April 11, 2011
Last Tuesday I went to a Royals game at Kauffman Stadium hoping, maybe even expecting, to put up big numbers. After all, it was an early April weekday against the not-so-popular Chicago White Sox. No problem, right? Wrong. It was at 5:30pm when I found out Kauffman Stadium's newest policy for the 2011 season. The stadium gates would open only 1 hour early on weekdays and 1.5 hours early on weekends. That's all. Kauffman Stadium's gate opening times are now the latest in MLB.
My first thought was frustration. Royals' management pushed forward their opening time again! In 2009, the first season at the newly renovated Kauffman Stadium, they opened 2.5 hours early on weekdays and 3 hours early on weekends during the summer. It was fantastic! Last year, they pushed the gate opening times to only 90 minutes before first pitch. That was bad enough. I remember last May when the Royals opened the gates 2 hours early before a particular game for "Girls' Night Out". You had to have a special "Girls' Night Out" Ticket to get in at that time. I caved in and bought the ticket - and it turned out to be a great move on my part. While most of the fans were up in the concourse taking part in the event, I was in the seating bowl collecting baseballs with significantly less competition. This should never have to happen. A team should open its gates early for everyone to enjoy batting practice. The Royals' questionable decision to open the gates only 60 minutes early in 2011 made me wonder... Why would a baseball club do such a thing? It doesn't make sense to me.
Let's take a look around the Major Leagues. Most ballparks open their gates to fans 1.5-2 hours early to fans, with more time usually allotted on weekends. While this looks more appealing in my eyes, I still think the gate open times should be pushed back. I strongly believe that hometown fans should have the opportunity to see their team take batting practice. Most stadium gates don't open in time for fans to see their team bat. If they do, it is usually the tail end. Teams should allow their fans access to see the players they whole-heartedly support. Unfortunately, I have accepted that this probably won't happen. Home teams bat far too early.
From a business side, opening the ballpark early makes sense. Fans should not only be allowed to show up early, but they should be encouraged to do so. After all, the earlier you get the fans in, the more money they could potentially spend. Some may argue that the costs of paying the employees for that extra half hour or hour do not offset the revenue. How about just opening the outfield area of the ballpark? Many teams already do this, and I think it's a step in the right direction to cater to baseball collectors and casual fans alike.
A team that operates their facility right in my mind is the Colorado Rockies. They open the outfield gates to Coors Field a respectable two hours early. But more importantly, they encourage their fans to get to the game early and enjoy batting practice- it says so right on their website. Not only that, but they make the idea of catching your very own baseball more appealing by giving their "clean catch" pin. This is a fantastic idea that encourages fans of all ages to get to the ballpark early, catch a ball, and spend money! It's win-win. While I have never been to a Rockies game, these reasons make it very appealing to make the trip in the near future.
I also like the way the Orioles run Camden Yards in Baltimore. We all know Camden Yards is great for catching baseballs because of its spacious outfield seating and frequently low attendance. At Camden Yards, they open the outfield area of Eutaw Street two hours before the game. Season ticket holders are then allowed in the seating bowl for batting practice half an hour before everyone else. I like this idea because it is a great way to reward your most loyal fans. It gives fans a chance to interact with the players they spend so much money to see.
Teams like the Royals could learn from teams like the Rockies and Orioles. Passionate and casual fans alike could benefit from getting into the ballpark earlier. Let's face it; 60 minutes is barely enough time to walk around the stadium, visit the team store, find my seat, and choke down a hotdog. I strongly hope the Royals and other teams revisit their gate opening policy. They could be missing out on a great number of opportunities.
Garrett Meyer is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com.