What the Atlanta Braves Abandoning Turner Field Will Mean for Their Fans

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What the Atlanta Braves Abandoning Turner Field Will Mean for Their Fans
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

In today's fast-paced, ever-changing world, 20 years is long enough for a professional sports team to play in one stadium. 

The Atlanta Braves announced Monday plans to build a new "world-class" park that will open in Cobb County, Georgia in 2017. 

Braves general manager John Schuerholz issued a statement about the new stadium, saying that Turner Field needs massive renovations that wouldn't do anything to help the fan experience. 

Turner Field, which we do not own, is in need of hundreds of millions of dollars of upgrades. Unfortunately, that massive investment would not do anything to improve access (to the stadium) or the fan experience. These are issues we simply cannot overcome. 

Our vision for the future is grand. The new stadium site will be one of the most magnificent in all of baseball. It will thrive on action 365 days a year. We plan to transform the surrounding area of the new ballpark into a mix-use destination. 

The Braves, who have been in downtown Atlanta since moving from Milwaukee in 1965, will be occupying a new sector of Georgia once this new stadium opens up, leaving the residents of Fulton County in baseball purgatory. 

Granted, the new location is within 15 miles of Turner Field, so it's not like they are walking away from Atlanta entirely. 

According to Kevin McAlpin of 680 The Fan in Atlanta, the new stadium is expected to cost around $672 million with contributions from Cobb County and the team. 

Jim Galloway, Political Insider for the Atlanta Journal-Constitutionreports Cobb County's "contributions" will be $450 million (approximately 67 percent) of the total cost. 

One of the great myths about publicly-financed sports arenas is job creation, which does more to benefit the rich owners than anyone else. However, Cobb County is fully invested, literally and figuratively, in making this happen. 

In addition to the problem of using so much taxpayer money to finance a stadium, there is also the matter of location. 

Film critic and editor at TheDissolve.com Scott Tobias summed up his thoughts from personal experience with the location of the new stadium. 

Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk points out the irony of the Braves leaving a relatively new stadium while another successful franchise is stuck in its own personal hell. 

That's not to say Turner Field is in the perfect spot for the Braves. Attendance has essentially plateaued since 2002, as the team has ranked between eighth and 10th in that category for 10 straight years and 11 of the last 12. 

Atlanta Braves' Attendance Ranks
Season Total Attendance NL Rank
2004 2,327,565 10th
2005 2,521,167 10th
2006 2,550,524 9th
2007 2,745,207 10th
2008 2,532,834 10th
2009 2,373,631 10th
2010 2,510,119 9th
2011 2,372,940 8th
2012 2,420,171 8th
2013 2,548,679 8th

Baseball Reference

It's practical business sense to open a new stadium, because it means more people will come to games. Fans will want to experience the park and take in all the new amenities. 

When Turner Field opened for baseball in 1997, for instance, the Braves finished second in the National League with 3,464,488 tickets sold. It was originally built for the 1996 Summer Olympics before being converted to a baseball stadium. 

Another reason for the Braves to move away from Atlanta is based on where a majority of the people buying tickets and attending games come from. 

The Braves haven't been able to sell out playoff games in the past, including some noticeable patches of empty seats during this year's National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers

It's hard to say what the move out of downtown Atlanta will mean for the fans. They have been spoiled by a franchise winning the NL East every season from 1991-2005, excluding the strike-shortened 1994 season, and three playoff appearances in the last four years. 

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Yet all that success has led to just one championship in 1995. That doesn't mean fans should be excused for not showing up for these games, but you can't tell people how to spend their money. 

If fans are conditioned to seeing a team make the playoffs but not advance beyond the NLDS, where is the incentive to show up?

If the product is good, fans will continue to show up in their usual numbers. Even though they are no longer one of the top draws in the NL, the Braves still drew more fans than five 2013 playoff teams (Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Cleveland, Tampa Bay). 

The Braves must have done a study on this situation and found that a stadium in a spot where an overwhelming majority of fans buy tickets will encourage them to buy even more tickets.  Otherwise, this just looks like a shallow, desperate attempt to spike attendance numbers for a year or two and generate more money through offseason events since the team will own the new stadium. 

However, a new stadium is going to come at great cost to the fans. It is going to require construction around the I-75 and 285 that will make traffic a nightmare, to say nothing of what things could be like after the stadium is built. 

There is something to be said for upgrading the fan experience at a stadium, and taking a franchise out of a spot where it wasn't drawing the way it once did could be the impetus for fans to turn out in droves. 

I guess that's a good reason to leave a stadium that will be just 20 years old after the 2016 season, even if the incentive for those fans to show up to the new stadium doesn't seem to be there for whatever reason. 

 

Note: All attendance numbers courtesy of Baseball Reference

If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter. 

 

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