Petco: Lessons Learned

As beautiful as the setting and architecture of Petco Park is, the ballpark is not without its faults. Like just about every ballpark built in the last 20 years, it could’ve benefited from a a few design changes and a better sense of scale. None of the criticisms I have are anything more than minor, but it’s something to think about when planning for a new A’s ballpark.

Petco trolley bridge

Its capacity of 42,691 is at least 2k too much for the market, though that’s easy to say in hindsight. The Padres eclipsed the 3 million mark only once in their 8-year history at Petco. Attendance per game has dipped below 30,000 in the last couple of years. If the team were to do it again they might have dropped the capacity to 40,000. There may be a solid argument to reduce the capacity to 37-38,000, but let’s be serious about this – when many of these parks were planned out a decade ago a capacity less than 40k would’ve been considered defeatist. PNC Park was the only park of that sara with a 38k capacity, and it made sense considering the Pirates’ place as a small-market, third tier team in a football town.

Day vs. Night Gap

8 years is enough to establish Petco as the most pitcher-friendly in the majors. It was even worse when it first opened, when the right-center dimension was a fly ball-killing 411 feet. The only change was in bringing that fence in to 400 feet, which has had little effect. During Wednesday’s game I saw three balls that would’ve been out elsewhere that were caught on the warning track. There’s already talk of bringing in the fences again, though I expect that it’ll be another similar half-measure. To give hitters a chance, new fences will have to be drawn up for the entirety of lett field and right field. The corners can remain the same since they’re fair. The right field wall is around 382 feet in the power alleys, and the wall itself is 12 feet high. Both are much too large. If they Padres add four rows and lower the wall to 8-9 feet it’ll be a much more fair park. This can be done taking the notch of seats that juts out from the corner and even it out through the rest of the wall. The place is probably due to replace the incandescent scoreboard with a full color LED model like the video board to the left, so there’s an excuse to make the change. The four rows could come from cleaving the top rows from the second deck in RF. A similar treatment can be done in LF. Net effect: more fair ballpark, no change in capacity. While we’re at it, the top rows of third deck (grandstand) could also stand to be removed. Removing four rows would bring the capacity down to 40,000.

RF Fence

Even with those quibbles, Petco still has a great deal of positive attributes that I didn’t get to in the previous post:

  • The front rows of the second deck (Toyota Terrace) are uneven from the infield to the outfield. It looks strange from afar. When you’re standing along the field level concourse it makes all the sense in the world. An extra 2-3 feet of vertical clearance opens up the viewing angle so that fans down the LF and RF lines can see the scoreboard across the way and more of the stadium. Standing fans along the infield are closer to the action so they don’t need such a treatment. Instead they get small scoreboards of their own and a host of HDTVs to check out replays, all tucked under the second deck.
  • The Western Metal Supply building, which was to be demolished in the original plan, was preserved and integrated into the ballpark. It’s the perfect example of the burgeoning trend of party suites in ballparks, and a fantastic example of adaptive reuse.
  • Suites are tucked under cantilevered upper decks, which are something of a mixed bag. From a practical standpoint, that placement reduces the load and allows for greater seating capacity in the second deck, and to a lesser degree, the lower deck. These are definitely not the closest to the field among new ballparks, though that aspect may not matter much to the consumers of suites. It’s not like there’s much local competition for premium seating as there is back in the Bay Area.
  • The whole grandstand feels overbuilt, and that’s a show of strength. Massive trusses support the cantilevers and are confidence-inspiring. They also appears to be something of a tribute to the numerous large steel ships, including Navy vessels, in the nearby harbor.
  • The towers which hold suites don’t seem to be as much of signature pieces as I thought they would be when they were initially unveiled. Perhaps this because they hold suites and not more publicly accessible areas. Maybe it’s because the towers don’t continue all the way down the stadium to grade. Whatever the case, they’re striking but at this point, mostly a visual affectation.
  • There are still a lot of old standard definition CRT TVs scattered throughout. I suspect that a tech upgrade is due soon, with the scoreboards and TVs done in a package deal.
  • Under the outfield seating decks are two sets of tributes. In right is the military tribute, including a scale model of the USS Midway. In left, behind the Western Metal Supply building, are tributes to the history of baseball in San Diego, and the history of the Gaslamp Quarter. The latter is whitewashed to a Disney-esque sheen, but it’s still informative. There are also large photos and quotes from past Padres, including some guy you may be familiar with.

