His first reaction to an Instagram post May 27 when the Blue Wahoos launched their Airbnb experience caused Jonathan Roberts to assume deception.
An Airbnb at a ballpark? In Pensacola? On the water? With access to the stadium field, clubhouse, indoor batting cage and other thrills?
“I thought, that can’t be real,” said Roberts, who resides in Waco, Texas. “So I did some research and within an hour, I realized, Oh my God, this is a real thing.
“Next thing you know, I went ahead and booked it.”
He added sheepishly, “And I kinda booked it without approval (from his wife).”
That’s OK. His wife was fine with it.
In fact, the Roberts family, which included their 9-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter, along with three other couples from Texas and their children, broke new ground this week at Blue Wahoos Stadium, as they became the first large group to use both team clubhouses as an Airbnb.
One of the other couples was Jonathan Roberts’ brother, Matt, and his wife and kids. There was a near 50-50 split for the boys and girls, ranging in various ages, among families’ children.
“The boys all play some type of baseball, some of the girls play softball, and all the dads are just excited as everyone else,” Roberts said.
The visitors’ clubhouse has now been converted to sleep as many as 12 people with two queen beds and four sets of bunk beds. That matches the lodging capability in the home clubhouse.
The visitors’ clubhouse, while naturally much smaller than the Blue Wahoos clubhouse, does have its own separate dining room and kitchenette area, several televisions and multiple bathroom and shower areas.
The additional beds and overnight stay area gives the Blue Wahoos an ability to now book one big group – in this case four couples and 10 children – for the Airbnb experience.
“I would say two-thirds of the inquires I get are people wanting the extra space,” said Bailie Tate, the Blue Wahoos group sales manager, who has managed the stadium Airbnb experience from its launch. “At the beginning, we could not offer it because of the COVID-19 restrictions on number of guests.
“I had people call and say, ‘Hey we want to bring 50 people.’ Well, we couldn’t allow that and still can’t, but we can do 20 or so as overnight guests,” she said.
“I think it will be good for us and bring more awareness of the Blue Wahoos and help to continue living our mission and showcasing what we have in the stadium.”
The Roberts family, along with the other three families who traveled from homes near San Antonio, Houston and Austin, became the ninth overall guest stays travelling from Texas to experience the Blue Wahoos’ Airbnb.
The concept of a stadium Airbnb was the idea of Mallory Studer, daughter of Blue Wahoos’ co-owners, Quint and Rishy Studer. She suggested during a dinner conversation about utilizing the stadium this year as an Airbnb in a summer without any baseball games.
It has proven to be a huge success with nearly 45 nights booked in period of 65 days.
Mallory Studer has added touches to the clubhouse like plants, decorative pillows, along and table fixtures to give it more of a homey feel.
The experience provided by the Blue Wahoos has drawn 5-star ratings on the Airbnb website from past guests.
“It’s breathtaking,” Roberts said, as his group began to play on the field. “When you walk in and you see the ocean (Gulf of Mexico) from the outfield, and all the amenities…. I’m even more impressed with all the amenities than what was described online.”
The four Texas families first stayed in Gulf Shores, then took a night at the Blue Wahoos Airbnb, also their first time visiting Pensacola. They followed with a drive to check out Destin before heading back west on I-10.
During their overnight stay, the group purchased a movie to show on the main video board at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
“We have stayed in Gulf Shores a few times. And really enjoyed it,” Roberts said. “We wanted to go to Destin, so we thought about this and said, ‘You know what, let’s try it.’ So we made a big trip out of it with everybody.
“One of those once in a lifetime type of things.”
Tate said the expansion into two different bedding areas will open up more chances to get a youth team of 20 or so members.
The reservation process will remain the same. It will be one person booking a night for a group, not something where it will be two different groups.
“It’s exciting to open up the visiting clubhouse,” said Tate, a Pace High and University of West Florida graduate, who did not have any prior experience in handling a hotel style of business before the Airbnb launched. “This is a start.
“We’ll see what we need to do and how we need to pivot. And work with it to be able to house more people.”
The Blue Wahoos front office staff is involved in the maintenance, washing and cleaning and all other parts of the Airbnb experience.
The Blue Wahoos plan on offering the Airbnb through the remainder of this year, while trying to attract travelers throughout the cooler months.
“I definitely foresee an increase in people wanting the visiting clubhouse in the fall,” Tate said. “With so many sports teams having seasons cancelled, the coaches are still looking at things they can do to boost morale, so it almost becomes like a team building experience and it is a lot cheaper than having to purchase multiple hotel rooms.
I think it will be good for us, especially with teams that weren’t able to stay in hotels. I think what will also be beneficial bring more awareness of the Wahoos and help continue living our mission and showcasing what we have in stadium.
Bill Vilona is a retired Pensacola News Journal sports columnist and current senior writer for Pensacola Blue Wahoos/Studer55. He can be reached at [email protected]