Baseball / Japanese Baseball

BayStars unveil plans for Yokohama Stadium expansion, renovation

by Kaz Nagatsuka

STAFF WRITER

Since taking over as the operator of Yokohama Stadium before the 2016 season, the Yokohama DeNA BayStars have hammered out a grand plan to transform the venue into a more attractive community ballpark.

By doing so, the team aims to make the venue a place where fans and local citizens genuinely enjoy visiting.

In March, the BayStars submitted a renovation plan to Yokohama because the stadium is a public facility. And on Thursday, the club introduced to media a more detailed three-year renovation plan.

First off, the 40-year-old stadium will have an increase of 6,000 seats, with additional decks above the right- and left-field stands and terrace seats behind home plate. The club also plans to have more suite rooms, which could be utilized as a space for business people and sponsors to interact.

Shingo Okamura, president of the ballclub and stadium, said at a news conference at the club office that the terrace seats could be used for things like a “wedding party or year-end bash,” for instance.

The annual attendance figures at BayStars’ home games have dramatically risen since DeNA Co., Ltd. became the owner of the team in 2012. The BayStars had about 1.98 million fans at their home contests this year, an increase of about 80 percent compared to the number from the 2011 campaign.

The tickets for home games at “Hamasta” have become more difficult to purchase in the last few years. The seat occupancy rates were 93.3 percent and 96.2 last year and this year, respectively.

“We thought that we need to provide more opportunities for our fans to watch our games,” said Okamura, who took over as the club chief after the 2016 season.

With the 6,000-seat expansion, Yokohama Stadium will have about 35,000 seats, which would make it the second-biggest open-air stadium behind the Hanshin Tigers’ Koshien Stadium (about 47,000 seats) in the NPB.

The BayStars will try to make the stadium a more accessible one for fans as well. Currently, fans can’t move between the infield and outfield stands during a game. But the renovated stadium will have an all-access deck so fans would be able to walk around the entire stadium.

There will be slopes and elevators to make it a more barrier-free stadium, too.

Okamura said that the club estimates it will have at least 2.1 million visitors for home games the year after the renovation is complete.

The stadium will also have spaces for restaurants and shops outside of it, so it would attract more foot traffic around the building.

Yokohama Stadium will be the main venue for baseball and softball at the 2020 Olympics. Okamura said that he hopes the new-look stadium will be appealing for visitors coming from outside of Japan for the Summer Games as well.

The renovation will officially begin later this month. The club will work on the right-field deck and the seat areas behind home plate first and then will get to the left-field deck afterward. The construction will mainly be done during the offseason.

The renovation is expected to be completed in early 2020.

The freshening up of Yokohama Stadium is just the start of the club’s grand plans. The BayStars and Okamura want to develop the area around the stadium into a sport town, which also provides entertainment and sightseeing spots. He added that the club is aiming at making the area attractive even when there aren’t games.

“We had so many people assembling at the stadium for public viewing events during the Japan Series,” Okamura said. “So it made us certain we can bring people here.”

The BayStars made the Japanese Fall Classic for the first time in 19 years and fell to the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks earlier this month in six games.

“We want to create more liveliness around here 365 days a year,” said Okamura, a former government official for the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. “And we have the responsibility.”