If I have any say over it, someday Rickey will have a huge statue and a room in a museum dedicated to his exploits.

33 thoughts on “Petco: Lessons Learned

  1. Sorry to be a buzzkill, but this is not my favorite place. There’s too much cantilever for a stadium with two sets of luxury boxes, and the third deck feels way too steep and high. At the same time, the last few rows in the lower deck are pretty crappy with the overhang. I sat in the club level right above third base and even that was kind of claustrophobic. While overhangs may have worked at Tiger Stadium and old Comiskey Park with the lack of luxury suites, that they’re there really screw up the upper and top of the lower decks. Even if they’re not actually that high or steep, it sure feels that way.
    I fail to see the point of the park at the park. Why have the sand in front of the seats and why have it all behind the fence rather than above it? I get that it’s a cheap ticket, but you may as well make the view semi-decent.
    And the second deck in LF is really unnecessary. The second deck is actually OK, but it almost totally covers the first deck, putting your traditional seats for sun-lovers in the shade. If I were trying to eliminate a couple thousand seats, I’d build the second level down to the fence (they’d be like the LF seats in Cleveland) and eliminate the first level.
    I like that they used the Western Metal Supply building, but it gets dwarfed by the size of the stadium. The warehouse in Baltimore works because it dominates the landscape. In SD, it does not.
    Add in an almost-always-placid crowd and it’s not my kinda place.

  2. Interesting thought Brian. If I may: I’d get rid of the upper deck in LF and make the scoreboard HUGE ala Comerica Park from the “now Sun drenched” lower level. I would also get rid of the upper deck in RF.
    Hopefully Mr. Wolff is taking note on designing Cisco Field. BTW RM, someone in the last thread mentioned the Angels getting (or building) a new ballpark; is that true or a possibility?

    • @Tony D – Angels Stadium has always been considered a temporary solution. The economics have always dictated that it would be hard to move. I recall Arte Moreno exercising an option that will keep the team in Anaheim through at least 2021.

  3. BTW, Oriole Park at Camden Yards IS STILL BEAUTIFUL! GO A’S!!

  4. The Park at the Park is a signature feature of the park. It ties the whole thing into the city being open year round making the ballpark a part of the actual neighborhood. Not sure what there isn’t to get about it. It’s one of the best parts of PETCO that makes it stand head and shoulders above most of the new parks which are largely closed off when games aren’t being played.

  5. As a father of three young girls, the Park in the Park is completely fabulous. We will have to agree to disagree on that, Brian.
    Camden Yards is easily my favorite park. I have to go and check out a few more parks, I have only been to about a third of the current stadiums in the league. But it is hard to imagine a better experience than hitting Sliders for some Old Bohemian and walking around Camden Yards during BP. I had really sweet seats when I went there, that didn’t hurt.
    Watching the game now makes me wish I was back there.

  6. The “he” in my previous comment refers, of course, to Arte Moreno.

  7. Perhaps this is a little TOO academic, but I have always felt that Petco Park would have been better served by retaining the original street grid instead of creating the diagonal Park Boulevard.
    This is a map of the original street grid:

    Had the original grid been preserved, the ballpark could have been bounded on the south by Imperial Avenue and on the east by 10th Avenue.
    The other boundaries would have been the same: 7th Avenue as the western boundary, and K Street (perhaps more like Yawkey Way instead of being a permanent pedestrian street) as the northern boundary, with the “Park at the Park” on the other side. 8th Avenue and 9th Avenue still would have ended at J Street.
    This site would have been much wider East-West than North-South, so there would have been space for “premium” parking structures and commercial/retail space connected to the ballpark’s eastern edge.

