The New Trendsetters In Major League Baseball


Image credit: Truist Park (Photo by Todd Kirkland/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

When Camden Yards opened in Baltimore in 1992, baseball changed forever.

Baseball architecture and ballpark aesthetic were transformed. Retro design touches were in. “Modern” multi-purpose, artificial-surface stadiums of the 1970s and ’80s were out.

Camden Yards was so revolutionary that even a brand-new facility like the new Comiskey Park, which the White Sox debuted in 1991, felt outdated.

Every MLB team saw the need to create their own version of Camden Yards— and many did. In the 15 years between 1992 and 2006, a total of 14 new ballparks opened, nearly all of them with borrowed ideas from Camden Yards.

That building spree was nearly unprecedented in MLB history. In the 17 years since then, just seven MLB ballparks have been built. Only the Braves and Rangers have opened new parks in the past decade.

It’s hard to find an independent economist who will agree that publicly funded stadiums drive larger revenue gains than the stadium costs themselves. Still, the sales pitch of the value of a publicly funded stadium has proved effective time and time again for baseball teams, in part because it appealed to the team’s fans.

It was clear that the fan experience at a brand-new facility like Camden Yards was preferable to attending games at Veterans Stadium or Candlestick Park or Three Rivers Stadium.

As we head into the mid 2020s, what is apparent is that the opening of Truist Park in Atlanta may prove in the long run to be as significant to MLB owners as the unveiling of Camden Yards.

When the Braves opened Truist in 2017, it had many of the clever touches that are hallmarks of modern stadium design, including a group seating area that looks through the fence in right field, a restaurant that ties into the right-field seats and plenty of enticing areas for groups to mingle in the upper deck.
None of that explains the growing influence of the Braves’ new ballpark. Other MLB owners don’t look enviously at any feature inside Truist Park. They want their own versions of The Battery, the mixed-used development that surrounds Truist.

As part of the deal to entice the Braves to leave downtown Atlanta, Cobb County offered the rights to develop the land around the ballpark. The Braves’ park is surrounded by shops, restaurants, a hotel, apartments, office space and a concert hall.

In 2022, the Braves brought in $53 million in revenue, according to financial filings, from the mixed-use development. They are on track to better that number in 2023.

Becoming a real estate developer in addition to baseball franchise owner means the Braves have added a significant revenue source that is not subject to the fluctuations that are part of being a seasonal baseball business. Those revenues are also not subject to revenue sharing. If the Braves are ever sold, The Battery could significantly boost the team’s price.

For an MLB team, it’s a truly win-win addition to a club’s portfolio.

The Rangers’ new ballpark, Globe Life Field, also includes more than $1 billion in mixed-use development with a hotel, convention center, apartments and offices. Now, other teams want their own versions of what the Braves have.

This is what we’re seeing in Baltimore right now. The Orioles’ lease at Camden Yards expires at the end of the year. As of late August, the Orioles have been unwilling to sign an extension

What Orioles managing partner John Angelos wants in Baltimore isn’t a new ballpark. Even 31 years after Camden Yards opened, the park remains a classic. It could use some tweaks to bring it into the 2020s, but the overall stadium experience remains excellent.

Angelos wants to be able to develop land around the ballpark and reap the revenue benefits that come from being a real-estate developer.

In Kansas City, the Royals are also looking to develop a new ballpark. While Kauffman Stadium is now among the older facilities in MLB, the push for a $2 billion development is as much about the real estate implications as the ballpark itself. In fact, half of that $2 billion price tag is ticketed for the development.

In its sales pitch, the Royals argue that those additional revenue sources will help the team be able to spend more competitively.

“I think in our economic system . . . new facilities provide a ball club with revenue-generation opportunities that simply don’t exist in older footprints,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told the The Kansas City Star.

That’s a much more difficult sales pitch. Replacing Memorial Stadium with Camden Yards brought a clear and dramatic improvement in the fan experience. It could be debated if that was worth the cost to taxpayers, but the argument was that the team and fans would both benefit from the new stadium.

Saying that a baseball team needs the land around the ballpark for a viable real-estate development shifts that argument much further toward MLB ownership and away from any interest of the fans. Does a fan’s trip to the ballpark improve in any way if the restaurant they eat at before the game sends its rent check to the team instead of someone else?

Angelos in an interview with the The New York Times’ Tyler Kepner said that developing revenue sources like that are the logical way the Orioles can compete financially and retain their homegrown stars.

The pitch to Royals fans also revolves in part about the promise that a new stadium and the real-estate revenue from around it will allow the team to spend its way to greater success.

Will it? There are no guarantees.

But we can guarantee that the Royals and Orioles won’t be the last teams to try to land their own versions of The Battery.

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