As one of the many Minor League Baseball teams sporting new uniforms this season, the Chattanooga Lookouts (Class AA; Southern League) are mixing things up. That new look—which blends the team’s classic logo with a sleek, modern concept—will extend to AT&T Field, a ballpark that continues to be refreshed.
First opening in 2000 to replace the venerable Engel Stadium, AT&T Field has served the Lookouts well, with previous owner Frank Burke overseeing a very successful operation. However, AT&T Field had begun to show its age in recent years, prompting the new ownership group—headed by Hardball Capital and Chattanooga native John Woods—to make changes upon taking over before last season. Among those tweaks were upgraded concessions, an expanded left field deck, and revamped suites. The concessions in particular were a priority, with the team investing in new equipment and refining its menu options.
“Now, well-run teams are providing much higher quality food service,” said Hardball CEO Jason Frier. “We didn’t have the resources we needed to provide those kind of food services.” Freier added that the suites had pressing issues of their own. “When we bought the team, it was the same stuff in the suites—tables, countertops, carpets—from the day the ballpark opened. There were some good things about them constructionally, but they were showing their age.”
These upgrades helped modernize AT&T Field, but Hardball Capital and Woods had little time for execution. Last year’s purchase of the team was not finalized until 42 days before the Lookouts’ opener, meaning that this offseason was the first extensive chance the new ownership group had to continue refining the baseball experience in Chattanooga.
Following the 2015 season, the Lookouts underwent several changes, the most noticeable of which is their new uniform scheme. While it includes the Lookouts’ famous eyes logo, the overhauled branding is perhaps most striking because of its bold clash of red and black colors. That theme might be best exemplified by the ‘Nooga uniform, which will be worn during all Thursday home games at AT&T Field.
With their nods to tradition, these uniforms seem to be a perfect fit for a city whose professional baseball lineage traces back to 1885. Freier cited Chattanooga’s unwavering support as a reason for the its rich baseball tradition, and said that it has helped ownership work through some of the changes it has made to the team. “The Lookouts have been a big part of the Chattanooga community for a long time, and I think that gives us a great well to dip into.”
With their overhauled appearance, the Lookouts could spark new interest from fans when it comes to merchandise sales. That is why the club has made an expanded souvenir store the centerpiece of this offseason’s changes to AT&T Field.
This year, the Lookouts will unveil a team store that is double in size of the previous space. According to Freier, the Lookouts have expanded the team store not just because of the uniform changes, but also to carry a wider array of new items.
Another change that will be evident throughout the AT&T Field this year is brand new graphics and signage. Most of the directional signs—as well as the awnings and canopies—have been refreshed with new colors. There are also new signage plans for sponsorship areas on the outfield wall, as well as on the concourse, and a few areas of the ballpark could receive a fresh coat of paint later this season. “The ballpark will look a lot newer this year,” said Freier.
Down the road, it is possible that the Lookouts will look towards a new ballpark. The possibility has been raised in recent months for two primary reasons: Questions surrounding the long-term viability of AT&T Field, and Hardball Capital’s track record of opening new downtown ballparks, including Fort Wayne’s enviable Parkview Field and Columbia’s soon-to-open Spirit Communications Park.
However, when asked if a new ballpark proposal is on the horizon for Chattanooga, Freier emphasized that those plans cannot begin with ownership. “That’s never been something that’s been driven because of what we need and what we want,” Freier said of Hardball’s work in Fort Wayne and Columbia. “The stars also have to align for the city. If and when those stars align in Chattanooga, we will be ready, but it’s something that can’t be forced.”
Chattanooga’s economy has been on the upswing for some time, thanks to the steady growth of tech sector jobs in the city, the opening of Volkswagen assembly plant in 2011, and a growing mix of businesses locating in the city’s downtown area. AT&T Field’s downtown location puts it on the cusp of the action, and more development of the residential variety is taking place in the surrounding area.
Freier said that when Hardball Capital joined Woods and several other investors in purchasing the team, the expectation was that Chattanooga would be primed for success. However, it seems that the potential for Chattanooga is only getting stronger. “In the year we have been there, it has exceeded our expectations of what it is and what it can be.”
All images courtesy Chattanooga Lookouts.