Big changes are coming to Victory Field.
Indianapolis Indians fans in April will be greeted by $3.7 million in upgrades for the nearly 21-year-old ball park under way this offseason. And at least another $4 million in improvements are coming over the next two offseasons.
At the Tribe's annual shareholders meeting last week, Indians General Manager Randy Lewandowski discussed the changes fans will see this year and even bigger changes—possibly to the venue’s seating—in the next two years.
Lewandowski told IBJ afterward that Victory Field’s three seating options—lawn, general stadium seating and suites—are no longer enough to satisfy the demands of today’s sports fans. A number of sports venues—including Bankers Life Fieldhouse—have been upgraded recently to add more gathering places, social meeting areas and different kinds of premium seating and dining options.
Parkview Field, home of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, has 11 seating options, while Victory Field has three, Lewandowski said. “Fans want different types of experiences. We are out there checking into that.”
The Indians are in “fact-finding mode,” and options such as club seats and loge boxes are being discussed, he said. In all, Lewandowski said, Indians officials have six or seven projects they are considering over the next two years.
The Indians recently conducted focus groups on the topic. Team officials told shareholders that “substantial” changes could be coming to the venue’s seating offerings.
The Indians’ lease deal signed last year with the city’s Capital Improvement Board calls for the CIB to pay $6 million over three years, $2 million of which is being spent this offseason and $2 million in each of the next two off seasons, for improvements to the ballpark on the west edge of downtown.
Lewandowski said the team won’t hesitate to pay additional money itself if a project calls for extra cash and is deemed worthy to boost the fan experience.
CIB Executive Director Barney Levengood said his organization, which owns Victory Field along with Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana Convention Center, “is in preliminary talks with the Indians about some potential changes” to Victory Field.
“We’ve had conversations with the Indians in relation to the seating,” Levengood said.
Despite those discussions, don’t expect the Indians to remove any suites, as some professional sports teams have in recent years. For 2017, the Indians already have sold out 22-3/4 of the 23 suites they sell on a season basis, and sales on the seven suites team officials sell on a game-by-game basis are ahead of last year’s base. “We’re bucking the trend there,” Lewandowski said.
The CIB must approve any changes. The projects likely would be put out for bid this summer or fall, and the CIB must approve the vendor and cost of the project, Levengood explained.
The first things likely to catch fans’ eyes—and ears—this season will be a new high-definition outfield scoreboard, ribbon board and stadium sound system. The 35-by-50-foot scoreboard will be three times larger than the previous one and much brighter and clearer. Fans will no longer have to squint through the sunlight to see the west-facing scoreboard, Lewandowski said.
Those improvements, which should be done by the end of this month, will cost $2.5 million. Since the project went over what the CIB agreed to pay, the Indians are paying the additional $500,000.
Victory Field visitors also will notice significant changes to the ballpark’s concession offerings this season.
As part of a new 10-year deal that the Indians signed with Aramark, the concessionaire agreed to invest $1.2 million in digital menu boards, new signage and other upgrades including newly decorated walls and a new cash register system designed to speed up credit card and other transactions.
In addition to the enhancements, Aramark also will launch “a couple new concepts,” Lewandowski said, including the Indy Burger Kitchen, which will serve gourmet burgers, and Loaded which will feature such delicacies as tater tots and Sun King beer-infused sauces.
The new Aramark deal pays the Indians less up-front and more in percentage of sales, Lewandowski explained, adding that the Indians expect a 5 percent to 8 percent increase in concession revenue this year over last. Last year, the team scored nearly $2.4 million from its former agreement with Aramark.
“We’ve flipped the model,” Lewandowski said. “We’re betting on our attendance.”
Despite a 4 percent attendance decline last year, the Indians have increased their season home attendance by about 100,000 annually since 2009. Last year the Indians led all of Minor League Baseball by drawing 636,888 to 71 home games.
There’s one other thing Indians fans will notice. The team signed a handful of sponsor deals this offseason including agreements with Sun King, Pepsi, IUPUI, Dunkin Donuts, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and McDonald’s.
The IMS and McDonald’s deals are especially noteworthy. It’s the first time the Indians and the Speedway have signed a deal to do cross promotions. And the one-year McDonald’s deal was signed after a seven-plus year pursuit. That deal brought a big cheer from the team’s sales department during the annual meeting.
“McDonald’s is going to have a big presence at Victory Field,” Lewandowski said. “It’s going to be all about kids and families and healthy food choices and wellness. We’re really excited about that relationship.”