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Be their guest: Wahoos go viral with park rental

Nights at the stadium sold out in less than 24 hours on Airbnb
@brianjstultz
May 28, 2020

When Daniel Venn finally got the OK to announce Double-A Pensacola's offer to rent Blue Wahoos Stadium via Airbnb, it was Friday night leading into Memorial Day weekend -- not exactly the prime time to break news. No matter. The press release and tweet went viral by Saturday morning and

When Daniel Venn finally got the OK to announce Double-A Pensacola's offer to rent Blue Wahoos Stadium via Airbnb, it was Friday night leading into Memorial Day weekend -- not exactly the prime time to break news.

No matter. The press release and tweet went viral by Saturday morning and Venn, the club’s media and public relations manager, awoke to something interesting on his phone.

“The ESPN push notification came through early Saturday morning,” Venn said. “I knew [Friday night] was the worst, really the worst time to do it, but we thought about it and said, 'This is really good content and good content has a way of catching people's attention. And if it doesn't, we'll follow up on Tuesday with a press release and more information.' So, I sent it out Friday at 9:30 p.m., and by the time I woke up on Saturday, our notifications were out of control. My email was out of control.”

The idea spread not just across the country but the world. A former Wahoos intern let Venn know that she saw a story about it in the newspaper in Osaka, Japan. Everyone from ESPN to CNN to Yahoo! reached out to the club for more information. The promotion that made its way across the globe overnight started with a conversation between team owner Quint Studer and his daughter, Mallory.

“Mallory had been to Disney and she had just been thinking like, 'What would be the ultimate experience you could have at Disney?' and she'd thought, for her and her kids, if they could spend a night in the Disney castle, like that would be the No. 1 ultimate experience,” Venn said.

Wahoos president Jonathan Griffith was onboard from the start.

“It was one of those things that we, myself and the owner and his daughter were just talking about ideas of different things we can do in our community,” Griffith said. “Randomly the situation just came up, Airbnb, and it was, 'What?' 'Yes, Airbnb -- we can Airbnb the stadium.' 'How do we do that?' And we just ran with it.”

There were some things that had to be worked around, though. Like the rest of the country, Pensacola is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and faces restrictions for the sake of public health. With government recommendations indicating no more than 10 people should gather in one place, 10 became the maximum number of occupants for the Blue Wahoos' prospective Airbnb tenants.

“So ... let's go with [reservations for up to 10],” Griffith said. “We started buying bunk beds and beds and linens and all of that type of stuff. And once we were ready to announce it where we can have people in there, we went ahead and ran with it.”

The asking price of $1,500 per night in the stadium proved right, as all 33 dates available in May and June sold out in less than 24 hours. To keep the listing up, the club is gradually posting availability dates for January 2021. Those are selling out in less than a hour.

“What that gets you is, that gets you the clubhouse,” Griffith said. “It gets you the batting cage. And then you can go out on the field [all] for $1,500.”

With bunk beds located in the main clubhouse, queen-sized beds in the cafe area and the new disc golf course designed by part owner Bubba Watson covering the field, the guests also have the opportunity to upgrade their experience.

"Things like the food ... we've already got an upgrade for Bubba's Sweet Spot ice cream bar,” Griffith said. “So we're going to have an ice cream bar for a family that's going to be there. We have some that have requested pizza. We have some that requested seafood. So, literally, we customize it to whatever the folks want.”

Successful ideas inspire mimicry, so it’s no surprise that with the Wahoos' plans going so well, other teams have been looking into doing the same thing. After all, any revenue that a Minor League club can generate while the game is indefinitely postponed is a positive.

“I think the big thing is how great this is for other baseball teams to be able to do it as well, not just us,” Griffith explained. “This is something that's very turnkey and something for Minor League and Major League Baseball teams that can have some jobs, be able to support people to work when we don't have baseball.”

Missed your chance to stay at the Wahoos ballpark located right on the Gulf of Mexico? Don’t worry. This isn’t a one-time thing.

“We plan on doing it forever now,” Griffith said. “We're opening up some other dates in October, November right now. We also play college football here. And then after the football games, you're going to be able to stay at the Airbnb. So that's kind of how we're working on the schedule now.”

A night spent at the ballpark is always a fun time. Staying there and having the place to yourself? That’s unique.

“When I first heard the idea, I was like, ‘Are you joking?'" Venn said. “But I think I've found in Minor League Baseball, the best ideas typically are ones that [make] you ask, 'Are you joking?'”

Brian Stultz is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @brianjstultz.