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New Ballparks, Upgrades, and Entertainment Districts- Recent News Surrounding MLB's Stadiums

2023 has been a fascinating year so far for Major League Baseball. Through the implementation of new rules and the pitch timer, the league has placed an emphasis on action, athleticism, and pace. However, there is another item MLB and a few of its owners have also centered their attention around building and improving ballparks.

Over the last couple of years, Rob Manfred has repeatedly said that getting new stadiums for both the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays was a high priority, especially before the league centers its attention on future expansion into new cities. Well, the good news is that it looks like one of those teams is close to getting a new stadium. The bad news for Oaklanders is that it won’t be in their hometown as the A’s recently reached an agreement with a group of politicians to build a new stadium in Las Vegas. While the amount of public funding might be lower than originally expected and the deal still must be voted on by the legislature, it appears like the A’s are on their way to Sin City soon.

However, the A’s stadium situation is far from the only one that needs to be remedied. This past week, Manfred was in Milwaukee and reports surfaced that MLB is pressuring the Brewers to begin preparing upgrades and repairs to American Family Field.

According to Dan O’Donnell, a sports talk radio host in Milwaukee, “Major League Baseball has told the Milwaukee Brewers that they need to repair American Family Field to ensure it remains an MLB-caliber ballpark.” While some outlets have floated possibilities of this situation leading to a potential relocation, it doesn’t appear like these are hostile threats from the commissioner’s office, just proactive action items to keep the Brewers ballpark from even nearing the state that the Oakland Coliseum has reached over the years. With relocation and expansion on the brain given the A’s inevitable move, I can understand why some immediately think the worst, but the Brewers and their fans are not among MLB’s problems. Despite being situated in one of MLB’s smallest media markets, the fans in Milwaukee are among the most passionate you’ll find in the league. All of this appears like a push to keep one of America’s finest facilities an A-grade fan experience for years to come.

As mentioned earlier, the Rays stadium situation is also one to monitor in the coming months. The club is reportedly working hard on a deal of its own to stay in the Tampa-St. Petersburg market, seeking to negotiate an agreement by the end of the year to build a new $1.2 billion stadium near the current Tropicana Field site as part of a massive development of the surrounding Historic Gas Plant District.

Despite their success on the field over the last fifteen years, the Rays haven’t drawn particularly well, consistently ranking near or at the bottom in total attendance. That can reasonably be attributed to Tropicana’s inconvenience to downtown Tampa along with the ballpark’s shortcomings compared to its peers. If the Rays ultimately stay in St. Petersburg, the convenience factor will obviously not be upgraded. However, if they can build not only a state-of-the-art facility but also an entertainment development around the park, things might change for the better.

Constructing an entertainment district around stadiums is something that is becoming more and more of a buzzword when new facilities are being built. Yes, the 81 home games inevitably bring masses of people to the ballpark and its surrounding area every year. However, there are still 284 more days (minus postseason or exhibition games) left in a year for teams to search for additional revenue streams. As a result, these entertainment districts are all the rage right now, as successes like The Battery in Atlanta, Ballpark Village in St. Louis, Wrigleyville in Chicago, and Texas Live in Arlington are inspiring owners across the majors to eye their own developments.

While it’s easier said than done to pay for and construct such a district, it makes complete sense. While MLB is seeing an uptick in attendance from previous years (likely stemming from lessening COVID-19 concerns), fans simply aren’t filing through the turnstiles like they did in the past. This isn’t just a baseball issue as increases in the at-home television experience have incentivized fans to not fight traffic or pay for parking or overpriced foods and drinks at games in all sports. Therefore, creating and maintaining an exceptional in-stadium experience is essential for the league and its owners. With a likely decline in RSN revenues on the horizon, clubs will be pressed to make up some of those losses in both the short and long term. Getting not only the die-hard baseball “lifers,” but also the casual fan in or around the ballpark is more important than ever, and each team will have their own way of creating a great experience that keeps people coming back.

While the A’s, Brewers, and Rays' stadium situations are all unique, there is a common thread that cuts through them all. Whether it's upgrading or maintaining its 30 current stadiums or building new ballparks in expansion markets, the experience of going to a ballgame needs to be special. Therefore, don’t be surprised if you hear news about what might coming to your local ballpark moving forward.

Brendan can be found on Twitter @_bbell5

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