"We cannot only think about on the field," Tribe president Mark Shapiro said Thursday. "We also have to obsess about being innovative in every single aspect of fan experience in our business. The reality is, as sports entertainment has evolved, media and technology have impacted not only the way our fans view our game and our sport, but the way they consume it and experience it in the ballpark."
Hence, the major modifications soon to come to Progressive Field over the offseason.
A 100-percent privately funded facelift will completely revamp the Gate C entrance at East 9th Street, put the bullpens among the seats beyond the right-center-field wall, dramatically enhance the size and scope of the social gathering spaces for adults and kids alike, pay homage to the neighborhoods that make Cleveland special and celebrate a significant moment in the club's -- and the sport's -- history with a statue honoring Larry Doby, among other changes.
Called "The Progressive Field Evolution," most of the project is expected to be complete by Opening Day 2015, with the remainder completed early in the season. It will lead to a reduction in capacity for the 43,000-seat facility, which once housed a then-record 455 consecutive sellouts.
The new capacity, estimated by Shapiro to be between 37,000 and 38,000, will put more focus on group gathering spaces, whereas the original design emphasized seats and suites.
"The social connection theme came up not just through listening to our fans but from going to other ballparks and [seeing] what sections currently are the most popular ones," Shapiro said. "That's areas where they can actually interact with each other and still see the field and be connected with what's going on in the game."
The Indians are not planning any changes to their ticket price structure, but instead sought to, in Shapiro's words, "add value" to the current cost of a ticket.
"Obviously," Shapiro said, "we hope to increase demand."
The Indians are drawing an average of 18,659 fans per game this season -- the second-lowest tally in the Majors -- though television and radio ratings have been strong. While Shapiro acknowledged that team performance is the biggest driver toward ticket sales, the club identified a need to upgrade the fan experience itself.
And so, for the past four years, the club researched other sporting facilities around the country, as well as the preferences of its own fan base. The result is a project that will be completed with financial support from the Indians' food and beverage partner, Delaware North Companies, and does not include any funding tied to the Cuyahoga County "sin tax" on alcohol and tobacco, which voters agreed to extend this past spring.
By lease, the county is obligated to foot the bill for infrastructure improvements. The improvements the Indians have planned for this project go far beyond that.
Here's a full rundown of the changes:
Revamped Gate C: The Market Pavilion and Batter's Eye Bar will be leveled, but it's for the greater good. Promising a "dramatic entrance" with "dramatic views of the Cleveland skyline from inside the ballpark," the Indians will reorient the entrance near the current location of the Bob Feller statue to allow a better connection to the new developments across East 9th Street and a better view of the playing field for downtown residents and workers.
Social gathering space: The current Batter's Eye Bar is often overcrowded on summer days, with views of the field impeded. A new two-story bar will take root in right field, at the current location of the Budweiser Patio, giving patrons a unique view of the action on the field in a climate-controlled environment.
"We want people to enjoy that on more than just summer days," Shapiro said.
Interestingly, the bar will also extend down into the current location of the visitors' bullpen, giving patrons the ability to watch the game from field level.
New bullpens: So where does the visitors' bullpen go? Right alongside the home bullpen, with both reoriented in a tiered section just beyond the right-center-field wall. This, too, will create a unique viewpoint for fans, who will be in close proximity to relievers warming up. There will also be a small group of exclusive seats just in front of the bullpens.
It is worth noting here that the Indians will no longer be one of the few teams with three mounds in their bullpens, but the front office consulted with the coaching staff to confirm that the third mound is rarely utilized.
Connections to history: The recently unveiled Jim Thome statue and the Feller statue will be consolidated to one area in Gate C, where they will be joined by future statues. Those will include, in 2015, a statue honoring Doby, who broke the American League color barrier on July 5, 1947.
More of the high points of the 113-year-old franchise's history will be incorporated throughout the park, including the aforementioned bar, where a mock design optimistically features a World Series championship trophy.
Connections to Cleveland: The new Gate C concourse space -- currently a dark corridor -- will be opened up and receive more natural light as a result of a reduction in the concrete edifice above. This area will now feature food and drink selections from popular establishments from Ohio City, Tremont, University Circle and other neighborhoods.
"This will really bring life to a dark space," Shapiro said.
Expanded Kids Clubhouse: Just as the adults will have their two-story gathering space, so will the kids. In 2012, the Indians converted an area of suites into this popular family-friendly destination that includes a climbing wall, batting cage and pitching machine.
The new project will expand this section to a second level and renovate it with improved attractions. The current Mezzanine concourse will also be widened and enhanced with improved amenities for kids -- and views of the field for parents.
"We'll create an area for interaction and technology, as well as traditional baseball games for kids of all ages to play throughout that concourse," Shapiro said. "Also involved will be a Team Shop geared toward kids, and concession products."
New group seating area: The oft-empty Upper Reserved area in right field will no longer feature traditional seating, but will instead include terraced decks for group outings.
For games that do sell out, this area can serve as a standing-room-only section.
The Indians have other modification plans that are still in the working stages and could be announced in the next two or three years. But Shapiro said this project is the most comprehensive renovation.
"We want the experience to be more compelling," he said. "We want people to come to the ballpark."