WLOX revisits Biloxi’s bet on baseball as MGM Park approaches 10 year anniversary

When construction of the stadium was finished in 2015 at a cost of $36 million, the ballpark came with a promise of home runs inside and outside the stadium.
Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 9:43 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Mississippi State will play a pair of games at MGM Park this week, and the games are expected to attract two of the biggest crowds of the year for the stadium that’s now eight years old.

With the ballpark approaching a decade in existence, WLOX explored if Biloxi’s bet on baseball is paying off.

When construction of the stadium was finished in 2015 at a cost of $36 million, the ballpark came with a promise of home runs inside and outside the stadium.

“I know that there was a brewery around the corner, now there is a thriving brewery in Fly Llama, there’s restaurants across the street,” said Garrett Greene, Shuckers media relations manager. “The Josette’s building has been renovated, there’s housing there, Howard Ave. has had a complete renaissance and has all kinds of new things there. I think the economic development of all that stuff is directly tied to what this place (MGM Park) offers.”

Across the street from the stadium, Fly Llama manager Courtney Stephens said the suds flow when the Shuckers are in town.

“Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are always busier when it’s baseball season,” said Stephens. “We’ll have this big rush of people before and after.”

When those baseball fans are spending money before and after games, they’re also paying sales tax to Biloxi.

“On the game nights there’s a lot of people eating, drinking beer and wandering around town that wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t a baseball game,” said Mike Leonard, Biloxi chief administrative officer.

The city needs every dollar it can get to help pay for the stadium. Biloxi borrowed $21 million to build the ballpark. According to Biloxi officials, the annual payment on the construction bond is $1.2 million with 11 years to go.

A portion of revenues from events at MGM Park are paid to the city. $2 of every Shuckers ticket sold goes to Biloxi and the city’s take for other events varies. Records show last year Shuckers tickets generated $221,000 for Biloxi. The team also paid $150,000 in rent and $56,000 in sales tax along with a $25,000 repair fund. Add it all up, it’s about $450,000, that’s less than half of the city’s bond payment.

Voice of the Shuckers and team media relations manager Garrett Greene recognizes the city’s need for bigger crowds and bigger revenue from the stadium.

“Growth is always something we’re striving to achieve and something we’re looking to do everywhere,” said Greene. “You never want to be a business that’s shrinking or not increasing in what you’re doing.”

COVID canceled the 2020 season and 2021 brought fewer stadium events, so WLOX went back to 2019 to compare attendance.

In ‘19, the number of tickets sold was basically the same as 2022, just over 117,000, but a closer look at the numbers shows fans had more chances to see the Shuckers in 2019 with six playoff games. MGM Park also hosted the Southern League All Star Game.

Greene is optimistic for 2023, he points to the final regular season weekend series of 2022 when over the three days nearly 10,000 fans cheered on the Shuckers, that’s more than double the number of fans in attendance for the final weekend series of 2019.

“That Friday, Saturday, Sunday were arguably our three biggest crowds of the year,” said Greene. “To be able to have momentum where at the end of the season those were the kinds of crowds we had coming in, that is our expectation for what the entirety of the next season is going to be.”

The ballpark isn’t just for the Shuckers. This week ten high school baseball games are being played in the stadium and Mississippi State returns for the third time in four years. According to Greene, they’re always working to bring in more college baseball. New Shuckers owner John Tracy took over the team earlier this year and the city plans to work with Tracy to attract more than baseball.

“We’re very happy about this new owner, he’s very open to doing other events in the stadium,” said Leonard.

“The new ownership has stated it is a goal to put together more of what we can do in the future to provide more outside events that can happen in here,” said Greene.

More events would mean more beer sales at Fly Llama.

“It is such a great space over there and utilizing that is really going to help the businesses around here as well,” said Stephens.

The Shuckers believe they provide a proven product of success over the last eight years and growth is on the way.

“When people come out there they have a good time,” said Greene. “That’s the biggest thing for us is we want to provide a good experience for people at an affordable price and I think right now we’re doing that at a better rate and a better way than maybe we ever have.”

According to Ballpark Digest, half the Southern League including the Shuckers showed attendance growth from 2021 to 2022.

Biloxi opens this season on April 7.

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