  8. Interesting link pudgie re Angels and a possible ballpark in downtown LA. In a way, the article kind of highlights the absurdity of the Giants “exclusive” TRights to SJ; the Angels could hypothetically move to within 3-miles of Dodger Stadium and the Dodgers could do nothing about it, yet (currently) the A’s can’t move 35-miles further from the Giants because of said absurdity. Thankfully, this historic absurdity appears to be on its death knell, and our A’s will soon join the ranks of teams with spanking new ballparks 😉

  9. Petco shows that an awesome new ballpark is not a panacea unto itself. The Padres still struggle and generally considered a “small market” team, even though San Diego is the second largest CA city. But then again, San Diego’s corporate base isn’t that great – lots of military and tourism instead, sort of the Honolulu of California.
    San Jose / SCCO, by contrast, is one of the richest corporate markets in the world.

  10. San Diego remains “small market” not because of the corporate base in San Diego but because it actually is a small market. The Padres if I’m not mistaken have the smallest exclusive market population wise in MLB. Area wise their exclusive market only consists of San Diego and Imperial Counties which between them only have a little over 3 million people. Which means they also have one of the smallest TV markets as well which we all know is where the money really comes from. I mean look at what’s happening with their TV deal right now. There are 40 something Fox Sports Nets out there and San Diego’s is the only one that Time Warner Cable does not carry (which means half of the Padres exclusive TV area can’t even watch the team).
    Comparatively the A’s are a small market team only because their owner has been a cheap ass the last 20 years and because they play in an ever decaying piece of crap stadium. Trade out either of those and the A’s, like the Giants, would suddenly become a big market team overnight. Which is why MLB has told the A’s their revenue sharing checks will cease arriving the day they move into a new bay area park (San Jose or Oakland). They A’s play in a big market, they just chose to be a “small market” team under the Schott ownership regime and are now stuck as one during the Wolff regime in part due to his suboptimal running of the team and their crappy stadium.

  11. Also, Pudgie, just bizarre that Arte Moreno is considering downtown LA. I can’t fathom two MLB ballparks being that close to each other these days (3 miles). I mean we’re talking about a distance that is less than half of the next closest ballparks currently in play (Citi Field and Yankee Stadium II which are 8 miles apart). Dodger and a downtown Angels park would be the closest ballparks in proximity since the days of the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium I. On top of that the Angels would very likely be leaving behind a large portion of their current fanbase in Orange County due to the reality of how hard it is to move around the greater LA area on the hope they’d pick up new fans in LA County where the Dodgers in many ways have a 55 year head start (and where the Dodgers are considering a Fenway style renovation of their stadium which for all intents is the west coast answer to Fenway Park being a stadium mecca in and of itself).

  12. @Dan,
    Obviously not our resident “Dan.” Three things have contributed to the A’s being small market, 1) age of coliseum, 2) Mt. Davis and 3) opening of Pac Bell Park in 2000. Alas, Cisco Field will make A’s BIG market and all will be well in our universe. BTW, A’s currently at. 500 and signed Cespedes with some serious coin; considering what they have do work with financially, don’t view Wolff as being that “cheap.”
    Agree with you on Angels however; don’t see them leaving the OC for downtown LA. Got traffic?

  13. “Comparatively the A’s are a small market team only because their owner has been a cheap ass the last 20 years and because they play in an ever decaying piece of crap stadium. Trade out either of those and the A’s, like the Giants, would suddenly become a big market team overnight.”
    Walter Haas pretty well debunked this theory. Spending wildly can increase attendance in Oakland, but not enough to recoup costs. It’s not sustainable. And that was before premium seating drove stadium revenue, and before there was an AT&T Park to compete with.
    This argument is similar to the “tax cuts grow the economy and pay for themselves” argument. Real world experience has been, they may help grow the economy, but not enough to pay for themselves.

