Batbox isn’t your average baseball simulator, managing director Craig Winning says.
It’s an immersive game that combines HD screen simulation and high-speed camera sensors to offer the most realistic baseball experience possible. The batter can see a virtual world with a stadium, a pitcher, and an outfield full of players.
The pitcher throws the ball toward the screen, but there’s also a defensive component in which an opponent can manipulate the batter mid-pitch. It can be played in single mode or with a team, up to nine players on each side like a baseball lineup. And there’s varying skill levels—so if you’re a novice, the pitch will be slow, and if you’re a budding college star, the ball will come in hot. The brand does its own leagues, and there’s an opportunity to do national competitions.
The plan now is to take this technology and grow Batbox as a social entertainment concept across the U.S.
“We’re small players in a sense, but we have a love of the game. We want to grow it,” Winning says. “And this is a way of showcasing the game in a way that’s never really been thought of before and giving access to people the same way that Top Golf did for golf.”
The ideation for Batbox began in South Korea. As a college student, founder and CEO Jose Vargas traveled there from his home country Mexico and was taken aback by the craze around golf simulators. In South Korea, there are a small number of golf courses and most are private, pushing customers toward golf eatertainment venues with friends and family. Mexico is in the same boat, with fewer than 200 golf courses across the entire nation (for perspective, the U.S. is in the tens of thousands). Vargas noticed the similarities and decided to partner with South Korea-based Newdin Group—which sells Golfzon, the No. 1 golf simulator in the world—to bring the technology to Mexico. In 2015, he opened Mulligans, which pairs these simulators with a food and beverage package.
In 2019, GolfZon developed a baseball simulator called StrikeZon using the same tech, sensors, and launch monitors. Vargas was approached about bringing it to Mexico, and he did so by branding it as Batbox. There are now seven corporate and franchise locations in the country; a portion of them are dual-branded stores shared by Batbox and Mulligans. In addition to retail, Batbox is sold as a standalone simulator to private individuals, amusement parks, sports facilities, and other food and beverage operators.
By the start of 2023, the company was ready to take on the U.S. market. Texas makes the most sense as an initial target because of its vicinity to Monterrey, Mexico, where the majority of the company is based. A smaller, regionalized U.S. team will be formed in the future.
“We’ve ramped up operations,” Winning says. “We’re on the precipice of agreeing to some significant funding that allows us to open multiple locations. We’re in the process of doing our franchise agreement that we can be registered in every single state and then start opening locations from there. As horrible as COVID has been and has impacted people, it actually allowed us a good period of time to retool, rethink, and look at our UX/UI experience and then reengineer the menu, our service approach, our design. So what was fantastic four years ago, our revamped version knocks it out the park. It’s absolutely smashing.”
Winning admits that he was concerned about Batbox’s customer demographics being overwhelmingly male, but he was surprised to learn that it’s split pretty evenly. There are “a bunch of guys who are having bravado moments and want to smash it,” but it’s complemented well by the team aspect with wives, girlfriends, friends, and children in attendance. He breaks it into four categories—the uber sports fan, the mixed group of friends wanting a social gathering, families during the weekend, and corporate events (this controls roughly 35 percent of sales).
The menu started as basic mom-and-pop type items, but it’s been enhanced throughout COVID to meet the higher expectations of customers. There will be nuances between the U.S. and Mexico, but the foundation will be an “elevated ballpark experience,” Winning says. He compares it to entering Fenway Park in Boston and eating an unexpectedly good lobster roll. Batbox is shooting for higher-grade ingredients that someone couldn’t replicate in their typical supermarket shopping, such as a Wagyu-filled hot dog.
The service model is analogous to a concession stand. At stadiums and arenas, people can now order from their seats through a QR code/app or decide to order in person. These same options will be presented to consumers inside a Batbox location. Winning envisions text alerts to let guests know to pick up their meal and servers delivering food to customers.
“It’s high-quality prep, easy to execute food and beverage, and with that, it’s an increased speed,” Winning says. “So really guests can pace themselves rather than be at the mercy of the server who’s just floating around just taking drink orders. That’s more on the culinary side. On the beverage side, it’s a heavy beer and draft influence just because that’s the ballpark experience. We have a range of ready-to-drinks that are catered especially to us. So we have our own recipes. So working with a group in London who are spearheading a lot of that consultancy work for us. It’s definitely a better experience than going to a Triple-A game and spilling nacho cheese all over yourself.”
The average Batbox location is 4,000-5,000 square feet, but that will be bumped to 8,000 to 12,000 square feet in the U.S. Winning sees whitespace in suburban markets and uses the example of malls being taken over by experiential dining. So there’s a possibility that Batbox could expand to 20,000-25,000 square feet. A comfortable 10,000-square-foot property could fit eight batting cages, a centralized bar, and a larger patio—enough space so that the focus isn’t just on simulator play.
Although not an exhaustive or solidified list, Batbox may look for growth in the Carolinas, Florida, Atlanta, and Louisiana.
“If you think of an overall growth plan, you could look in every MLB market plus you can look in every Triple-A market plus you can look in spring training areas,” Winning says. “And then you haven’t even scratched the surface of college towns. And then with that it can be hyper-regionalized. Michigan, it’s not a massive baseball market, but it’s definitely a drive for people wanting experiential dining. So we can layer in with our corporate locations a lot of franchise regions as well.”