Doubleheader: Milwaukee Brewers bring drive-in movies to Miller Park
Scroll to the end of this story for an update on the public's reaction.
Who can forget the wonderful and spontaneous coupling of chocolate and peanut butter? Or the turbulent marriage (times two) of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton? The pairing of baseball and film is just as plausible as those partnerships, and arguably more romantic.
The Milwaukee Brewers baseball club held a brainstorming session a while back to see what would happen if movies were linked with a baseball venue. They came up with Miller Park Movies. In early June, the Brewers will unveil drive-in movies in the parking lots of Miller Park. With any luck, this might start a trend for the club, and develop a following for movie nights in the future, with two nights tentatively set for August.
“Teams around the League have been attempting to do something like this over the years,” notes Jason Hartlund, VP of Brewers Enterprises, who oversees all non-baseball-related revenue for the team. He says he’s surprised drive-in movies haven’t been shown previously at another Major League park. “Some franchises don’t have the physical ability to do this kind of thing because of small parking lots,” he reflects. “It’s predicated on the real estate around the park, and the climate.”
Hartlund, who is in his fourth season with the Brewers, says Miller Park's roof allows more creativity than in years past at the old County Stadium, where the Milwaukee Braves once played. He suggests clubs on the West Coast, like those in San Francisco and Los Angeles, can do more because their year-round climate is more favorable. April snow showers in Milwaukee can make watching a drive-in movie challenging, especially on the car battery.
The ballpark drive-in movie concept was hatched during a staff meeting in Hartlund’s revenue-generating department. “We’d been kicking the idea around for a while,” he said. “We had to investigate whether the technology existed, find a company to rent the equipment necessary.”
Eventually they found the appropriate technology to solve audio dilemmas, which was one of the primary concerns. “We broadcast the audio through FM radio transmissions,” Hartlund says. “You can either listen through your car radio or bring a radio along if you intend on sitting outside. The parking attendants will tell you which station to tune into upon arrival.”
Ticket sales in the early going were not as robust as he hoped. “I don’t think people are generally predisposed to purchase movie tickets in advance,” Hartlund concedes. This particularly holds true when the films are being shown outside, he adds.
The inaugural films will be shown on June 5 and 6. A doubleheader of Anchorman and Jaws opens the first night. The second night, Saturday, features two baseball fan favorites, The Sandlot and Major League.
The charming Milwaukee tradition of engaging in a tailgate, which is basically barbecuing out of the back of one's car, is welcomed by the Brewers before the shows, according to Hartlund.
The movie and baseball connection is something Entertainment and Sports International has been hip to for some time. In 2010, the company will unveil "Field of Screens," the world's first traveling outdoor film festival. This bold Bill Veeck-meets-Barnum & Bailey concept will ostensibly turn Minor League baseball stadiums into multiplexes under the stars.
Major League franchises increasingly are doing what their Minor League offspring have done for years, brainstorming and executing ideas that tap hidden revenue streams. The Minor League teams don’t create much of a cash flow through ticket sales and are forced to think against the grain, Hartlund says. MLB teams aren’t above learning from the others. “There’s no shame in following the lead of the minors,” Hartlund says. “It’s all about trying to meet your needs as a business.”
“Minor League teams are iconic in their communities,” observes ESI managing partner Joe Owens. “Minor League parks are a great family gathering place. The adage regarding the Minor Leagues is: ‘I went to a carnival at a ballpark and a baseball game broke out.’ They do all kinds of promotions.”
Owens believes pairing movies with baseball is a good move. He says the Brewers are smart to take a page out of the Minor League book. “The Brewers understand the idea of engaging the community,” Owens states. “It’s about developing relationships with your fan base. The fans will come back and ask: What else have you got?”
Regardless of how many times you hear about how bad our economy might be, it’s a fact every business must take into consideration. “At one of our Fan Fest events, we showed Shrek on the pitcher’s mound,” Owens recalls. “It was a huge hit.”
Some of the technological challenges have been met with inflatable movie screens and the ability to contain sound. “We were looking for the right sound, and the speakers have to be a certain distance apart,” Owens explains. “We upgraded the technology on an FM band and an audio array. We set up a series of speakers around a specific area.”
The Atlanta Braves have parking lots of titanic proportions, which allow for fresh ideas and panoramic eye candy, but the franchise has yet to implement the drive-in movie scenario. “I love the idea, it’s a great idea,” declares Sabrina Jenkins, director of special events for the Braves. “We have looked into the idea, but the audio aspects and signals became a problem. That’s why we haven’t pursued it.”
Jenkins says if the club officials were to move ahead with the project, it would seek vendors and sponsors to defray the costs. However, the Braves are not shy when it comes to other efforts. “With Turner Field we do over 300 non-game-day events every year,” Jenkins notes.
The commingling of baseball and film is perfectly acceptable to the National Association of Theatre Owners. “It’s an interesting alternative to areas which may not be served by a regular drive-in theatre,” says Patrick Corcoran, director of media and research for the film organization. Corcoran feels as long as the club has obtained the proper licensing to show the films, everything should be fine.
“We’re all in favor of people getting out of the house,” Corcoran says. “We’re especially pleased when they’re getting out to see a film.”
Post-movie analysis: An update
The Brewers’ Jason Hartund reports on the public’s reaction to drive-in movies at Miller Park:
“It went great. We had over 300 cars and it was a wonderful turnout. People were out on their lawn chairs and some had sleeping bags and backed their trucks towards the screen. We could have accommodated up to 400 cars, but we were thrilled with the turnout. We received a lot of positive feedback and we're giving some thought to doing this again. It helped with the weather being great on Friday.
"On Saturday, Mother Nature wasn't as kind, but the rain held off and for that we were grateful. It was a bit cooler and we had a few sprinkles, but the number of people coming on Saturday even surpassed our expectations, with more than 300 cars. They looked like a veteran crowd of drive-in movie people. Based on the positive feedback, it was encouraging to give it some consideration for a repeat performance. The crowd was family-oriented, especially on Saturday night with Sandlot and Major League. There wasn't a whole lot of crazy partying, just good family fun."