For the 2017 season, the Madison Mallards (summer collegiate; Northwoods League) successfully reinvented the Great Dane Duck Blind. Long one of the most popular features at Warner Park (aka “The Duck Pond“), the unique Duck Blind has captured the Ballpark Digest Best Ballpark Improvement (Over $1M) award.
Located down the right-field line, the original Duck Blind debuted in 2001. It proved to be a popular destination at Warner Park, and the Mallards responded by completing several rounds of renovations and improvements over the years to keep up with the demand. While those adjustments allowed the space to function as a continually sought-after area for fans, the Mallards came to believe that the Duck Blind could be improved to reach a higher standard.
“The demand for this space had always been really great, and we tried to react to that demand,” said Big Top Baseball president Vern Stenman. “What ended up happening was that we had this really disconnected space that was still really popular, but it was not to up to the standards of the rest of the facility.”
This led to the Mallards considering how the project could help improve their offerings at Warner Park. “We started talking to our sales staff about what our big opportunities were, Stenman said. “One of the things was higher-end entertainment space.”
Leading up to the 2017 season, the Mallards constructed a new Great Dane Duck Blind that was built from shipping containers and resulted in a far more expanse space that offered a greater array of amenities than its predecessor. A total of 44 shipping containers were used in the construction project, with the result being a four-level structure and new field-level general admission seating down the right field line.
The first tier is a field-level area that features entertainment space and the Hangover bar. Climate-controlled suites and outside seating occupy the second level, with an indoor/outdoor patio on the third level, and a rooftop suite on the fourth. In addition, the project includes seats that have been recycled from other facilities. Seats pulled from Vivint Smart Home Arena—home of the NBA’s Utah Jazz—are on the first level, while seats from Wrigley Field and Louisville Slugger Field are used in other areas.
With this unique layout, the Mallards can now accommodate different types of fans, including millennials and higher-end groups that include company clients. The field-level proved to be popular with the younger crowd, while the other sections of the Great Dane Duck Blind enhanced the Mallards’ ability to cater to groups.
“We put DJs in there on Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights, and they would play a completely different sound track than they would hear in the stadium,” Stenman said of the first level. “It really created a different environment. Those things all came to together in that one project. We really wanted to do something that was corporate focused and millennial focused, so we feel that we were able to knock out a lot of priorities for the team with this one big project.”
Among the team’s other priorities for the space included hosting more events on a year-round basis—the Mallards hosted their first wedding in September—and to provide better sightlines. “Before, the decks were not elevated that high and didn’t have great views of the game,” Stenman Said. “The Hangover space has better views than we had before, but we also have the three elevated tiers that have nice views.”
With these elements, the Mallards are hoping that by providing more entertainment space and accommodating more types of fans, they can build success going forward. “That was something that was very important to us as we looked at the long term,” Stenman said, “We already had this great brand with the Duck Blind, but we thought that if we could make the space better, it would make the fan experience better and help us grow.”
This was a competitive year for ballpark improvements, with many teams making compelling cases in this category. We have decided to recognize a few of those clubs with an honorable mention.
The Binghamton Rumble Ponies (Class AA; Eastern League) completed a dramatic overhaul to NYSEG Stadium. As part of the project, the Rumble Ponies made significant upgrades to player, umpire, staff, and media areas, while improving the fan experience. Among the changes for the fans included a new right field entrance, an expanded fun zone, revamped merchandise store, and rebuilt suites. Furthermore, the team added new terrace seating as well as a new party deck that provided improved sightlines. “We were able to execute a well laid out plan to transform NYSEG stadium into a destination for the Southern Tier,” said Rumble Ponies owner John Hughes. “The joint Private/Public partnership could not have been executed better. A huge bonus for me was that 84% of the money was spent locally which really helped us group together and overcome the three feet of snow a month before Opening Day to get the job done.”
In an elaborate project, the Lake Elsinore Storm (High A; California League) completely overhauled their seating bowl at The Diamond. This led not only to new seats, but also a greater array of offerings. The project included new padded seats that were installed behind home plate, as well as wheelchair seats with improved sightlines. To improve their social areas and group offerings, the Storm added standing room drink rail spaces along the main concourse and installed high-top seats, flexible group seating boxes, and 4-top group seats.
2017 Ballpark Digest Award Winners
Executive of the Year: Ryan Keur
Best New Logo/Branding: Down East Wood Ducks
Best Ballpark Renovation (MiLB): Fluor Field, Greenville Drive
Broadcasters: Howard Kellman and Mick Gillespie
Past Ballpark Digest Ballpark Improvement (Over $1M) Winners
2016: The Choctaw Lazy River