Are MLB's New Ballparks Better Than the Old-School Classics?July 8, 2020
Are MLB's New Ballparks Better Than the Old-School Classics?
Old-school ballpark or new-school ballpark?
History and tradition or comfort and amenities?
It's an interesting debate, and with only two remaining MLB parks opened before 1962, the old-school category is a dying breed.
The Texas Rangers spent $1.1 billion to build Globe Life Field, which is set to open in 2020, and there have been some marvelous stadiums constructed in recent years, but will they ever compare to the game's legendary venues?
Ahead, we've broken down a few arguments for both the old-school and new-school mindset before offering our conclusion on the subject.
Old-School Argument: Every Fan's Sports Bucket List
Ask any baseball fan—regardless of geographic location and rooting interest—to create a bucket list of ballparks they would like to visit, and there are two that will appear on almost every list.
Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.
The mystique of those legendary venues, which opened in 1912 and 1914, respectively, makes them travel destinations for even the most casual fan.
That's not something that can be said of the other 28 parks around baseball.
The Cubs lost 101 games in 2012, and they still finished 10th in average home attendance. Likewise, the Red Sox lost 84 games in a second straight losing season in 2015 and checked in at seventh in average home attendance.
Fans were not coming from near and far to watch a pair of cellar-dwelling rosters. They were there for the unique experience of taking in a ballgame at one of the most hallowed venues in sports.
New-School Argument: The Cost
The obvious downside of a stadium doubling as a tourist attraction is the cost.
According to Team Marketing Report's Fan Cost Index (FCI)—which is calculated based on the cost of four average-priced tickets, parking for one car, and the least expensive pricing for two beers, four soft drinks, four hot dogs and two adjustable hats—Wrigley Field and Fenway Park were the two most expensive MLB game experiences in baseball during the 2018 season.
Here's a look at the top five:
- Wrigley Field (Cubs): $370.12
- Fenway Park (Red Sox): $354.54
- Minute Maid Park (Astros): $313.38
- Nationals Park (Nationals): $296.48
- Yankee Stadium (Yankees): $293.96
As long as Wrigley and Fenway remain attractive tourist destinations, there will always be fans heading to them, regardless of the on-field product.
That keeps prices high and makes attending those two legendary ballparks a costly venture relative to the other 28 stadiums.
By comparison, well-regarded newer parks such as Target Field in Minnesota ($210.72, 21st in MLB), Petco Park in San Diego ($195.88, 25th in MLB) and PNC Park in Pittsburgh ($182.42, 27th in MLB) are bargains.
New-School Argument: The Busch Stadium Rebuild
Busch Stadium in St. Louis is a perfect example of the benefits of ushering an older ballpark's feel into this era.
The current iteration of Busch Stadium opened in 2006, and while it's similar in many ways to the stadium it replaced on nearly the same piece of land, there were several notable improvements.
The new stadium's open design provides a much more inviting feel than the previous cookie-cutter bowl, and the repositioning of home plate means the Gateway Arch is now perfectly framed in center field among the city skyline after it previously peaked over the left field upper deck.
The rebuild also paved the way for Ballpark Village, a sprawling complex of dining, bars, retail and entertainment areas located directly across the street from the stadium that feature views of the action from beyond the center field wall.
The Cardinals showed it's possible to maintain a stadium's feel while simultaneously making significant improvements that upgrade the overall experience.
Old-School Argument: The Yankee Stadium Rebuild
B/R's Zachary Rymer said it perfectly while putting Yankee Stadium at No. 22 in his recent ranking of all 30 MLB ballparks.
"Despite the improvements, the new Yankee Stadium still doesn't have the atmosphere or vibe of the original. It's the ballpark version of a cynical remake of a beloved movie."
It's the 1998 version of Godzilla with Matthew Broderick. It's the unwatchable Point Break remake with no Keanu Reeves or Patrick Swayze. It's the insufferable Russell Brand replacing Dudley Moore as the titular character in Arthur.
Consider my movie reference quota for the month reached.
The original Yankee Stadium—often called the "House That Ruth Built" or "The Cathedral of Baseball" during its 85-year run—saw so much history, there was simply no recreating it. Baseball lost an iconic venue when it was demolished in 2009 and '10.
So while the St. Louis Cardinals were able to take something old and make it new while maintaining its integrity, the same can't be said of Yankee Stadium, and that's a compelling argument in the old-school column.
New-School Argument: Comfort and Amenities
The delayed start to the 2020 MLB season means this is the longest I've gone in my adult life—as someone born in the Chicago suburbs who now lives a short walk from Wrigley Field—without standing shoulder to shoulder in the outdated Wrigley Field bathrooms.
I don't miss it.
Once the aura and mystique of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park fade, what's left is a dated building, a cramped viewing experience and a glaring lack of the comfort and amenities that the other 28 ballparks offer.
For the vast majority of fans, a trip to the ballpark no longer means spending nine innings glued to your seat while tracking all of the action with a pencil and scorecard.
It's about wandering the concourse in search of the perfect ballpark snack, trying out some of the available craft beer options and checking out the other unique amenities.
The legendary parks of yesteryear just don't stack up when it comes to the auxiliary offerings beyond the game itself.
Old-School Argument: History and Tradition
While today's ballparks may be bursting at the seams with food, drink and entertainment, there is simply no recreating over a century's worth of history.
In many ways, today's parks are place holders that will only stand until the next wave of stadium openings makes them obsolete.
Look no further than the Atlanta Braves, who opened Turner Field in 1997 and have already moved on to Truist Park, which opened in 2017.
The Texas Rangers played their first game at Globe Life Park in Arlington—then known as The Ballpark in Arlington—in 1994. They are set to open a new $1.1 billion stadium known as Globe Life Field for this season.
The simple fact is that we may never again see baseball played in a stadium not named Fenway or Wrigley for 100-plus-year stretches.
There's something special about a ballpark that has been passed down like a family heirloom from generation to generation, and all the money in the world can't recreate that feeling of nostalgia.
There's no simple answer to the old-school vs. new-school debate.
Every true baseball fan should take in a game at Wrigley and Fenway at least once—there's nothing that compares to those two venues.
At the same time, it doesn't make you a bad fan if you'd prefer a bit more leg room and a bathroom that was designed for this century.
One of the biggest challenges facing Major League Baseball is finding ways to attract the next generation of fans, and while history and tradition will always be a driving force at the foundation of the sport, there's no denying that an updated, amenity-filled experience helps in accomplishing that goal.
So soak up the old-school history when the opportunity presents itself and appreciate the new-school experience that extends beyond the action on the field.
Baseball is a game rooted in history that continues to evolve and grow, so it only makes sense that its ballparks would share in that mix of old and new.