During the global pandemic response to COVID-19, venues that are used to hosting large crowds have been left scrambling to make their locations attractive to consumers. Social distancing, of course, has made it difficult, but imaginative marketers have still found ways to make stadiums and racetracks a go-to destination. For example, earlier this month, Daytona International Speedway announced they would host two high-school graduations. Now there is an announcement from the Miami Dolphins Stadium, also known as Hard Rock Stadium, that it will turn itself into a drive-in movie theater.
The Hard Rock Stadium was built in 1987 to house people attending large scale events, including college football games, professional football games, professional baseball games, professional tennis tournaments, international soccer events, and concerts. It has even hosted the Super Bowl more than once. The stadium seats over 65,000 spectators. So, the stadium has a lot of space and knows how to take care of people.
Now that people have been in lockdown, or self-quarantining for months, cabin fever has been setting in. People want to get out. But large gatherings are still a cause for angst for many. So, camping, RV trips, and really, any outdoor activities have become popular. Hard Rock Stadium wants to capitalize on that and become a go-to destination for those that do decide to get out. So, they have come up with a plan.
Outdoor Theaters at Hard Rock
Named, The Outdoor Theaters at Hard Rock, the plan encompasses converting Hard Rock Stadium into a drive-in movie theater. The stadium has enough space to have 230 cars on the field. A smaller venue in the south plaza will also be converted for smaller groups to be entertained by other outdoor big screens.
From the Miami Dolphins press release,
“The global entertainment destination will now feature both an open-air and drive-in theater that will showcase classic Miami Dolphins content from the team’s 54-year history, classic motion picture films, host commencement ceremonies, and other events. The family-friendly experiences will provide a unique environment while staying in accordance with social distance policies.”
There is no definite timeframe or pricing information provided by The Hard Rock Stadium for the public to start taking advantage of the new drive-in initiative. The only comment from a spokesperson was, “in the coming weeks”.
The stadium will be new to the drive-in business. So, it has the advantage of developing a plan based on the current realities of COVID-19. But, how are other drive-ins that have already been in business adjusting to the new social distancing norms?
The Sunset Drive-In is located in Waterford, Pennsylvania. I reached out to the owners, Dennis and Margaret Koper, to find out. I asked Mr. Koper what changes have been necessary to keep their business running. Mr. Koper indicated that due to local restrictions, they had to shut down the Sunset Drive-In for six weeks. This weekend will be their second since they have re-opened. But, they have had to make several changes compared to previous years.
Mr. Koper was kind enough to expand on some of those changes. He said there is no congregating permitted in the snack bar. Instead, people in the snack bar have to remain six feet from each other. Also, the employees are separated by shields that have been installed to protect them. Mr. Koper also had to shut down the playground until further notice. Sadly, at the current time, the restrictions in their region require them to run the Sunset Theater at only 50 percent of capacity.
Drive-In Movie Theater Backstory
According to Smithsonian Magazine, the first drive-in movie theater opened on June 6, 1933, in Camden, NJ. The cost of entry was twenty-five cents per car. At their peak, there were once over 4,000 drive-ins. Over the years, many have closed due to the appreciating land prices. The cost associated with switching to digital format has also forced many drive-ins to close their gates.
The United Drive-In Theater Owners Association only has 142 active members in the United States, according to their website. However, there are 305 actual sites. The states with the largest concentrations of drive-in theaters are New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Nationwide, two of the drive-in locations are currently listed for sale on the website.
Given the current COVID environment, the Hard Rock Stadium has been forced to look at different avenues to develop income. It would have been foolish of them not to. The much-beloved drive-in business model seems to be one that will attract a lot of people. Who knows, maybe it will spark a rebirth of drive-ins. The thought of driving into a stadium for a movie might catch on.