You may have heard on Thursday that Yankee Stadium is becoming a drive-in movie theater this summer, as that was the headline at Travel & Leisure and Cosmopolitan, and even the content of a tweet from the Yankees’ flagship radio station, WFAN.
Before you get any ideas about bringing a car out to centerfield and setting up to watch Pride of the Yankees or The Scout on the Jumbotron, no, Yankee Stadium itself is not going to become a giant drive-in theater, and this news is not a tea leaf to read about whether or not there’s going to be a Major League Baseball season this year.
As MLB continues to contemplate how it might be able to stage some kind of a season in 2020, the conversation centers around how to split revenues decreased not only as a result of an abbreviated campaign, but from little to no money coming in from paying customers at the ballparks.
Baseball might be able to exist without fans in the stands, but there are lots of local businesses that depend on baseball, too. Restaurants, shops, and other enterprises in ballpark neighborhoods are dealing with a challenge unlike anything they’ve ever seen — even in 1994, there were several months of baseball before the strike cut that season short.
In New York, one parking company has a novel solution. With no fans driving to Yankee Stadium this summer, they’re going to turn a parking lot — not the stadium itself — into a drive-in theater. They’ll be partnering with MASC Hospitality Group, whose own signature event, the Bronx Night Market, has to go on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s no baseball,” MASC co-founder Marco Shalma told Deadspin on Thursday. “MLB has not authorized any games with an audience, probably for the rest of the season. That means there’s nothing for the rest of the season, and the space is based on availability.”
What that means is that if baseball does find a way to get fans back into stadiums this year, and the parking lot can return to its normal business, that would be the end of the drive-in.
Shalma did not reveal exactly where the Uptown Drive-In Experience will be, other than to say it’s “one of the open-air parking lots outside Yankee Stadium,” and not affiliated with the Yankees.
That was confirmed by Yankees vice president Jason Zillo, who said, “We are in the process of gathering facts.” One fact, surely, is that Thursday was not a particularly fun day to be a baseball team executive having to tell the world that, no, your stadium is not going to be a drive-in theater, as was widely reported.
But that misrepresentation of facts has worked to MASC’s advantage. There’s been enough interest in the idea that MASC already has expanded from a plan to operate its drive-in on weekends to what Shalma called “a Broadway-style schedule, Tuesday to Sunday.”
The response to the Bronx project has been so strong that Shalma is looking to set up shop at more locations around New York. But even though Citi Field is surrounded by acres of parking lots, there’s no plan to involve the Mets, who own those lots and contract out their operations to parking company Impark, in this operation.
As Shalma says, “What we do at MASC Hospitality, everything is community-oriented and respecting the community.” That would be a fine explanation of why the drive-in won’t be at a parking lot owned by a Major League Baseball team, but instead boost a struggling local parking outfit.
“There’s a place we’re working with in Long Island City, and partners in Brooklyn, and partners in Jersey,” Shalma said. “Hopefully in the next couple of days, we’ll be able to introduce additional locations to accommodate the interest. … We’ve definitely struck a chord with the community, and the fact that we were able to work on this since late March, it helps us to be ahead of the curve and be able to kind of already be running when people are starting to figure things out.”
So long as everyone is able to figure out that the only car that belongs on the field at Yankee Stadium is a Toyota Celica that brings relievers in from the bullpen.