Q&A with David Baker

The president and chief executive officer of the Pro Football Hall of Fame is overseeing a massive development that will include a hotel and conference center.

David Baker
David Baker

David Baker has had a lengthy career in politics and sports, two areas that are serving him well in his current role as president and CEO of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The former mayor of Irvine, California, and commissioner of the Arena Football League took over leadership of the hall of fame in 2014. Now he is leading the charge for a major development that, once complete, will transform the hall into an entertainment and residential zone that will include a four-star hotel and conference center. Another $10 million is expected to be spent to renovate the stadium on the grounds as well. As the game faces challenges off the field, Baker is making sure the on-the-field performances serve as inspiration for generations to come.

In this interview with SportsTravel’s Jason Gewirtz, Baker outlines plans for the site, how the hall is addressing the concussion issue and his favorite football artifacts.

In May you unveiled plans for a $476 million “Hall of Fame Village,” including a four-star hotel/conference center, an entertainment district, a residence for former players and a youth sports complex. What is driving the need for this new development?

We think there’s a tremendous opportunity to be a home for fans, for youth football and for those who played the game. If you look at the NFL last fall, 45 of the top 50 TV shows were NFL games—20 of the top 20. So there’s a tremendous appetite. The game is growing stronger than ever before. Canton is where the game was born 96 years ago. But we think there’s an opportunity to grow what’s happening here. My original goal with this was to have a hotel and perhaps a conference center. When our two NFL teams play here for the Hall of Fame Game, they stay in Cleveland. When we have the rookie symposium here, they stay in Aurora. But by the NFL’s statistics, something on the order of 95 percent of the people who are NFL fans will never get to go to a game. Well, they can come to the Pro Football Hall of Fame for a youth football tournament or entertainment or performance training or a corporate seminar or coaches’ clinics or officials’ clinics. Not only can they experience the history of the game but they can experience it in a football-themed environment that shows what it’s like to be at a game, what it’s like to be playing in a game. That’s what we see as the real opportunity here.

To read the rest of this Q&A in the digital edition of SportsTravel, please click here.