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Is that a Pikachu in Left Field? Sports Venues & Facility Owners Ride the Pokémon Go Wave

27 Jul, 2016

By: Michael Popke

Even if you don’t understand the Pokémon Go craze, at least one thing has become very clear: It's not just invading malls, neighborhoods and more; it's showing up in sports venues. Facility owners, while admittedly being taken by surprise, are responding to this new wave. Some are even getting on board and riding it.

Delaware’s Division of Parks and Recreation launched “Poké Park Adventure,” a contest designed to encourage more residents to use state parks, and according to the pop-culture news site ComicBook.com, the University of Nebraska, Texas Tech University and Texas A&M University allowed public access to their football fields for Pokémon Go players. The site also reports that Minor League Baseball’s Columbus Clippers in Ohio “placed lures at several PokeStops within the stadium and opened up their outfield for fans to visit during lunch hours.”

Not all teams in Ohio have been so accommodating. Brutus Buckeye, the official Ohio State University mascot, tweeted that no Pokémon Go activities are allowed in OSU athletic facilities. In a notable contrast, Brutus’ Big Ten rival, Bucky Badger at the University of Wisconsin, used Pokémon Go to poke fun at the University of Minnesota Gophers. Baseball’s Phillie Phanatic got in on the Pokémon Go action, too.

But in general, a huge number of sports stadiums are catching on. According to an article on Stack.com, not only are people playing while they’re at games, but they’re checking themselves in on social media and tweeting about the abundant hunting grounds the venues offer. And that's just plain good publicity.

Even the parks that generally benefit from sports tourism have found themselves beset by gamers.

"We haven't had events this week, but Pokemon players have been out at the park," notes Janna Clark of the Elizabethtown Sports Park in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. "We suspect we will definitely see a huge uptick as we welcome the Baseball Nationals to town for the next week. A total of 60 teams from 16 states, Puerto Rico, and Canada, all with Pokemon Go in common :) Homeruns and Pikachu coming up!"

John Bicci, media and promotions manager for the Gateway MotorSports Park in Madison, Illinois, says his venue appears to be on the cusp of the craze.

"We had some Pokemon activity on Saturday at our Dragplex during the PSCA and Fun Ford events," he notes. "Nothing that caused a problem; it's just that we noticed people hunting them and two people who work in the officials' booth are Pokemon fans and told us about the 'sightings.'"

Sometimes, the craze hits the peripheries. Haley Fugate of Rocky Top Sports World in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, said that while there wasn't a noticeable number of spectators engaged in the game inside the facility, "our operations team noticed several cars and people in the parking lot at the conclusion of the event with people playing."

Other facilities, meanwhile, have yet to see any stirrings. One of those is Grand Park in Hamilton County. But, notes William Knox, director of the Hamilton County Sports Authority, "I'm sure that will change in the near future."

Forbes.com sports business writer Kurt Badenhausen suggests that Pokémon Go is just the tip of a very real augmented reality iceberg that sports teams should explore and embrace. “People leave their houses playing Pokémon Go because the only way to catch the monsters is to actually go to the stadium,” Badenhausen writes. “Developing unique content, rewards and information that can only be obtained by coming to a venue provides a new reason for fans to leave their houses during games. Many of these features are already available through third party apps like ESPN or theScore. Integrating these features with stadium-specific content and facilitated venue access increases the sense of community that makes attending a game so special and truly augments the reality of the experience.”

As with anything fun, though, Pokémon Go has a downside, including app users venturing into places they shouldn’t. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs was forced to issue a statement prohibiting the game at VA hospitals and cemeteries, and Legoland Florida set safety guidelines to keep players out of restricted areas.

How long can Pokémon Go keep going? “[It] doesn’t feel like a fad,” according to Eddie Makuch, news editor of GameSpot.com. “Even before Pokémon Go’s release, seemingly everyone knew about the Pokémon franchise ­— even my mom and probably yours. That makes it stand apart. … The idea of catching Pokémon in the real world is pretty much genius.”

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