holders, which then leads to becoming partial season ticket holders, then occasional patrons, and finally to not being able to afford a game at all. It's a difficult balance to strike, and there are plenty of examples of teams going the price-hike route (Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Giants) while few others have managed to keep prices reasonable despite having a new or renovated park (Angels).