  14. Tony, it’s me. Every time I don’t agree with you for some reason you think I’m someone else.

  15. Bart, if anything Wally Haas proved the A’s could be a big market team. Yes he ran the team at a loss, but just barely and while he was doing so they had one of the highest payrolls and attendances in all of baseball. Had Wally not died things may have turned out differently than they did under the Schott regime. Remember Wally ran the team in the era before PSL’s, extensive club suites, club seats, multi-billion dollar TV deals, etc… Had those things been around when Wally ran the team with his open wallet approach he would have been running a successful team AND have been making money. Not unlike Arte Moreno is doing today down in Anaheim (I see Arte as a modern day incarnation of the Haas style of ownership).
    Of course that ship has sailed. But the A’s being small market is not purely a function of the crappy ballpark even if it’s a major factor in it. The owners play a part in that as well.

  16. @ Dan “if anything Wally Haas proved the A’s could be a big market team.”
    I would say the contrary, that he proved pretty conclusively this could not be done sustainably in Oakland, even before there was a powerhouse team in an gem of a ballpark only 12 miles away, and even before being “big market” was dependent on corporate customers that don’t exist in the East Bay.
    “Yes he ran the team at a loss, but just barely”
    As I recall, they lost something like thirty million dollars in only four years (and those were 1980s dollars). Assuming my recollection is correct, I’d hardly say that was “barely” a loss.
    “and while he was doing so they had one of the highest payrolls and attendances in all of baseball.”
    If you can’t at least break even doing this, it is irrelevant. The Pittsburgh Pirates could have a $300 million payroll, too – if they were willing to lose over $200 million.
    “Had Wally not died things may have turned out differently than they did under the Schott regime.”
    How can you say this with a straight face? Before he died, Haas had already recognized this approach was not sustainable and began dismantling the team. Attendance fell off a cliff in response. All evidence is, had Haas lived longer, he would have been running the team much like Schott.
    “Remember Wally ran the team in the era before PSL’s, extensive club suites, club seats, multi-billion dollar TV deals, etc…”
    All of which, except TV, are dependent on having corporate customers nearby that Oakland does not have. Thus, even if your premise were true in 1989 (and the evidence is, even Haas recognized it was not), it’s not true in 2012.
    “Had those things been around when Wally ran the team with his open wallet approach he would have been running a successful team AND have been making money.”
    No, he just would have been losing more money. Corporate customers are the most casual of casual fans. Proximity is paramount, and most of these customers are in SF or Silicon Valley. AT&T Park is significantly more convenient for 90% of these customers, and that’s where they would go. But again, evidence is that Haas realized his approach was not viable even before he would have faced these additional challenges which make it even less viable.
    “Not unlike Arte Moreno is doing today down in Anaheim (I see Arte as a modern day incarnation of the Haas style of ownership).”
    Totally different situation. Orange and Riverside Counties have over five million people, not even counting the significant portion of LA County which is more convenient to Anaheim than Dodger Stadium. Orange County has way more corporate base than the East Bay, and the Angels compete far less directly with the Dodgers than the A’s do with the Giants, especially considering the horrible SoCal traffic.
    Dan, we see this argument here a lot, but it’s wildly speculative. There is no evidence that this works, and a lot of evidence it does not.

  17. @OUR Dan,
    My bad. Didn’t think it was you due to the “harshness” directed towards Wolff (ie cheap ass). Remember, he’s also building you guys a soccer SSS on his own dime. 😉 Off to Santa Cruz all…behave yourselves while I’m away (lol!).

  18. @ ML – Way OT – Per rule (a) of the Division of Post-Season Receipts, the Office of the Commissioner receives 15% of all gate receipts from the World Series games, an undisclosed percentage (set by the commissioner with the approval of MLEC) of the first 4 games of the LCS (League Championship Series) and the first 4 games of the LDS (League Division Series). Remember the LCS and DS is for both NL and AL. My question is……… you know where these revenues go? Are they put into some kind of fund for the entire MLB to be distributed accordingly per some agreement? Just curious. Sorry in advance for asking a question, which has nothing to do with this thread. MLB finances are kind of murky. Thanks.

