By: Holly Horning
Yesterday, I started reporting on my week visiting the Tigers in Florida. Part 1. can be found at:
Today, I want to share a comparison between stadiums, fans, food and overall culture. Believe it or not, there are huge differences which can impact your experience when you visit.
As you may be aware, the Tigers and the City of Lakeland have started renovating Joker Marchant Stadium (JMS). Something that should have happened at least a decade ago because the stadium and its offerings are hugely antiquated and not fan-friendly.
Most of the changes, alas, will benefit the Tigers organization and the players with new training facilities and offices. Not the fans so much. But the team will be adding seats in the shade (not more seats, but extending the roof), concession stands and a restaurant. They are borrowing heavily from the Phillies’ Bright House Field in Clearwater.
While the vibe at JMS is great – intimate and homey – the physical atmosphere is not. The stadium is only walkable in bits and pieces and then you can only do it by leaving the stands and walking down into the lower area, which feels like a basement. This area houses the concession stands which makes walking at anything more than a crawl challenging and takes you away from the action for extended periods of time.
The concession stands are abysmal. Tiny little kiosks reminiscent of those at a high school fair, manned usually by a single person and lengthy lines. Typical unimaginative food with the most elaborate dish being pulled pork nachos.
You will also need to take out a second mortgage on your home because the stadium only takes cash and the food is insanely expensive. $4.25 for a small bottle of water, anyone? Don’t even think about having a beer.
But JMS is a very friendly place to be. The majority of the employees are retirees and they pay attention to you. I felt like I had 25+ of my favorite grandfathers helping me. They are very friendly and will help you out in any manner you may need.
I spent several hours pre-game chatting with ushers and security personnel (a shout-out to Ken!) who had great stories to tell.
But a lot of these employees are taking on more than they should. I was astounded by the number of very elderly and highly mobility-challenged fans who came to the game. And JMS has extremely few seats that allow these fans to access the stadium comfortably.
I watched in horror as many of these fans struggled mightily to get to their seats. Fans who should not be climbing stairs and risked losing their dignity as they tried to climb up to the only seats available. I also watched an 80+ year old usher repeatedly help immobile fans get up from their chairs and help them into wheelchairs. This should not be allowed to happen, folks. Let’s hope the renovations will add a lot of handicapped seating and staff who can handle the physical requirements.
In all my travels, JMS had the greatest number of these fans. The vast majority were well beyond retirement age. The younger fans were hard to find and families were almost non-existent. This is scary from a finance-based viewpoint as the fans are ageing rapidly and will diminish attendance sooner rather than later. I didn’t see this population sample at any other venue.
Now, let’s cut to the Phillies Bright House Field (BHF) which is a model of a superb stadium in almost every way.
First of all, the employees are much younger but have that Philly edge if you know what I mean. Not as user-friendly as in Lakeland. The stadium is fully-walkable with a view of the field at all times. Bathrooms are much bigger as is the handicapped seating.
But the fans are a very different bunch. Unlike Tiger fans who all wear their memorabilia in force, Philly fans don’t. But the crowd is noticeably much younger and there are lots of families in attendance.
Let’s talk about the amenities. They have restaurants. They have bars. They have tons of excellent food choices. They also have built in concession stands that don’t take you away from the action and are manned with efficient lines, multiple servers and credit card swipe machines.
And it’s much less expensive to come here for a game. Unlike the Tigers, the Phillies don’t charge you extra to watch batting practice. And the food is absolutely delicious and relatively inexpensive. Nachos cost me $8 in Lakeland but a huge Philly cheesesteak cost only $6.
They also have Frenchy’s Tiki Bar where you can sit or take out. Premium brand cocktails that only cost $6 and a mere $1.75 more than a bottle of water at JMS. I immediately looked at the Tigers’ schedule to see when they would be returning. And I just had to text Kurt to let him know I was watching the game with a cocktail. You don’t want to know what he texted back.
The Phillies were superior in their technology (credit card ability, a real scoreboard), music (modern day vs. the 1940’s – 70’s at JMS) and entertainment (the Philly Phanatic). Overall, they present a fresher, more modern vibe that appeals to fans of all ages. An excellent business model and vision that is successfully bringing in fans for years to come.
But what was also interesting is the fans. Those who prefer cats were overall more knowledgeable and chatty in my section. At Bright House? Not so much. Everyone kept to themselves. Give that last point to the Tigers.