Mallparks: Baseball Stadium and the Culture of Consumption
Mallparks by Michael T. Friedman is a very interesting read that explores the evolution of the ballparks of yesteryear into the consumption-driven “mallparks” of today. To illustrate his point, the author uses the example of the two ends of the north/sound line of the Twin Cities rapid rail line.
The south terminus is found in Bloomington, MN, while the north terminus is found outside Target Stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Bloomington was the site of Metropolitan Stadium, the first home of the Minnesota Twins after the former Washington Senators after they relocated from Washington, DC.
It was a traditional ballpark, where the only game offered was on the field, and the only concessions offered were the peanuts, popcorn, and cracker jacks of the famous song. Metropolitan Stadium eventually made way for the Mall of America, which in a way was an evolution in and of itself.
Before the MOA, shopping malls were simply a grouping of stores to sell goods. Mall of America broke that mold by offering food courts with a wide variety of foods offered in varying cuisines surrounding an indoor amusement park. That was revolutionary for its time. Fast forward for several decades and Target Field now is the northern terminus for the rapid rail line. It also offers food courts filled with a widely varying menu and several amusement-style activities surrounding the game on the field.
Friedman traces the sports venue’s evolution to the building of Camden Yards in Baltimore. He recounts a visit to the park via a litany of commercial entities operating onsite, including restaurants, stores selling all sorts of sports memorabilia, special amenities officially linked to varying ticket prices, and a short tour of the history of baseball in Baltimore (before he even reaches his seat.)
Early baseball stadiums consisted of very basic seating areas surrounded by a fence. The fence was erected so that owners of the early teams could charge admission and the owner would make money off of the games. As the game evolved owners often experienced competition from other teams, and each owner tried to offer something that made their product unique. The stadium arms race was on. Soon “size matters” was the rule of the day, with bigger “super” stadiums and larger capacities being sought. Eventually, this was to the detriment of the game, as the sightlines and distance from the field suffered.
Architectural firms became the next ally in owners’ quest to maximize profits from their venues. Rodgers Centre in Toronto is an early example of this genre. The stadium required a roof due to Toronto’s weather during the early and late months of the season.
But having that roof be retractable was not a necessity. Nor was there a need for a hotel, fitness center, movie theatre, and seven full-service restaurants to be added to the construction design. Cities have partnered with owners and architects in seeking to maximize profits for themselves by offering “postcard views” of the city from the stadium to drive tourism. No modern ballparks are designed without suite levels, in-stadium fine dining, or party decks for large group gatherings.
Just like malls, retail is extremely important in today’s mallparks. Merchandise has gone way beyond the ballcaps, bobbleheads, and pennants of yesteryear. Friedman cites partnerships with mall veterans like Victoria's Secret, Build-A-Bear, and Disney. Tours of the ballparks generally begin and end at the team’s store.
In addition to Camden Yards, the author also looks at several other MLB stadiums that are retrofitting to become mallparks. Fenway Park is considered a “classic”, yet has added amenities such as premium seating atop the Green Monster, a team museum, and additional retail outlets. Dodger Stadium added 1,600 premium seats and doubled the number of concessions stands. It also added a beer garden two sports bars and a Legends of Dodger Baseball area within the park.
The second portion of the book explores the next generation of mallparks, which the author calls “mallpark villages”. These venues have created retail, lodging, dining, and residential neighborhoods just outside of the stadium walls. The two examples of this design are the Ballpark Village in St. Louis, The Battery Atlanta just outside of Truist Park, and the proposed new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.
The teams serve as the landlords for these developments and receive rental income as well as a percentage of the profits from their sales. This brings in money to the teams before fans even enter the stadium and also generates year-round income over and above the sixty home dates a team may play during the baseball season. Local governments see it as increased tax revenue from the retail sales, hotel taxes, and property taxes derived from the mallpark village.
Since almost every ballpark receives construction funding from local governments, the author suggests that mallparks and mallpark villages can also function well in serving the community. The large industrial kitchens can be utilized to feed the homeless or victims of a large disaster. They can also serve as testing and vaccination facilities during pandemics. Some stadiums can also be used as voting sites during local or national elections.
Mallparks closes with a look at Populous, the largest architectural and stadium design firm in the country. It has been a major player in the design of mallparks and mallpark villages. It was the first firm to design club levels in stadiums, a major source of income for the teams, with additional perks for premium customers. They have been successful at designing and delivering the stadium desired by their clients while delivering the finished facility on time and within budget.
After reading Mallparks, the reader will never look at their visit to their local ballpark in the same way again.