While major upgrades might get most of the attention in the ballpark landscape, there are times when smaller improvements enhance the fan experience by leaps and bounds. As part of this year’s award slate, Ballpark Digest is looking to recognize that spectrum of upgrades with Best Ballpark Improvement (Under $1 Million).
This year’s winner in that category is The Perch, an addition at TVA Credit Union Ballpark by the Johnson City Cardinals (Rookie; Appalachian League).
Over the offseason, Boyd Sports—the owner of the Tennessee Smokies (Class AA; Southern League)—was brought in to manage the Cardinals. While looking to the future with a series of ballpark upgrades, Boyd Sports left some of the Cardinals key front officials in place, including general manager Tyler Parsons.
In the seasons leading up to the management change, Parsons oversaw a major shift in Johnson City, which was the reintroduction of alcohol sales. Though the initial push in 2014 to reinstate beer at the ballpark—which been absent for roughly a decade—was met with some early skepticism, beer sales proved to be steady over a two-season period.
While reviewing the increasing trend of beer sales, the Cardinals also wanted to spruce up their offerings and provide more than traditional gameday seating. “We wanted to add a different group amenity,” said Parsons. “We wanted to accelerate our group sales, and bring in more company outings.”
With that, The Perch was added to the round of upgrades that took place at TVA Credit Union Ballpark prior to the 2016 season. Doubling as a beer garden and group space, the 250-seat, two-tiered area was constructed down the leftfield line.
Completed at a cost of about $250,000, The Perch was an amenity that the Cardinals believed would allow TVA Credit Union Ballpark to adapt to more modern trends. “I think that it coincides with trends in baseball and professional sports, which is that teams are looking to add hospitality areas,” said Parsons. “What we really lacked in this ballpark was a social space where they could get away from their seats.”
In July we included the Cardinals in a feature on the increasing presence of beer sales across the Appalachian League. Once a rarity in the circuit, beer and alcohol are now being used by a majority of the league’s teams to enhance concessions and group offerings while also attracting a younger demographic of fans.
Though it was only about a month old at the time, The Perch was one of the latest signs of this trend’s viability. Throughout this season—which saw it receive a corporate partner and become The Perch, presented by Bill Gatton Mazda-Acura—it managed to be a popular destination for fans.
“What we saw this year was a lot of momentum with the other renovations, and The Perch added to our demographic getting younger,” said Parson. “It definitely increased our beer sales, which more than doubled from last year.”
Down the road The Perch may have a companion at TVA Credit Union Ballpark. The Cardinals are about to begin the process of installing a synthetic surface, a change that will be complete by the start of the 2017 season. Parsons said that the Cardinals will take at least one season to assess that change, but added that a second Perch-style deck could be added to the first base side down the road.
For now, The Perch manages to stand out on its own as one of the most unique and beneficial upgrades of the 2016 season. It also allows the Cardinals to become the first Appalachian League team to be recognized with an annual Ballpark Digest award. “That’s an amazing honor considering the long history of the Appalachian League,” Parsons said.
Images courtesy Johnson City Cardinals.
Other 2016 Award Winners
Broadcaster of the Year: Sean Aronson, St. Paul Saints