After a four-month delay due to the coronavirus, $1.2 billion Globe Life Field is finally set to open officially next Friday for the Texas Rangers with the inaugural regular-season Major League Baseball game against the Colorado Rockies in Arlington, Texas.
The event will be preceded by dress rehearsal exhibition games against the Rockies on Tuesday and Wednesday. Of course, as the pandemic spreads throughout the state of Texas and the number of cases growing every day, there are no guarantees.
“We’re just hanging in there, just hoping we can get this thing started and then play [the season] to completion,” Rob Matwick, the team’s vice president of business operations, said in an exclusive interview. “We shall see. We’re one day closer every day, but [the disease] is everywhere in the southern tier from Florida to California.”
The stadium has a retractable roof, a new age artificial grass surface, and all the amenities of a brand new start-of-the-art facility compared to open air Globe Life Park, which opened in 1994 at the cost of $191 million. That facility sits across the parking lot and is now technically home to North Texas SC of the United Soccer League 1.
But there won’t be any fans attending baseball games, at least early on in this abbreviated 60-game schedule. Not yet.
“It is bittersweet that we can finally get the team on the field, have opponents and actually play Major League games, but unfortunately with very few people watching,” said Matwick, who has overseen every aspect of construction since its inception. “That’s all we have. It’s certainly not the way we expected to open.”
The question is, at what cost? These are a few of the discouraging numbers:
- The Rangers could lose as little as $70 million and as much as $100 million this season, depending on when and if some fans can attend games during the later portion of the 30-game home schedule.
- The facility costs $30 million to $40 million to operate annually on a day-to-day basis whether or not an event or game is staged.
- Despite the loss of revenue—from ticket and suite sales, concessions, merchandising and parking—the team still has to service its debt on a $600 million private commercial loan the Rangers received from what was then called SunTrust Banks at the end of 2017. That entity merged and is now called Truist Bank.
Folks in Arlington voted to pay for half the cost of the facility through a public bond issue about a month before the Rangers acquired access to their loan, but no one knew the coronavirus was going to so severely alter the scale of MLB’s and the nation’s economy. Baseball hasn’t been played since March 12.
During the height of highly contentious negotiations for return to play between MLB and the MLB Players Association, Commissioner Rob Manfred stated the overall losses for the sport could be $4 billion if there was no season. Those losses will be less than that if the sport can get to October and the postseason, when the bulk of the $1.7 billion in national television money is paid.
Like the Rangers, the Arizona Diamondbacks said they stand to lose $100 million, plus $30–$50 million in 2021, even if they can eventually play in front of fans.
The Rangers and the D-backs, which control the scheduling of non-baseball events in their own facilities, stand to lose also from a lack of other stadium programs, like large-scale concerts and tractor pulls.
“It’s still indeterminate what the losses will be, but they will be significant,” Matwick said. “We’re still hoping we can get some fans in the building to offset our potential losses. But those are real numbers. They are realistic numbers. There’s no reason to think it couldn’t get that high.”
The Rangers have been trying. The team store opened, and tours of the ballpark were able to begin in June.
Getting creative in the interim, the team raised $2 million hosting 57 local high school graduations with students and their families wearing face masks and socially distancing throughout the lower decks of the park. The Rangers staged a series of eight country music concerts in the parking lot, charging $40 a car for two one-hour shows a night and generating about $145,000. Guests listened to the music via an FM radio frequency.
“That was not a huge money maker by any stretch,” Matwick said. “But there was a lot pent-up demand.”
Right now, and for the immediate future, Globe Life Park is being utilized as a secondary facility for MLB players to train.
But the old Arlington ballpark, reconfigured for XFL football, was able to host three of five scheduled home games before the virus shut down the season and the league went bankrupt. Matwick said he’s in the process of contracting with minor league soccer for 10 home games this summer, and high school football for 14 more during the fall. Whether fans will be allowed to attend is still to be determined.
“Obviously, the virus will dictate that,” he said.
Texas governor Greg Abbott has declared that pro teams can play in front of 50% capacity in the state, but that was well before the recent rise in cases. At Globe Life Field, that’s half of 40,300. So far, though, MLB has said no. Meanwhile, the Rockies will head there next week to play the first games, sans fans.
“It’s going to be weird,” Colorado manager Bud Black said. “A little bit of bummer, right? You know that place would have been buzzing for the first-ever game. Those are always cool. So, it’s going to be different.”