By Roger Wells
For a section named ‘The Bull Pen,’ it seems appropriate for an occasional baseball post. In particular, a baseball team in the heart of SEC country – the Atlanta Braves.
A lot has been said since November 11th, when the Braves announced the team is abandoning the City of Atlanta and Turner Field for a new stadium in the Cobb County suburb of Smyrna, GA. Not much has been said regarding signs that indicate that the Braves are moving mainly to thumb their nose at the City of Atlanta, Fulton County and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration.
How do we know this? We know this because it does not make sense for the Atlanta Braves to move out of the city limits. It does not make sense for a team to move out of the city when the nationwide trend is moving into cities. It does not make sense to move out of the city when Major League Baseball has been campaigning to revive baseball in American inner cities. We know this because the Braves have been trying to obtain the city’s attention for years, only to be overshadowed by the Falcons’ new stadium deal. And what is most vexing, is that we know this because the reasons for the move listed in the official press release and on official stadium relocation website (homeofthebraves.com) are misleading and invalid.
The Braves attribute the move to the convenience of the new location, and will quickly refer to the graphic containing red dots representing a ticket sold which illustrates that “the new stadium will be situated in the heart of Braves Country.” However the graphic is purposely vague. Supporters of the move will point out that the Braves seem to be moving to the center of the geographic area of most ticket sales. However, they will ignore the fact that the area inside the city perimeter of I-285 is 2/3 filled with red dots. The graphic ignores the reality that ‘Braves Country’ is not just metro Atlanta, it is the entire southeast due to TBS and the fact that no other MLB team resides between Louisiana and Virginia. It ignores the fact that the remaining 1/3 of the city area that is not filled with red dots is one of the busiest airports in the world, and that much of ‘Braves Country’ will be coming through that airport. The graphic fails to include the highly populated cities that are within driving distances like Macon, Augusta, and Athens; all of which have now added approximately one hour to the drive. The graphic also fails to represent density and numerous ticket sales at a single location. It fails to represent the numerous business ticket sales to corporate offices in Downtown Atlanta. If the map contained darker areas of red for areas of highly concentrated ticket sales, the city area will surely be much darker than the sprawling suburbs to the north.
The only thing the graphic represents is where the money is in metro Atlanta. It represents that the households to the north have a little more money and are more willing to drive into the city for a baseball game than the households to the south. It is simply not logical to move the stadium closer to the fans that have more money and are more willing to drive at the expense of moving away from the fans who are less willing to drive. The Braves have alienated much of their fan base.
Braves President John Schuerholz states, “we believe the new stadium location is easy to access…” Again, this could not be further from the truth. Anyone who has traveled through the north side of metro Atlanta knows that the north side of I-285 and the I-75/I-285 interchange is a congested nightmare. Couple that with an overcrowded Cobb Parkway and the drive from the claimed ‘Braves County’ in the northern suburbs is nearly impossible during rush hour for a game. In addition, no major public transit exists in the area. Atlanta’s main transit system, MARTA does not extend into the area, and due to the County’s reluctance, it probably never will. MARTA certainly has its shortcomings but nonetheless provides transportation to Turner Field for thousands of Braves fans. This will no longer be an option in the new stadium location.
Schuerholz also cites that the stadium will be a “first-rate game day experience in and around the ballpark and [make] it a 365-day-a-year destination,” by constructing a mixed-use development around the stadium. The statement may be true. But why not build the same thing in the City of Atlanta around Turner Field? According to Maria Saporta of the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Turner Field needs $150 million worth of regular stadium maintenance in addition to $200 million over 20 years to enhance the ‘fan experience.’ That’s a total of $350 million over 20 years. For the new stadium, the Braves contributed $280 million up front. According to these numbers, the Braves, Atlanta and/or Fulton County would need to raise an additional $70 million over 20 years. That is $3.5 million a year. That is a significant amount of money. However, it is hard to believe the Braves, the City of Atlanta, and/or Fulton County could not raise that money. The Braves have already thought of a way to pay for part of that money. Their own stadium relocation website states that the Atlanta Braves will earn $1.5 million annually through stadium naming rights. For example, if Turner Field was renamed to something like ‘Coca-Cola Field’, 43% of the required funds would be accounted for.
It is impossible to determine who exactly is to blame for this move. However, to many, it seems as though something could have been worked out, and the Braves moved mainly to prove something to Atlanta. The result of not reaching a deal, is a loss for Atlanta, the Braves and the fans.