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DODGER STADIUM AT 40 YEARS

Their Blue Haven

It's not the youngest park anymore, but no one wants to replace it

June 18, 2002|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Peter O'Malley stood on the mound and smiled approvingly because Dodger Stadium still sparkled on its 40th anniversary.

There to deliver the season's ceremonial first pitch April 2, the club's former owner was joined by a sellout crowd in celebrating another milestone at the stadium that his late father, Walter, envisioned being baseball's "Taj Mahal," and which continues to impress after all these years. But although O'Malley reveled in the moment, he is aware of the reality facing the major leagues' fourth-oldest facility.

"The challenge today, just like the Cubs have in Chicago with Wrigley Field or the Red Sox in Boston with Fenway Park, is, 'How do you stay competitive with these very fan-friendly new stadiums?' " he said. "To be competitive today, particularly with player salaries continuing to escalate, the teams must raise their revenues, must grow revenues, and that's difficult in a stadium that's 40, 50 or 60 years old. Very difficult."

The 56,000-seat hilltop structure at Chavez Ravine continues to be a cash cow for the Dodgers--keeping the club among baseball's top revenue producers--and a beloved community treasure. But despite a recent $50-million facelift, the ballpark can't keep pace with the Dodgers' spiraling expenses, including a $100-million payroll. Fox would rather continue to subsidize the Dodgers through annual loans than privately finance a new stadium, which could cost as much as $600 million, and there would be no support for public financing at the site.

The Dodgers dismiss speculation they might leave their golden perch to share a downtown multipurpose facility if one was built to lure back the NFL, so maximizing the building's earning potential is a key to the franchise's future. However, that's complicated because of management's sensitivity about the traditions established under the family-friendly O'Malleys.

"Is the stadium still viable? Absolutely," said President Bob Graziano, in his 17th year with the club. "The main reason it's still viable is because over the last 40 years we've put a significant amount of money into the stadium to keep it looking as good and performing as well as it has since the day it opened. Things continue to have to be done to the stadium, as with a house or a car, and that's what we've done.

"When you look at the new ballparks, the revenue streams that Dodger Stadium didn't have three, four, five years ago we now have. We're talking about luxury suites, dugout seats and other items that now make us more competitive. Are we number one in terms of stadium revenues? No. But what we've been able to do is maintain the tradition of Dodger Stadium while at the same time enhancing revenue streams."

Fenway Park is the majors' oldest facility, having opened for baseball in 1912. The first game was played at Wrigley Field in 1914 and Yankee Stadium opened in 1923. Like Dodger Stadium, those ballparks have undergone many modernization projects throughout the decades, with Yankee Stadium reopening in 1976 after having been closed for two years for refurbishing.

In the National League West, the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants play in recently constructed, state-of-the-art ballparks, and the San Diego Padres' new stadium is under construction. In an attempt to keep up, the Dodgers made significant additions to Dodger Stadium before the 2000 season.

On the club level, they added 33 luxury suites, several conference rooms, a business center and renovated the Stadium Club. A nine-row, 565-seat area was added behind the dugouts and a sports bar-themed Dugout Club was built.

Although the club has not sold out the suites, which can be leased for $275,000 to $300,000 for a full season, or the dugout seats, listed between $175 and $200, the additions have provided a major revenue boost.

Citing major league policy, the Dodgers declined to reveal their total operating revenue, of which most is stadium generated. However, according to numbers reported to the House Judiciary Committee in December and obtained by The Times, the Dodgers generated an all-time revenue high of $143.607 million in 2001--based on ticket sales, concessions, parking, stadium signage and broadcasting payments--ranking eighth in baseball. The Yankees, annually atop the list because of their industry-high broadcast rights, were No. 1 at $242.208 million.

The Dodgers' revenue increased more than $13 million from 2000, the first season of the suites and dugout seats. The club's 1995 revenue of $69 million was less than half of the 2001 total.

Last season, the Giants were fifth in revenue at $172.950 million, the Rockies No. 11 at $131.813 million, the Diamondbacks No. 14 at $125.132 million and the Padres 24th at $79.722 million. Local TV, cable and radio payments accounted for about $25 million of the Dodgers' revenue and about $17 million of the Giants' total, and each team receives about $15 million from Fox's national TV package.

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