As baseball stadiums across the country welcome back guests this year, fans may not realize the extensive hours of maintenance and construction work that went on behind the scenes to get the ballpark ready for opening day.
Dale Koger and Gary Birdsall lead PCL’s Sports Construction Division and together have helped build or renovate 12 Major League Baseball (MLB) stadiums over the course of their careers. According to Koger, working on a baseball stadium in the offseason is uniquely challenging when compared to other sports arenas.
“Almost any maintenance or update the stadium needs has to be done in the offseason, which is shorter than other professional sports,” says Koger. “To put it in perspective, an NFL team has eight home games a year. An MLB team has 81.”
“Certainly they have home and away games, but it’s challenging to be effective and efficient working only when the team is away. Usually we pack in as much work as we can do in five months.”
Birdsall adds, “The only kind of sports facility that’s more difficult to renovate or upgrade is an arena that hosts both NBA basketball and NHL hockey.”
Not only are MLB stadium renovation projects done on this compressed timeline, but their planned completion dates very seldom afford any wiggle room.
“Pro league schedules don’t get changed unless there’s a catastrophe,” says Koger. “So the construction team has to be out of that stadium before opening day—earlier, actually, to give the client time to set up and test new equipment.”
It all adds up to an unusual degree of complexity for even the most routine renovation – partnering with an experienced contractor is key.
PCL’s recent work on Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles provides a window into how a construction team can work within these confines to deliver a project that exceeds client expectations and creates a great fan experience.
During the 2020 offseason, a PCL team based in Los Angeles and led by Special Projects Manager Jeyre Lewis reshaped the stadium to improve the live baseball experience for Dodgers fans.
“We removed all of the concessions in the outfield and cut the top portion of the seating,” says Lewis. “We connected the pedestrian circulation with installation of four new escalators. Before it was segmented and now you can walk around the entire park. This helped reduce pedestrian congestion and open up more of the park to the fans.”
“We also installed new concessions, cut out areas in the stadia seating in left and right field, new home-run seating, and indoor pavilion bars. The last piece of the project was adding new landscaping including the iconic Los Angeles palm trees.”
Finishing work this extensive and wide-ranging during a single offseason required close collaboration between PCL, its subcontractors, and the client—especially because Dodgers Stadium hosted the LA Marathon and several concerts during the offseason while the project was ongoing.
Lewis credits the success of the project to two factors.
The first is extremely careful planning before work began. PCL’s construction team spent over a year working closely with the design team to find a way to achieve the client’s goals within the available budget.
“It was a lengthy process, but it proved its value,” he says. “PCL and the design team had to think outside the box and work through the project’s unique challenges. It allowed us to show the innovative thinking we’re known for in the industry.”
The second factor is the special consideration and pride that the PCL team brings to each project.
“There’s a real sense of achievement you get working on something like Dodgers stadium,” says Lewis, who is a Dodgers fan himself. “You feel that energy walking on site. We all want to make sure we’re done in time for the season so the fans can enjoy it, so the kids can enjoy it.
“It’s a different sense of urgency but an exciting one.”
Birdsall and Koger also get a special kick out of working on baseball projects.
“There are many PCL projects that aren’t open to the public once they’re done,” says Koger, who also played second base for the Hokies while he attended Virginia Tech. “Building or working on a ballpark is very fun because you get to enjoy your work after it’s completed and share it with family and friends.”
“As a fan, when we get involved with this, it’s almost like being a little kid again,” says Birdsall.
Birdsall and Koger keep a close watch on all new sports stadium construction and renovations in North America to notice industry trends. They say that MLB stadiums are being reshaped to lure in a particular generation.
“As teams analyze their revenue and ticket bases, they’re trying to look ahead and attract tomorrow’s customer,” says Birdsall. “They are creating what we call ‘Millennial Zones’ to attract them.”
A Millennial Zone turns over some seating space in a stadium to embed different attractions, amenities and technology that younger sports fans enjoy.
“Many people today want to do more than sit and watch the game,” says Birdsall. “We see a lot of projects that do things like let people order craft cocktails or track game stats in real-time on their phones.”
New technology is also being integrated into stadiums in other ways. Koger points to concessions offering touchless and cashless checkout and networks of “smart” cameras around stadiums that can monitor foot traffic to help fans minimize the time spent in line.
“Say you want to get a burger and some fries during the game,” he says. “With these systems you can look at your phone and see all the concessions in the building and how long each line is.”
Lewis agrees that more amenities and interactive space are on the horizon for MLB stadiums.
“The trend I see is a movement towards more interactive venues, places you can bring your whole family to,” he says. “There are lots of ways to heighten that fan experience.”