Friday roundup: More on MLB attendance decline, plus stadium rumors and the reports of rumors

In case you missed it, I revisited the question of MLB’s attendance decline for Deadspin this week, by way of picking apart a New York Times article on the topic that got a couple of things right and a whole bunch of things less right. The upshot is that team owners don’t really need lots of fans to show up, but they sure would like them to, but only if they can accomplish this without cannibalizing the luxury seat sales that are their bread and butter these days — all of which makes all the “Whither baseball?” handwringing even less justifiable. Lesson: Don’t try to measure the demand curve just by looking at product sales. (Okay, maybe that’s only the lesson I take from it, but it’s one lesson.)

Meanwhile, news!

Friday roundup: Lots more fans showing up disguised as empty seats

Is public financing of sports venues worth it? If you’ve been noticing a bit of a dip in the frequency of posts on this site over the past few months, it’s not your imagination: I had a contract job as a fill-in news editor that was taking up a lot of my otherwise FoS-focused mornings. That job has run its course now, which should make it a bit easier to keep up with stadium and arena news on a daily basis going forward, instead of leaving much of it to week-ending wrapups.

That said, you all do seem to love your week-ending wrapups, so here’s one now:

New book on Tiger Stadium includes chapter by meeeeeee

This has literally been years in the making, and the website still (mistakenly) says “not yet published,” but I am here to tell you that it is in fact available for purchase: “Tiger Stadium, Essays and Memories of Detroit’s Historic Ballpark, 1912–2009,” edited by Frank Rashid, John Pastier, Bill Dow, Michael Betzold, and John Davids of the Tiger Stadium Fan Club. And included among the remembrances and historical essays on the home of the Detroit Tigers for 97 years is a chapter by me, titled “The Mallparking of America: Tiger Stadium and the Subsidy Game,” which you can pretty much guess what it’s about.

I haven’t actually received my copy yet, so that’s literally all I can tell you about the book, except that with the talent assembled I’m super-excited to read it. I’ll post a fuller review once I have it in hand, but don’t let that stop you from ordering it right now.

Friday roundup: Why Pistons fans can’t bear to watch, Broncos land grab move, Donald Trump could win Morocco the World Cup, and more!

All evidence to the contrary, spring (and the spring end-of-legislative-session season) must be getting nearer, because the stack of weekly roundup news items in my Instapaper is getting longer and longer each week. Better get down to it:

Tiger Stadium field to be torn up this summer, or at least most of it

If you, like me, never made it to the site of Tiger Stadium to play softball with the Navin Field Grounds Crew, it’s too late now: Construction is set to begin on a new Police Athletic League field there this spring, which will keep the old stadium site (which has been a ballfield since the 19th century) in use for baseball as well as other sports, but also install artificial turf, which a lot of people aren’t too happy with.

The last piece of the funding puzzle was the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy — a group first founded to try to save the old stadium when it was still standing — kicking in $3 million from a federal earmark on Monday. The Conservancy is apparently still angling for the PAL to at least keep the infield dirt and grass, with a fake turf outfield — which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for baseball since the outfield gets comparatively little wear, but sort of does if other sports like soccer will be played there, since maintenance costs on soccer grass fields are significantly higher. (Though still not necessarily as high as the cost of turf fields.)

Anyway, chalk this up as a partial-maybe-victory, depending on how much you feel a place is still the same place if all the elements are new. At least we’ll always have the t-shirts. And the flagpole.

Detroit council approves plan to replace Tiger Stadium field with fake turf

As expected, last night the Detroit city council approved the redevelopment of the old Tiger Stadium site by the Detroit Police Athletic League, clearing the way for building housing, retail, and a new PAL headquarters on the old stadium site. The ballfield itself, which in recent years has been maintained by volunteers from the Navin Field Grounds Crew, will be retained, but redone in artificial turf, over the opposition of the Grounds Crew and others.

There’s still a chance that the PAL will change its mind and preserve the old field, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. So it looks like the last surviving piece of one of baseball’s most historic stadiums will soon vanish (except for the flagpole, maybe?). If you never visited the stadium when it was still there, you can get a taste by checking out David Gratt’s requiem for the ballpark from 2003, which might help give some sense why anyone cares about saving a bunch of grass.

