Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Mark Shapiro shares what the ‘re-envisioning of Rogers Centre’ might look like

Not sure if you’ve heard, but the 90’s are back in a big way. Fashion, music, television; things that were popular decades ago are cool again in 2018. Baseball stadiums, though? Not so much.

The Rogers Centre is the seventh oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball. At nearly 30 years old, the Rogers Centre missed the wave of retro-style ballparks which came into existence in the mid-90’s. Instead, the original Skydome was built as a multi-purpose stadium.

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Like most things constructed in the 90’s, the mantra was “bigger is better”. In lieu of a smaller, more intimate experience, the goal was to pack as many seats under one roof, even if that sacrificed having some of the seats angled away from home plate.

In the time the Blue Jays have been at the Skydome/Rogers Centre, the Atlanta Braves built a new ballpark (Turner Field) in 1996, abandoned it in 2016 and moved into a new one (SunTrust Park) in 2017. And yet the Rogers Centre is still standing, mostly unchanged since it first opened in June of 1989. The stadium is in need of a facelift, but just how dramatic of a facelift can you give a 30-year-old ballpark?

That’s the challenge facing Mark Shapiro and the Blue Jays’ front office; figuring out how to give this stadium its much-needed renovations. While he’s never given a concrete blueprint of what those renovations might look like, but Shapiro has mentioned a few features he’d like to bring to Rogers Centre.

This past week, the Blue Jays President spoke about the state of the stadium renovations and what changes he’d like to see at 1 Blue Jays Way when he talked to Matt Galloway of CBC Metro Morning:

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Right now, what we have is largely a 1980’s/1990’s fan experience. What we’re lacking is a very different set of experiences for different segments of our fanbase.

In a perfect world, the family that wants to come to the game has a great experience. Whether kids can do arts and crafts, do virtual reality games, can watch the game and be entertained at the game instead of sitting in a seat, yet their parents who still want to see the game can see the field.

It’s taking the coolest bar in all of Toronto and putting that inside the stadium. For the corporate fan that wants to bring and entertain and have a conversation, we have better premium seating.

In theory, these are all great ideas for the Rogers Centre. Bringing back some form of a “Kids Zone” would be great for families with young children. Adding a pub or restaurant at the ballpark would give the stadium a little more personality and the luxury boxes could probably use an overhaul as well.

Shapiro spearheaded a similar project in Cleveland when he helped revamp Progressive Field with a massive $25 million renovation. They opened up the ballpark, totally revamped the home and visitor’s bullpens, added a massive multi-floor bar out near right field, brought in concessions from local restaurants and installed a two-story Kids Clubhouse.

Youtube: Dimensional Innovations
Youtube: Dimensional Innovations

Judging by this tour of the Kids Clubhouse in Cleveland, it’s interesting to see which of these Progressive Field characteristics may or may not work at Rogers Centre. For one, finding the real estate within the stadium to install something like a two-story kids section would be difficult, but it’s not unfathomable.

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Part of the renovations at Progressive Field also saw many of the city’s staple restaurants featured at the ballpark. Bringing the city inside the Rogers Centre seems like an obvious choice and rather than featuring the typical-cookie cutter concessions, the Blue Jays could do more by featuring some of the city’s best eats inside the Rogers Centre.

I believe Stoeten suggested this already, but offering food from Toronto staples like Burgers Priest and Banh Mi Boys is one way to improve part of the fan experience. For fans visiting from out of town for the first time, it gives them a true glimpse into the city by having some of its best restaurants right there inside the ballpark. While we’re at it, why not subcontract all the ice cream sales to someone like Sweet Jesus?

Speaking of food and drink, a bigger focus on craft beer by enlisting someone like Left Field Brewery seems like the perfect marriage. Yes, beer sells itself, but showcasing Left Field’s baseball-themed beer at the Rogers Centre is a no-brainer.

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Ultimately, these are all blue sky scenarios for the Rogers Centre which are much easier said than done. Any sort of renovations at Rogers Centre would far eclipse anything Shapiro spearheaded at Progressive Field during his time as Indians’ President and CEO. His $25 million budget to overhaul Cleveland’s stadium pales in comparison to the hundreds of millions of dollars it would cost to update the Rogers Centre.

There are many things the Blue Jays can do with renovation plans for their stadium, but it all depends how many resources and how much money ownership is willing to commit to this project. In that aforementioned interview on CBC, Shapiro said the club has tabled several renovation cost tiers to Rogers and it’s up to them to choose how big of a facelift stadium will receive.

We’ve done the research, we’ve made the recommendations to ownership, ownership is considering timing and funding. For me, it’s with ownership right now. We’ve done the hard work and the heavy lifting to come up with a plan, a vision, it’s just a question of when do we execute it now.

With this project seemingly on the back-burner for now, it may still be a few more years before any renovations – whether they’re small or grand in scale – take place at the Rogers Centre. Those days can’t come soon enough for those hoping to see something new down at 1 Blue Jays Way.

In the meantime, Blue Jays fans will have to just stick with their same-old, regular Rogers Centre.

  • Barry

    Really, “improving the fan experience” isn’t about putting more fans in the seats. We know how to do that — the place is packed when there’s a winning product on the field. And we know from the experiences of other teams, who have built beautiful new parks, that whatever attendance spike you get from a pretty ballpark only lasts as long as it’s a novelty, and diminishes if your team isn’t winning.

    What they really want to be able to do is charge more for tickets, particularly at the premium levels. This is where the Jays apparently lag behind other teams, and they have to for now because they can’t offer enough to premium ticket-buyers to justify the higher costs.

    I’d love to see the RC improved, but I think there are limits to how much it can improve, even if you through a quarter of a billion dollars at it, which was the plan, at one point. The only real massive improvement would be a new stadium, but to get that, we’d likely sacrifice the fantastic location we have now.

    • fred2

      You’re exactly right — all that stuff about fan experience is largely guff I suspect, except in so far as it enables more corporate boxes to be sold. As anybody who has attended the morgue known as the Air Canada Centre knows, 10,000 Bay Street lawyers at every game do jack all for fan experience, but plenty for the team’s bottom line.

      Not necessarily being as critical as that sounds. They probably have to do it, and it’s fine if it enables the team to stay competitive, but I don’t believe ‘fan experience’ means anything unless it has an obvious dollar return on investment.