All eyes will be down on the field this season at Great American Ball Park, as the Cincinnati Reds enter 2013 with higher hopes than at any time in decades.
But with even a quick glance around the rest of the park, it’ll be clear the team has been working just as hard off the field: While the owners can’t completely control the team’s destiny on the field, they’re taking no chances off it.
The Reds spent $2 million on Great American Ball Park this offseason, to boost revenue and appeal to a broader segment of fans.
The team is giving its Machine Room restaurant a facelift, upgrading many of its suites, renovating its gift shop and building a plaza for concerts and other events.
The most obvious addition, though, is the new Budweiser Bow Tie Bar, above the visitors’ bullpen in right field. Complete with a 30-foot sign, the 90-seat bar, named for Bud’s iconic logo, is part of a new multiyear sponsorship deal as the team’s “official beer.” It has additional space for fans to stand. Budweiser also gets a 45-foot long, seven-foot high new sign in right field.
“And it gives Budweiser another place to connect with fans,” he said.
There are other reasons the Reds spent big on amenities: Great American Ball Park is 10 years old, and many suite-holders’ leases are up for renewal. Then there’s the 2015 All-Star game, which will put the Reds and GABP in the national spotlight.
Teams throughout Major League Baseball are working hard to appeal to casual fans, who may not even watch much of the game itself.
“The Reds are very entrepreneurial. They really understand their fan base,” said Jackie Reau, CEO of marketing firm Game Day Communications. “They know they’re competing for fans’ time, dollars and hearts.”
Seattle opened a plaza in 2011 that holds 3,000 people, and immediately boosted food and beverage sales by 67 percent in that area.
The San Diego Padres last year opened a Budweiser Patio at Petco Park that has drawn up to 1,000 people at a time. Stadiums in Baltimore, Kansas City and Philadelphia have opened similar areas.
Here in Cincinnati, the Reds have added a tier above the bullpen that will include a patio. It’ll sell that space to groups game-by-game.
The team is also converting half of the outdoor patio seating for the Machine Room in left field to make it available for group sales. And it’s remaking the restaurant’s wall facing the field into one that can be completely opened up on nice days.
The added patio areas give the Reds more spaces to sell. They increase the standing room capacity of the ballpark, too.
The gift shop – closed for renovations from December until later this month – will have an entrance that will face the bars and restaurants at the Banks riverfront development, improving visibility, particularly on nongame days.
The Reds are also flattening and expanding the space beyond the gift shop, on the first-base side of Crosley Terrace, to make it usable for events before and after games. Fans will be able to get to that area without a ticket.
“We want to make the Crosley Terrace experience more of a happening,” Castellini said.
Suites up for renewal
Half of the Reds suites – 27 of the 54 – will be renovated this year. Those changes are mostly cosmetic, Castellini said, involving updated decor and painting. The team will redo the rest next year.
Ballparks of the same age are making similar updates, said Pat Tangen, a principal at Kansas City, Mo.-based sports architecture firm Populous, which has designed renovations at the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Anaheim Angels ballparks.
Populous, formerly HOK, was the architect on GABP. Additions like the Bow Tie Bar create a party atmosphere that caters to 20-somethings, Tangen said.
“It becomes new and lively,” he said. “Like getting a new car.”