Playing baseball was out of the question. But that didn’t stop the city of Kannapolis, North Carolina, from opening the gates to Atrium Health Ballpark on April 16, 2020. The opening of the brand-new, $52 million, state-of-the-art ballpark — home of the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers — allowed curious locals to finally explore the much-anticipated facility in a safe, socially distanced way.
“The stadium is actually open to the public all day,” says Samsung’s David Frost, minor-league and collegiate sports manager, who helped lead the design and build of the ballpark’s cutting-edge LED displays. “People working in downtown Kannapolis are free to swing down to the ballpark, have a bite to eat, jog their steps or just take in the view. It’s quite unique, and it’s great for the city and for the fans.”
In addition to enjoying time in the park, visitors can grab hot dogs and hamburgers from the concession shops, check out merch in the team shop, visit the nightclub or enjoy the view of downtown Kannapolis.
Most times, stadiums are more limited in their use cases, but the idea behind Kannapolis stadium was different. Its community aspect was at the heart of the project from the start.
Resilient by design
Even before the pandemic, the ballpark was a symbol of resilience. It was conceived as the centerpiece of a citywide revitalization effort dating back to 2003, the year Cannon Mills shuttered its doors. For decades, the 117-year-old textile factory was the primary economic engine for Kannapolis. When it closed, nearly 5,000 people lost their jobs overnight — and the area fell on hard times.
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“The city didn’t want this project to just be a baseball stadium,” says Scotty Brown, operating partner at the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers, the minor-league team that will call the stadium home. “They wanted the baseball stadium to be a public park, open to citizens and visitors 365 days a year — even when events weren’t staged and planned.”
Bringing the big-league feel
Visitors to the 4,930-seat stadium are engaged by a primary 25-by-50-foot display, which is flanked by a pair of ribbon boards that together share promotions, announcements and relevant messaging from the city and the Department of Health.
“The stadium opens their gates early in the morning, and the boards are active, entertaining, engaging and informing visitors,” says Frost. “They’re not playing any baseball games, but the boards are on 16 hours a day.”
“Those boards bring the stadium alive,” says Brown. “Even in the most beautiful ballpark, when you’re in there and the boards aren’t on, it’s a big monolithic structure, and it can seem somewhat cold. Having the boards in operation every time we open the gates is what gives it that big-league feel.”
Samsung’s team of veteran sports consultants led the design and build. Beyond mere scoreboards, the displays had to show updated statistics and replays, and be interwoven with a state-of-the-art sound system. The technology facilitates between-inning promotions, all with live cameras. By prioritizing communication with all stakeholders, the Samsung team was able to create a solution that satisfied budgets, functional needs and all stakeholder goals — including their vision of putting on a great baseball show.
“With COVID, they haven’t gotten the chance to put on that great baseball show yet,” says Frost, “But they’ve taken those tools and used them to open up their ballpark and opened up their ballpark for other safe, socially distanced events.”
Turning a setback into an opportunity
Now people are visiting the park — and the displays are keeping things alive, vibrant and energetic. “With the displays, we’re able to let visitors know what’s available to do in the park and communicate about community efforts, as well as rotate in advertisers,” says Brown. “Some advertisers signed up with us in good faith. Now we have a way to make goods for those companies — and tie them into year one even without baseball.”
The fact that the stadium was completed and able to open its doors to the public, despite the pandemic, is an amazing victory for the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers, the city, the community and Samsung. “I’m so proud of the people who work for this club,” says Frost. “They could have sat back and waited until next year to open — just leave the gates closed and let guests look in from the outside.”
“They didn’t even allow that thought to cross their mind,” he continues. “Instead, they turned a difficult situation into a positive, and allowed people to come in and enjoy the facility. It’s made all the difference.”
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