You can take the Braves out of Atlanta, but can you take the Atlanta out of the Braves?
With news coming out on Monday that the Braves are planning to relocate to Cobb County from Turner Field after the 2016 season, according to the Marietta Daily Journal, there are questions about what this means for the franchise.
Like, why is this happening, and should this be happening at all?
The Braves are hoping that the answers to these and other questions surrounding the state of the organization will be satisfying to the team's fans. Change, whether for better or worse, is always met with some resistance, trepidation and apprehension. For the Braves fanbase, this has come as a surprise to most, as Jay Jaffe outlines for SI.com.
If it helps allay any of the above, here's what president John Schuerholz had to say in announcing the plans:
To put it simply, the club's 20-year lease agreement with Turner Field expires at the end of the 2016 campaign, which explains the timing of the relocation. It also means that it's well within the franchise's rights to explore other options outside of its current home.
As to why this is happening at all—and whether should it be—there is a more nuanced, complex answer to that, especially considering Turner Field isn't exactly old. In fact, it was constructed as the Olympic Stadium for the 1996 Atlanta Games and opened for baseball starting in 1997.
And yet, the site is already the 14th oldest in the league, which is rather incredible. That's obviously due to the wave of new ballparks that have popped up in the past decade or so.
The plan going forward calls for the Braves to keep up with the Joneses (no, not Chipper and Andruw) by building a state-of-the-art structure that will seat about 41,000—approximately 10,000 fewer seats than Turner Field—and is expected to cost $672 million, per Maury Brown of Forbes.
As with any such undertaking involving the construction of a massive sports complex, there are the financial implications to wonder—and worry—about, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution points out:
The deal to move the Atlanta Braves to Cobb County involves $450 million in financing by the county and another $200 million put up front by the baseball team that first moved to Atlanta in 1965, we’re told.
The key question is whether the financing arranged by Cobb County will hold -- and what kind of financing it is. Keep in mind that spending public monies on stadiums has become a volatile topic. This is the primary reason Atlanta is unlikely to actively challenge the move.
Money is always a sticky situation in developments like this, so we'll have to wait to hear more and see how that plays (and pays) out.
As to the actual location, the new park will be near the intersection of I-75 and 285, approximately 14 miles northwest of Turner Field. That puts the new digs in a much more fan-friendly location, according to HomeOfTheBraves.com, the new stadium's official website, which shows just how much closer the site will be in relation to the club's season-ticket holders. That's a good thing overall.
Is it shocking for folks in the A-T-L that the Braves, who have called downtown Atlanta home since Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium opened in 1966, will eventually be moving away from the city? Sure, but they won't have to travel all that far into the suburbs to catch a game.
As Mike Plant, the Braves' executive vice president of business options, said via Mark Bowman of MLB.com, "We're not moving into another city or another state. We're still going to be an active participant with the city with our Braves Foundation grants. We're not leaving Atlanta. We're just moving  miles up the road."
Also good? There are plans to make everything much, much more accessible, which was arguably the biggest problem with Turner Field:
The Braves evaluated ways to make improvements at Turner Field and surround it with the numerous entertainment options that will be available around the new stadium year-round, but those improvements would not have addressed the transportation issues. Fans who have used MARTA (Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) trains have either had to walk approximately three-quarters of a mile from the nearest stop or exit at Five Points and take a one-mile shuttle ride.
Heavy traffic in downtown Atlanta has also deterred some fans. According to Plant, Turner Field is about 5,000 parking spots short of the optimal figure when filled to capacity.
Derek Schiller, team executive vice president of sales and marketing, echoed that sentiment:
The access issues around Turner Field are very difficult. It's the No. 1 issue cited by our fans as to why they either don't come to games or come to as many games. It's difficult to get here and very difficult to get out of here. The parking situation is cumbersome and challenging.
Assuming the transportation and access problems are cleared up at the new home, that's another reason for fans to be excited.
There's also the issue of what the new ballpark will be called, although it's expected to have a corporate naming sponsor.
Speaking of naming issues, as the AJC notes, "Could [this] be a chance also to rebrand the Braves' image? The scuttlebutt among some politicos is that the team may also look to change their logo amid the move."
We're all aware by now of the ongoing naming controversy surrounding the football team in the nation's capital, and while there hasn't been quite the uproar over the Braves nickname, this could give the organization an opportunity to rethink that too.
Beyond all of the above, it's worth pointing out that as great as the Braves have been while in Atlanta in recent years—their .608 home winning percentage at Turner is the second-best in baseball in that time—the fans haven't been coming out any more frequently. Attendance has held steady, right around 30,000 per game over the past decade, down from the inaugural five seasons.
There's also no real signature, defining element or factor to Turner Field. For a moment, think of the ballpark and try to picture what it looks like. If you don't live in Georgia or haven't been to a Braves game or seen more than a few on television in recent seasons, you probably don't have much of an image in your head, right? Let's hope the team does a better job of adding in an identifying mark to help the field and/or structure stand out in this next take.
As to the question of whether this could affect the Braves' drawing power for players in trades and free agency, it's unlikely to have a major impact either way, although it certainly won't hurt. Even if the organization does do a bit of rebranding as mentioned above.
To sum up, let's turn once again to HomeOfTheBraves.com:
For nearly 50 years, the Braves have called Atlanta home. We have begun the process to build a new stadium with hopes that the Braves will open the doors to a new world-class ballpark by Opening Day 2017, and we will begin the latest chapter in our history. Our new home will feature entertainment options, green space and a place to go 365 days a year. Though we will be in a new ballpark, we will continue to be your Atlanta Braves.
There's no doubt that this move will bring about much change for the Braves and their fans. But in that marriage of team and devotees, initial impressions indicate that there's more "for better" and less "for worse."
A new park, with all the amenities that complete such a development, set in a different yet nearby location that promises to be more accessible and less of a headache for fans? Sounds like a win, at least until we hear more specifics about the financials and any possible hiccups along the way between now and 2017.
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