 

Detroit council to vote tonight on ripping up Tiger Stadium field, replacing it with easier-to-maintain fake turf

The Detroit city council is set to decide tonight on whether to approve the city Police Athletic League’s plan to turn the old Tiger Stadium site into a youth sports facility — something that would likely be heralded by all sides as a great solution (previous plans would have had buildings on top of the old ballfield) if not for the fact that it would require ripping up the grass field meticulously maintained by the volunteer Navin Field Grounds Crew and replacing it with artificial turf. The PAL is proposing this because it’s a more modern, better surface for — aw, hell, it’s just because it’s cheaper, okay?

Prof. John N. “Trey” Rogers of Michigan State University’s School of Turf Management says he advised PAL to use synthetic turf only because PAL had an insufficient budget and a lack of the expertise needed to maintain a natural grass field.

PAL wanted to use the field six to ten hours daily, Rogers says, but presented a maintenance budget of “less than six figures” annually—which indicated they wouldn’t be able to hire anyone with the expertise needed to maintain a grass field at that level of usage.

Asked whether if PAL had a sufficient budget they could maintain real grass, Rogers says definitely yes—“it just takes a lot of care and know-how to do it.”

There’s actually a good case to be made that turf is more expensive than grass over the long term, because you have to replace it every few years, whereas grass just has to be maintained. I’m personally hoping that the Grounds Crew’s petition succeeds in getting the city to direct the PAL to come up with a plan to preserve the grass, if only because I haven’t made it out to play a pickup game on the old field yet; we’ll find out tonight whether I, and any other interested baseball fans, will get the chance.

 

Tiger Stadium preservation plan could replace grass field with fake turf

Just ran across a bit more news on the proposed Tiger Stadium field preservation, courtesy of Anna Clark of Next City:

As it stands, the plan will privatize the baseball field. Only PAL teams will play on it, in contrast with the open-door policy of the Navin Field Grounds Crew. It is reasonable for PAL teams to have priority on the redeveloped field, but the public should be able to enjoy it in off hours.

PAL may change the grass of the original field to artificial turf. This follows the model of the recently restored League Park in Cleveland, baseball’s oldest existing Major League ballpark. But artificial turf on the Detroit field plays too casually with the idea of “preservation” and subtly insults the people who have been caring for the natural grass for free for years now — and will continue to do so for the next year, possibly two, before building begins. It should also not be taken lightly that at least a dozen people have had their ashes scattered on this grass.

Those are indeed concerns — with the artificial turf being especially pointless, since studies have found that fake turf doesn’t save any money over a well-maintained grass field when used for baseball. (Soccer, which delivers way more of a pounding, is another story.) If you want to chime in on any of this, the proposed developers have a comment site up at Popularise, so have at it.

Detroit signs developer to preserve Tiger Stadium field, surround it with buildings

The city of Detroit has picked Larson Realty as its developer for the site of Tiger Stadium (and hey, shoutout from Crain’s reporter Amy Haimerl to FoS correspondent David Dyte!), which means we get more renderings of the plan to preserve the old ballfield and surround it with low-rise buildings. Not necessarily better than the last set of renderings, but more:

(There’s also an image showing the new Police Athletic League building surrounded by what appear to be Cybermen ghosts, but that’s too disturbing to include here.)

Anyway, still many details to go, but it’s looking promising that the old Tiger Stadium field will be preserved, anyway, even if it’s too late for the stadium itself. (Though it’s marginally worrisome that the flagpole isn’t visible on these.) Which is good, because I still need to get out there for a softball game.

 

Detroit moves ahead with plans to preserve Tiger Stadium field, surround it with buildings

Pictures are in of what the Tiger Stadium site could look like under a redevelopment plan from the Detroit Police Athletic League:

And also this one:

That seems sorta okay, I guess, in that the field (which is still heavily used for softball) is preserved, and the buildings around it aren’t too ugly. I don’t know what’s up with the video projection system in that second image, but maybe kids today like watching their YouTube videos on the sides of buildings now.

The Detroit city council still needs to sign off on the deal, and I believe the PAL and the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy still need to finalize using the conservancy’s old $3 million federal earmark for youth baseball to help finance the plan. Yes, that’s public money, but a public ballfield isn’t the worst way to spend $3 million.