“When baseball was looking a little shaky, we sat down and started throwing things against the wall to figure out what we would have to do to try to stay in business and take care of the fans,” said Storm Baseball CEO Shaun Brock.
Storm Baseball provides food services and security for games at the stadium, which is home to the Lake Elsinore Storm Minor League Baseball team. But with all games canceled, operations came to a halt.
After some brainstorming, Brock pitched the idea of converting part of the stadium parking lot into a makeshift drive-in movie theater.
“There’s no one else doing anything like it out here,” Brock told The Epoch Times. And it has hit home with fans.
Less than an hour after online ticket sales opened for the first showing on May 22, it was sold out. The next two showings, May 29 and 30, sold out in about two hours, Brock said.
The company posted a choice of four films on Facebook for fans to help decide which to show. Fans overwhelmingly chose “The Sandlot,” a 1993 nostalgic coming-of-age movie with a baseball theme.
“Ninety percent of the people chose ‘The Sandlot,’” Brock said. “We had an organic reach of 130,000 and almost 30,000 reactions to our posts. We’ve never had a post that was anywhere near that range.”
The first showing—complete with a pre-show, and food and beverage car-side deliveries—was a hit, Brock said. Thunder, the Lake Elsinore Storm’s mascot, showed up to entertain the fans, along with master of ceremonies Kav Egan.
The concession stand took orders using a phone app and servers wearing protective masks brought orders to the vehicles.
“It went well,” Brock said. “Everybody that I talked to absolutely loved it. They were excited. Everybody was just happy to get out and watch a classic old movie.”
Thunder was also the star of a pre-show video that encouraged patrons to wear masks and wash their hands when using the public restrooms, among other drive-in safety tips and etiquette.
Before the show, Storm Baseball held a raffle and gave away some “swag bags” that included baseballs and other team merchandise.
When one ticket holder couldn’t make it to the show, she donated her ticket for a giveaway and Storm Baseball chipped in a couple more tickets. Contestants were asked to share their favorite Storm memory on the Lake Elsinore Storm Facebook page and three winners were selected randomly, Brock said.
The last-minute post received more than 200 comments and the ticket-winners were excited to come out and enjoy the show, he said.
“This is brand new to us, so I started off with 40 [vehicles] for the first one,” he said.
Brock increased the number of spots by 10 for each of the next two shows, to 50 carloads on May 29 and then 60 on May 30.
“Ultimately, I think we can probably get 80 cars into that space, but I don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver,” he said. “So we’ll add what we can and kind of optimize it from there.”
Retooling the Business
“We do great with food and beverage and concessions, and we’ve got a lot of land here. So, all we had to do is repurpose a couple of things and put in a little bit of capital investment to give it a shot and see if it would work,” Brock said.
The inflatable screen presented challenges with the wind proving to be “a little unforgiving at times,” Brock said. Storm Baseball has proposed using a sturdier screen and showing films inside the stadium, where families could watch “a movie in the park” instead of in their cars.
That way, about 400 to 700 people could watch, Brock said. “So, they’d be sitting on the grass in a 12-by-12-foot square and watching the screen from there.”
If interest in “The Sandlot” wanes, Brock said the park could choose from a plethora of other baseball movies, and he’s not ruling out other mainstream movies down the road.
Losses at the Stadium
The stadium, which is owned by the City of Lake Elsinore, is about 27 years old and has undergone about $13 million in renovations over the past several years.
The Lake Elsinore Storm is a farm team for Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres. Last year, the Storm lost in the California League championship to the Visalia Rawhide, the farm team for the Arizona Razorbacks.
Fans were looking forward to a grudge match before the pandemic hit.
“They took it from us in Game 4. It was a tough loss last year,” Brock said.
By mid-June, half the season will be lost, and financial losses will be in the six-figure range, Brock said. If the Storm is forced to sit out the whole season, the losses will reach seven figures.
Though Major League teams, with millions of dollars in revenue, may be able to televise games with no fans in the stands, that scenario doesn’t play out well for minor league teams like in the California League, Brock said.
“That model doesn’t work for us. We’ve done the math, and it costs us about $3,000 to $5,000 to put on a game without any fans, and it’s just not worth it,” he said.
Just before California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay-home-order March 19, the stadium had opened its Diamond Taproom restaurant, which seats about 200 inside and 250 to 300 on the deck outside, at pre-pandemic capacity restrictions.
Brock said he expects about half that seating capacity to be reopened soon.
Riverside County has now moved into a new reopening phase, “so we can do dine-in eating and all of those things, and the requirements are a little more lax,” he said.
The company has managed to keep its core staff of about 15 employees, which usually grows to about 30 during peak season, with the help of federal relief funding through the Payroll Protection Program (PPP).
“We did get the PPP, and that’s great. It helps,” Brock said.
The company also employs more than 250 seasonal employees for stadium security and concessions, he said.