Why Are Hotels Cozying Up to Major League Ballparks?
By Roger Weber
Take me out to the ballgame…and let’s stay the night.
So is the new mantra of Major League Baseball. After a period between 1991 and the mid-2010s that saw nearly every Major League team build a new stadium, the pace of ballpark construction over the last five years has slowed. Those ballparks, generally far costlier and more luxurious than their predecessors, have opened up vast new revenue streams to team owners and offered them the opportunity to create an in-game experience that can compete with TV for viewers. But they’re now only part of the story. Today, new and glitzy hotels are the newest fad in ballpark augmentation, with hip new names like Loews and Omni topping this list of no fewer than nine new hotels that have opened immediately adjacent to ballparks, all in the last five years.
The reason for all the new hotels is a product of circumstance. With the pace of new ballparks slowing – and many cities exhausted from helping owners furnish funding for the last round – owners have had to get creative about the next new frontiers to expand the game experience and pad their pocketbooks. Around the country, they’ve done this by building new ballpark districts designed to keep fans spending money in the vicinity of the stadium before and after the game.
Among them, Texas and St. Louis have both championed what they call “Live!” districts around their ballparks, creating faux-downtown facsimile environments full of bars and restaurants with revenue streams channeling directly to the teams. In Colorado and Cincinnati, privately developed districts adjacent are channeling ballpark traffic to seed hotels, retail, apartments, and restaurants. And in Atlanta, the development of the Battery is one of the most creative projects in years, part of a complicated equation between the Braves and Cobb County to generate real estate tax revenue that can help the county fund the cost of the new ballpark it helped the Braves build that convinced them to move to the suburbs from downtown Atlanta five years ago. While several ballparks still stand alone in the middle of parking lots (Los Angeles and Anaheim), and a few still anchor authentic urban downtowns and neighborhoods (Boston and Baltimore), these new ballpark-area developments have become wildly successful destinations where they’ve been built. What better way to grow a baseball empire than to operate the bones of an entire city in your vicinity?
While bars and restaurants are a natural and assumed ingredient, those features are to be expected. Pre- and post-game thirst joints have been part of the game for generations, and in many cases the need to build them anew is a natural byproduct of the fact that so many new ballparks, faux quirks and all, are now built further away, less connected to their downtowns, than the ballparks that existed half a century ago.
The hotels, however, well those are new. In 2017 only six ballparks had a hotel within even a short walking distance of its main gates. Today the number is 15, with more planned. Not all are team-owned, but several are. These hotels, almost exclusively glitzy high-end names, can rack in room rates as high as $900 per night in the vicinity of certain ballparks on big game weekends. And they’re a genius concoction: for teams drawing from a wide radius, ballpark-themed hotels give fans from out of town the opportunity to make not just a night of their time at the park, but a whole weekend. It’s convenient, with the walk often just a jaunt across the street, and high-end brands are endlessly creative about augmenting the game experience with pre-and post-game options back at the hotel, with themed bars, viewing areas with big screen TVs for those not going to the game, and décor in the rooms keeping fans in the baseball mindset. For the teams that in many cases hold a direct ownerships in the hotels, keeping some 500 or so fans in the vicinity of the ballpark each time the team plays a home game is a great anchor for ballpark-themed revenue.
Nothing about the equation is surprising. In fact what’s really surprising is that nobody thought of this sooner. It’s still amazing that Yankee Stadium and Dodger Stadium don’t have team-themed hotels located on their premises attracting in tourists and padding the team pocketbooks. Based on the success of other franchises, one can assume they soon will have hotels.
Here is a list of the parks that have seen hotels built right next door since 2017:
Atlanta Braves: Omni (2018)
Chicago Cubs: Hotel Zachary (2018)
Cincinnati Reds (2017): AC Hotel at the Banks (2017)
Colorado Rockies: The Rally (2021)
Philadelphia Phillies: Live! Casino and Hotel (2021)
San Francisco Giants: Hotel Via (2017)
St. Louis Cardinals: Live! By Loews (2020)
Texas Rangers: Live! by Loews (2019)
Washington Nationals Hotel Thompson (2020)
Seeing as six other parks already had hotels next door, and the Cleveland Guardians have seen a hotel built nearby but not quite next door, it’s now a minority of teams that don’t have what could be characterized as a ballpark hotel. To keep up, pretty soon they’ll all have to join the cool kids’ club (quarters).
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