  19. That should have been the first (3) games of the LDS.

  20. @Tony, actually he’s yet to build said soccer stadium despite ground breaking being planned for Feb-March of this year. We’re now almost in May and they’ve still not even established a date to potentially break ground. Hence part of my frustration with the guy. He not only runs both his teams on the cheap off and on field, but he drags his feet on doing anything. No soccer stadium, no challenge to MLB over territorial rights, not much of anything in fact after 7 years except promises of things to come. I’m still waiting…

  21. I definitely can see where Dan’s frustration is coming from. On the Earthquakes stadium front, what the heck are we waiting for? The stadium should’ve been built four years ago but Wolff was supposedly was waiting for a naming rights sponsor. Then finally this year (after almost four years) the Quakes went ahead with submitting their application for development permit. The Quakes were supposed to break ground in February. There STILL isn’t a date for a ground breaking yet. This is creating doubt that the stadium will ever get done. With the pace that the Wolff ownership moves, I’d be surprised to see a shovel in the ground this year. And the stadium looks like a cheap horseshoe-shaped erector set – especially compared to Kansas City, Houston and NYRB’s new soccer stadiums.

  22. @Columbo – That money probably goes into the Commissioner’s Discretionary Fund, which usually has well north of $10 million per year.

  23. Bart and Dan the A’s lost 5% all things considered over the course of Haas’ ownership. Not sure if that counts as barely, but who cares?

  24. @Jeffrey Would it be a fair assumption those losses were mostly incurred during the four or five years of mega payrolls? (My point being, the years of more prudent spending before and after those years were likely profitable, causing a “life of ownership” figure to understate the magnitude of the losses during the Yankee payroll years).

  25. @ Jeffrey – Are you saying the Haas ownership spent to the point that their bottom-line was a -5% after 15 years, including the sale price of the team?

  26. I think you guys are only seeing half the picture, that being the operating income/loss. The A’s were sold to Schott with around $25 million in debt attached. Back then during the days of small group or sole ownerships and much lower franchise valuations, that kind of debt was practically unheard of. Haas ran up an enormous tab running the club and he had to get out.

  27. Speaking of re-use, why not incorporate the PG&E substation into the design of Cisco Field? It would allow for some “electrifying” home runs.

  28. The other reason that the club level may have less rows down the lines is that the large club level cantilever between the bases may require a rear cantilever on the other side of the upper deck. This, however, would have been problematic for the part of the grandstand riding up along 7th Avenue/Tony Gwynn Dr.
    This was an early drawing that was not carried out exactly (the upper deck, for instance, only has 22 rows in this early design):

    Can you verify if there is a rear cantilever on the other side of the grandstand? It is hard for me to figure it out looking at exterior photos.

  29. i lived in SD for ten years and got to see plenty of Pads games within a 4 year span before I moved back up to the Bay.

    Petco has its goods and bads. The dimensions from center-right center field are terrible and it’s definitely a pitchers park. Most of the games I attended were terribly boring, but of course drunk people acting like idiots make it fun….to a certain extent. I love the walk way area behind home plate, what me and my friends called the Peanut Gallery, because you can stand behind home plate area and keep your beer on a standing area table and have a great view behind home plate to the outfield and eat peanuts and drink beer and not have to sit down.

    Western Metal is cool and the first and third base sight lines area great as well. Right field is okay, but left field is weird. Good archictecture overall though.

  30. The low fence idea they had in left fied, center field and right field for Cisco Field in Fremont is what I want to see used for Cisco Field in San Jose or if a new ballpark is built in Coliseum City in Oakland. It’s something different and visually appealing.

    Compared to the kinda bland design and look of the outfield walls for Cisco Field i n SJ below

    The ballpark design for Cisco Field in Fremont trumps blows the design for Cisco Field in SJ out of the water IMO.

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