Revamping the Ravine
Dodger Stadium is undergoing a $50-million face lift, although the House Walter O’Malley Built still looks good.
Fans are drawn to the picturesque 56,000-seat ballpark in its 38th season despite an especially unattractive on-field product.
The late O’Malley opened the stadium in 1962 with the future in mind, and the hilltop structure at Chavez Ravine remains among baseball’s top venues.
But for all that Dodger Stadium still is, it isn’t a cash cow compared with the luxury-suites-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see ballparks of today. New stadiums popped up across the major leagues in the 1990s, changing how the game is played in the front office.
The Dodgers hope to catch the pack with their long-overdue renovation project, adding luxury suites and upgraded field-level seats among many money-making changes. The work is expected to be completed in time for the start of the 2000 season.
Generating revenue is the goal, and eager team officials need Dodger Stadium to become a big-time catalyst. Quickly.
“What we’re trying to accomplish is to enhance Dodger Stadium so it can be economically competitive with the newer ballparks throughout the industry,” said Dodger President Bob Graziano, adding that this reaffirms the organization’s commitment to remaining at the site for the foreseeable future. “From a fan standpoint, Dodger Stadium is a terrific place to see a ballgame. I constantly hear from the fans that they still enjoy coming to Dodger Stadium.
“But when you look at the environment in which we’re operating, we’re competing against clubs that have much newer facilities. Because of that, those clubs have significantly greater economic resources to work with. We’re undertaking this program so that we can be competitive with those other clubs. We feel strongly that we’ve committed to the correct course.”
The Dodgers have committed to keeping up with the Joneses, meaning their National League West neighbors.
The Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies already work in state-of-the-art ballparks, and the San Francisco Giants will play host to the Dodgers in the opener of their new home next season. Voters have approved funding for a new ballpark for the San Diego Padres.
Dodger and Fox officials studied building a new Dodger Stadium but decided the project would be too expensive--and time consuming. They’re going with limited changes, trying to get the machine rolling as soon as possible.
On the club level, the Dodgers are building 33 luxury suites, several conference rooms and a business center and renovating the Stadium Club. The suite prices range from $185,000 to $390,000 annually, and a team spokesman said the club has sold about half of them.
The Dodgers are adding a new nine-row, 565-seat area behind the dugouts. The seats, which will be 25 feet closer to the plate, are priced at $225 per game for the first two rows and $195 for the remaining rows.
There will be 500 seats, 250 on each side, added on the field extending from the dugouts to the foul polls. Those seats will cost $23, $31 and $40.
In addition, a sports bar-themed Dugout Club will be built behind the new dugout seats.
Construction will begin shortly after the team completes its home schedule Sept. 26 against the San Diego Padres. Under next season’s proposed schedule, the Dodgers open with a trip to Montreal, New York and San Francisco before returning for an April 14 home opener against an undetermined opponent.
Although the redesign will change the configuration of the stadium, the capacity is expected to remain about the same.
What about the ambience? The architect in charge of the redesign said Dodger Stadium will retain its character.
“The main issue here is that Dodger Stadium is a building that people already love to come to, so we wanted to do something that enhanced the experience of coming to the stadium, not distract from that,” said Ron Turner of Los Angeles-based NBBJ Sports & Entertainment, which also designed the Staples Center and other athletic arenas. “We didn’t want to change the look of the building substantially so that people think they’re coming to a different place.
“The pieces of the renovation that we’re actually doing, the suites and the dugout seats behind home plate, really won’t change the look of the stadium appreciably. I believe people will probably come to the stadium and not even realize anything has even happened.”
But Dodger official Fred Coons, overseeing the project, concedes that some fans will be displeased by the changes.
“Fans don’t want you to raise prices, they don’t want you to introduce suites and they want you to field a competitive team, but you can’t have all of those,” said Coons, director of business development. “We’re trying to create a blend that’s acceptable to all. We could sell a lot more signage, blow out a lot more seats and put in high-cost suites and club-level seats. But we didn’t feel that was appropriate.”
Some longtime season-ticket holders will be displaced by the renovations, team officials acknowledge.
Those who currently have seats around the dugout are being given the first opportunity to purchase tickets in the redesigned area under the new pricing plan. They also are being offered seats in the new area down the lines, or unoccupied seats in any other part of the stadium.
Team officials need the changes to pay off.
Fox subsidized the Dodgers’ $80-million payroll this season, but Rupert Murdoch mandates that every division of his media empire be self-sufficient. That means the Dodgers have to make lots more money if they’re going to maintain a high payroll.
“We’re not going through, and we made this commitment last year, a rebuilding process,” Graziano said. “The only way to do that [have a high payroll without renovating the stadium] is to continually ask ownership to dig into their pockets to fund the team, and that only works so long.
“We did that in 1999. As you’ve seen with other ballclubs, owners will do it for a short period of time, but they cannot justify that on a sustained basis. The only way to do it, and have it make sense for us, is to go through this renovation.”
But club officials question whether renovations alone will meet the Dodgers’ long-term revenue needs.
“We’re still grappling with the long run, whatever the long run may be,” Coons said. “Whether the long run is 10 years out, or 15 or 20 years from now, the question is, ‘Can the stadium continue to provide us with the economic benefits that we need to remain competitive?’
“Frankly, I don’t know if this is truly the long-term solution. But we feel that, at least in the short term, it addresses some of our concerns.”
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