- After gaining the legal right to look around Maricopa County for a new stadium, MLB club now focusing more of their efforts on current facility
- Franchise has become very aggressive booking non-baseball events
- Diamondbacks president and CEO has faced both his own cancer fight and that of his wife
Derrick Hall, president and chief executive of Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks, has had his plate full recently, what with another Major League Baseball season coming and the team’s first-ever trip to play regular-season games in Mexico City April 18-19 against the San Diego Padres.
At the same time, the club is trying to make a decision about remaining long-term at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix, having only recently taken over the maintenance and booking of non-baseball events in the 22-year old facility.
On the home front, Hall is also a long-term prostate cancer survivor and his wife, Amy, is in the midst of treatment for triple-negative breast cancer, a more rare form of the disease.
Only recently have Hall and club managing partner Ken Kendrick decided to focus on Chase Field as their place to play in the Phoenix area, certainly for the present and perhaps even for the long-term, Hall said.
Chase Field was born as Bank One Ballpark in 1998, the year the club arrived as a National League expansion franchise. The construction cost back then was $364m (€320m). Public money was capped by Maricopa County at $253m. Thus, the club had to subsidize the remainder.
The ballpark, built in a far different time for ticket sales expectations and sports industry practices generally, was too big at inception with a seating capacity of 48,519 capacity, providing little impetus for fans in the mid-size US metro market to commit to advance purchases of tickets. Those dynamics are even more prevalent now.
“I do think over time it’s better to go smaller,” Hall says. “Stadiums now being built are 38,000 to 40,000. But you know when it’s Opening Day or playoffs and the place is full you go, ‘Hey, I’m glad we’ve got 50,000.’ So, it’s Catch 22.”
Thus, the Diamondbacks have been exploring building a smaller facility elsewhere in the county since May 9, 2018, when the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to settle a lawsuit, giving the club the right to move elsewhere in the area in exchange for managing and shouldering the cost of maintaining the existing, publicly owned facility.
The dispute centered on $100m in ballpark maintenance issues and larger-scale improvements and which party was on the hook to pay for them.
Since the resolution was reached, the Diamondbacks have been actively staging non-baseball events there including Top Golf, World Wresting Entertainment, college football, and some major rock concerts. The most striking physical change to the facility was the installation of a new-generation artificial grass surface last season called Shaw Sport Turf at the club’s own cost of $2.7m.
Globe Life Field, the new $1.2bn retractable-roof ballpark in Arlington, Texas, for the Texas Rangers set to open March 31, will also utilize the same artificial turf product.
At Chase Field, other big-ticket maintenance items are pending as the Diamondbacks determine what the long-term future will ultimately bring. But the club’s leanings have still focused much more squarely on their existing facility.
“We had urgency before because we didn’t control the stadium. We didn’t book the stadium. Now we do,” Hall said. “So we have control of the stadium. We put the new surface in. We did a huge concert last year, WWE, and the [college] bowl game, a lot of conventions.
“Now that we do all that we can slow down a little bit. Understand what that business is all about. Hopefully become experts in that business. There’s no rush. There’s no time crush. We’re going to continue to look here, do all of our due diligence to stay here, or eventually kick the tires around Maricopa County. But we’re going to stay here. And we’re going to do everything we can to stay at Chase Field,” he says.
Thus, that exploration to move has slowed considerably. That’s also not surprising just on a financial basis, as the cost of a new facility would almost certainly match, if not exceed, the figures of new Globe Life Field, which replaced adjacent open-air Globe Life Park, opened in 1994 for $191m. The latter venue has since been retooled as a football stadium and is among the homes for the reborn XFL.
Hall and Kendrick envision a new ballpark in Arizona as the center of a ballpark village, a mixed-use development project around it that will help pay for the cost of the facility. It’s the same operational model that not only the Rangers, but fellow MLB clubs such as the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants, and others have employed to varying degrees, either at facility inception or in subsequent renovation projects. It’s also at the core of what the Oakland A’s want to do with their ambitious two-site project.
Such a large-scale, mixed-use effort in Arizona would also carry a price tag of more than $2bn when those extra pieces are added in, and the club would need to have some financial partners to make that happen. That may be reason enough for the Diamondbacks to turn their attention away from that exploration.
There had even been some talks with government officials in Las Vegas and Henderson, Nevada, about potentially moving there. But those discussions weren’t sanctioned by Major League Baseball and Hall now says, his focus is on Arizona.
“We’ve kind of tapped the brakes on that,” Hall says when asked about looking around the county and elsewhere. “Let’s figure out what’s going on here. Not only with what we have going on immediately booking the stadium, but making sure we understand that business, which we’ve gotten really good at. Let’s see if we can logistically work with this. What does it look like to retrofit this place?”
The Diamondbacks have plenty of time. The club’s lease with Maricopa County expires after the 2028 season, but the franchise can move elsewhere within the country before then without penalty.
No Place Like Home
After that preliminary kicking of the tires on a new facility, the Diamondbacks may have decided there’s no place like home, either from a cost or aesthetic perspective.
“The way downtown is going, the way our relationship with the city and county and state is going, we’re going to do everything we can to stay here,” Hall says. “But we’ll see. There’s a lot to do. For us to stay, you know the new model is mixed-use. A smaller ballpark. Higher ticket demand. Make sure you have enough mixed-use around you. You have hotel, restaurants, entertainment. So, if there’s something we can do here we’re totally looking at it.”
The Diamondbacks already have a lot around them to northwest of the ballpark in what’s dubbed the Legends Entertainment District, which includes the nearby Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The home of the National Basketball Association’s Phoenix Suns is currently undergoing a $230m renovation of its own, funded by a $150m contribution from City of Phoenix, and $80m from the team, which is also building a $50m practice facility elsewhere in the city.
One problem for the Diamondbacks is that they don’t control the ancillary business that has already grown organically around the ballpark. A second problem is that a large, open, and underdeveloped site similar to the Braves and Giants used and the A’s are targeting hasn’t materialized.
There is some moribund land located beyond the garages and parking lots to the south of Chase Field that the D-backs could certainly develop with the help of the county, city, and local landowners. But going down that road would be a huge process and a test of patience, one requiring many years, much like those in St. Louis, Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland, and elsewhere.
“We’re looking at all that,” Hall says of the nearby development opportunities. “We just want to have 365-day activation, make sure we can drive other revenues that can help us compete. That’s what other teams are doing. That’s the model now. That’s what everybody needs to do, especially the smaller markets that are trying to compete with the larger ones.
“Right now, that is it. We need to find that footprint around here,” Hall says.