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Pensacola Blue Wahoos Strike Gold With Airbnb

With nearly two months of games wiped out due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, teams across the minor leagues are racking their brains for ideas about how to use what they have to generate some sort of revenue.

During one recent brainstorming session, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos came up with an idea that will serve them both now and in future seasons, long after the baseball world has returned to normal. 

After successfully turning their stadium into a disc golf course—an endorsement from co-owner and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson didn’t hurt—the team needed to find a way to take ballpark activation to the next level.

So they put their stadium on Airbnb.

“We’d been working on it for about three weeks so. The big thing was just trying to figure out all the logistics of bedding and those types of things” Blue Wahoos president Jonathan Griffith said. “Once we got everything secured and knew that we could actually put this on, that’s when we finally came out with the news for it.”

At a price of $1,500 a night, you and nine of your friends (social distancing guidelines in Pensacola limit groups to 10 people) can turn Blue Wahoos Stadium and its many amenities into a baseball-themed resort. 

Guests will be able to play catch on the field, run the bases, access the batting cages (bats, balls and helmets will be provided by the team), have their own walk-up music played over the stadium’s sound system, and pretty much anything else they can dream.

For an additional charge, the Blue Wahoos will also provide packages with food and beverages and merchandise.

“You can have your own fireworks show. You can have movie night at the ballpark. You can have former major league pitcher Kevin Saucier come and teach you about baseball,” Griffith said. “We’re going to have a lot of neat things. We even have a guy here on our staff, Bill Vilona, who’s been a sportswriter for 30-something years, who can talk about the ins and outs of sports in the area.

“We’re just getting really creative with it and making it a really fun experience for people ... We’re willing to test the limits and see what else people come up with to have at the ballpark.”

So far, the response has been overwhelming.

In just a few days’ time, the ballpark has sold out for the entire month of June. Because the minor league season has not been officially canceled, the Blue Wahoos haven’t officially opened the park up for dates in June, but they have had plenty of people who want to put their names on a wait list in the event that the season is called off.

Currently, Griffith said, the waiting list includes about 100 people.

“Within 24 hours, we sold 33 dates,” Griffith said. “We’re sold out all the way until July 1. Obviously with us not knowing about the baseball season yet, we’re not selling any in July or August. And then September and October are interesting as well, because we have the University of West Florida football (that plays at Blue Wahoos Stadium), so we’re kind of holding on those dates as well just because of the fact that we want to make sure that if we have a football game or a baseball game, we obviously can’t have people staying in the clubhouse.”

Roughly 2,700 miles Northwest of Pensacola, another minor league team saw what the Blue Wahoos were doing and wanted to get in on the fun.

Although their season hasn’t officially been delayed—the short-season Northwest League’s 2020 campaign isn't scheduled to open until June 17—the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes knew their ballpark had the facilities to offer an experience similar to what the Blue Wahoos were providing.

“I’m not gonna lie, I woke up here a couple of mornings ago and saw that the Blue Wahoos had put their stadium on Airbnb and saw a little bit on social media, and my first thought was ‘This is an incredible idea, it just really was.’ ” Volcanoes CEO Mickey Walker said.

"To give people the opportunity to not only be on a minor league field, but to be in the same clubhouse as some of the greats—we’ve had Tim Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey use those locker rooms and play on that field—it’s a dream, really, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

So the team put Volcanoes Stadium up on Airbnb and waited to see if it could replicate the Blue Wahoos’ success. Because Marion County is in its first stage of re-opening, the team can accept up to 16 guests at the ballpark. That said, there still will be a few regulations to follow in order to comply with social distancing regulations.

Any guests who live in separate households will have to sleep in separate rooms—the team will make sure there are separate bathrooms provided as well—and the ballpark will be deep-cleaned after each stay to make things as sanitary and safe for each set of guests.

Like the Blue Wahoos, the Volcanoes have had a tremendous early response to the promotion.

“We’ve had a ton of bookings already and we basically didn’t allow it until the end of (May) because we wanted some time to make sure everything was going to be in tip-top shape for the first guest. So we have our first booking next week and we have a handful more after that, and many more inquiries coming in, honestly, by the hour. It’s coming pretty fast right now.”

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Understandably, a move like this could appear to fans as a signal that there might not be a minor league season. When asked, the Volcanoes are quick to dispel that connection. While they are taking reservations for all dates in June, any bookings on game days are tentative and subject to change.

If the season is called off, then the dates that had been blocked off will open for reservations.

“All of the bookings are subject to Volcanoes games,” Walker said. “If the Volcanoes still play, obviously the stadium isn’t going to be available that night. Once we get the nod on the season, we’ll go and block off all the dates that are Volcanoes games, or once we hear that there’s no season, then we’ll open it all up. Everything’s subject right now to Volcanoes games.”

The Blue Wahoos’ ownership group also owns the Midwest League’s Beloit Snappers, and a similar promotion should be coming to Pohlman Field in the near future.

“We’re actually working on it right now,” Griffith said. “We’re working with the local folks there to see, because of our lease that we have at Pohlman Field, we’re working on that to basically make sure we can get it approved.”

At a time when many in the industry are being furloughed or laid off, simply keeping staff members on the books as long as possible is a tricky proposition for minor league teams. Without games there are no fans, and without fans there is very little revenue.

So, beyond being a tremendously ingenuitive idea, the money earned through these bookings is helping keep staff members employed.

“Driving revenue to keep jobs, that’s the No. 1 thing for us is to keep everybody employed,” Griffith said. “We’ve been very fortunate with our ownership so far that nobody has been laid off or had any reductions so far, so as long as we can do it we’re just trying to keep that up.”

Perhaps the best part of this promotion is that it works both now, when teams are scrapping for as much revenue as possible, but also is something that can continue long after the country returns to normalcy.

Across the sport, the adversity brought on by the pandemic has caused an already creative industry to go into overdrive thinking of ways to keep things going until games can begin again. By putting their parks on Airbnb, the Blue Wahoos and Volcanoes have tapped into a thirst for baseball that can be quenched year round.

“We see this as a new revenue stream for all of baseball, not just us,” Griffith said. “I think we all should take advantage of it and I think this is something that we’ll keep on doing until people don’t want to stay there anymore.”

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