Countdown begins for All-Star Game at Target Field
By Phil Miller
MINNEAPOLIS — That Target Field was built on an 8½-acre wedge of land in downtown Minneapolis is considered miraculous, and the resulting ballpark intimate. That snugness is part of its charm, and makes it worthy of the 2014 All-Star Game that its success has delivered.
Just one problem: The All-Star Game doesn’t do “cozy.”
“It’s a massive, massive event, about 10 times bigger than the one in the Metrodome” in 1985, said Matt Hoy, the Twins’ senior vice president for operations, and the team’s point man on the 2014 event. “It’s a little intimidating when you see what it’s grown into, how many moving parts there are. And fitting all of them into our space is going to be an enormous challenge.”
So is the clock. First pitch of the 85th All-Star Game is less than a year away, and now that Hoy, team President Dave St. Peter and 30 other Minnesotans have returned from closely observing how the Mets staged Tuesday’s game in New York, there is a baseball term that sums up their responsibility:
“It’s all ours,” Hoy told the Star Tribune (http://bit.ly/15MgcGb). “Basically, we’ll be working on All-Star preparations every day for the next year, and believe me, a lot of days it doesn’t seem like enough time.”
That’s because, while the event was born as a showcase eight decades ago for baseball’s best players, it has turned into a weeklong festival of the game, part Shriners convention and part World’s Fair. The Twins get to stage a baseball game, but that’s merely the climax of a three-page timeline of events:
Start with a lavish invitation-only night-before gala for 5,000 VIPs —that one was held on the retired aircraft carrier Intrepid in New York. Then add in another party of roughly the same size, on the evening of the game.
No invitation to those? Well, there’s a 5K race. There’s a Habitat for Humanity project, and nearly a dozen different charity events. The Futures Game, for baseball’s best minor league prospects, attracts a near-sellout crowd on Sunday. There’s a fantasy camp for All-Star wannabes. Mascots hold a charity softball game to entertain kids, and B-list celebrities stage one to entertain TV viewers. Monday means Home Run Derby, which has grown into an event almost as big as the game itself. And then there is FanFest — “We call it TwinsFest on steroids,” Hoy jokes — which occupies nearly a half-million square feet of convention center floor space for events, autograph and photo sessions, interactive exhibits, and one of the world’s biggest baseball flea markets.
Too bad the Metrodome will be rubble by then, right?
“Oh, the Dome wouldn’t be big enough, not even close, really,” Hoy said. “We never made it part of our bid proposal.”
The first event to kick off All-Star ‘14 comes later this month, when the Twins and MLB unveil the event’s official logo, which will be plastered everywhere, including on the center field wall and, next year, on the shoulders of Twins uniforms. It’s also the first real public evidence of a coordinated branding effort that soon will blanket the city.
“In New York, I don’t care what you do, it has a tendency to get lost” or drowned out, St. Peter said. “We clearly intend to paint the town.”
MLB will decorate downtown Minneapolis and plenty of hotel lobbies with All-Star banners, probably the airport, too, and maybe more venues such as the Mall of America and the light-rail system. Behind-the-scenes, planning will go on for many other aspects, progress of which fills dozens of volumes in Hoy’s office.
The Twins must develop a transportation plan, for instance, to deliver thousands of visitors to the various events, and to hotels. They are organizing a parade of all-stars to the stadium, coordinating an enormous security effort between a half-dozen different agencies, and discussing traffic issues, given that it will be a normal work week at most downtown businesses. The City Council must approve a “clean zone” to prohibit ambush marketing by non-sponsors, and extra enforcement of counterfeit merchandise laws. Ticket pricing, availability and distribution is always a thorny issue — strips of tickets covering all events figure to average around $500 (though the Twins haven’t announced prices yet), and MLB sponsors and Twins season-ticket holders get dibs.
The Twins’ own schedule must be worked out, Home Run Derby and batting practice uniforms designed, tailored and merchandised, and providing perks for the many stars hired to entertain is no small consideration, either. Even the grass must be cut into an approved pattern.
Scripts and scoreboard videos will be dreamed up for each event in the stadium, and schedules figured out for employees, not to mention getting them in and out of Target Field. Light-rail schedules must be coordinated, extra media workspace designed and built for the 350 to 400 reporters, broadcasters, technicians and camera operators who will overwhelm the media areas, and high-speed Wi-Fi upgraded to handle a huge load. And there’s a lot of training to be done —once the people to be trained have been recruited.
“We need more than 2,000 volunteers for all the various venues — FanFest, the airport, hotels,” Hoy said. “It’s a small army, and you’ve got to be especially organized about it.”
Fortunately, the Twins have plenty of help in their enormous undertaking, mostly because it’s not really theirs. The All-Star Game is property of Major League Baseball, and the New York office has its own staff working on the same issues, but giving them a Minnesota bent.
Everyone is familiar with each other now, in part because Hoy and St. Peter led a 30-person contingent to New York this week to shadow their colleagues at Citi Field. Twenty were Twins employees, mostly department heads from media relations to the clubhouse manager to broadcast coordinators to crowd-control captains. Five more represented Twins concessionaires, to see all the changes from a normal night game, and five were from the City of Minneapolis, to get comfortable with the controlled chaos that is baseball’s biggest non-playoff event.
The Twins sent Hoy and a handful of others to last year’s game in Kansas City, too, figuring that the scale of the event and challenges for organizers might be more relatable in a medium-sized Midwestern city, rather than in the nation’s largest metropolis.
“We learned a ton from Kansas City,” Hoy said. “Of course, they had a lot more room.”
Oh yes, the space issue. One great benefit to Target Field’s location is that the perimeter of All-Star events and hotels might be contained within a 10-block radius, meaning a sizable number of people can just walk the skyways to get where they need to go.
“Indianapolis got rave reviews when it hosted the Super Bowl (in 2012), and the biggest reason was that everything was downtown,” said St. Peter, though the team also intends to find ways to include St. Paul in the “Twin Cities” event. “We’re going to try to replicate that model.”
But if the compact downtown is convenient, it feels claustrophobic to Hoy, who has held countless meetings on logistics; a set-in-stone game plan is far from complete. Fox, ESPN and the MLB Network all broadcast live from the venue and each one designs extra gimmicks and specialty cameras into the event — and that’s before you get to credentialed broadcasters from most major-league cities.
“The scope of it is just staggering,” Hoy said. “I’ve already had discussions with ESPN and Fox, and frankly asked them what they can get by with,” St. Peter said. “I know what they want — but what can you get by with?”
The broadcasting “village” at New York’s Citi Field this week, crammed with satellite uplink trucks, power generators, control trailers and TV news equipment, occupied the equivalent of 365 parking space outside the ballpark.
“We’ve got 380 spaces total, for everything, and that’s if you included the players’ lot,” Hoy said. “That’s going to be a real hurdle, because we’re not surrounded by empty land. We’re in the middle of a city.”
Finding room is going to be an issue everywhere. All-Star Games now make “sponsor zones” part of the experience, a state-fair-like area for Major League Baseball’s partners to reach customers and display their wares, ideally along the high-traffic approach to the stadium gates. In Kansas City a year ago, Chevrolet even operated a test track, allowing fans to test-drive Corvettes and other sports cars.
“It’s a great attraction,” Hoy said, “but we just don’t have that kind of space.”
Target Plaza isn’t big enough, and there are no obvious alternative spaces, so the Twins are trying to be creative.
“We’re looking at how the shape of that might be shifted without losing its impact, but I don’t know yet how we’re going to figure that out,” Hoy said. “It’s like this enormous puzzle, except we’ve got too many pieces.”