Elisha Chauhan discovers why the Atlanta Braves have chosen to build their new stadium in the suburbs – the first time a Major League Baseball (MLB) team has done so since the turn of the millennium.
In November last year, the Braves shocked their fans with the announcement that they will move away from their iconic Turner Field ballpark at the end of the 2016 season.
Further to that, the chosen locations – Cobb County, which is 12 miles north of the Braves’ current stadium – was also unexpected, as no MLB team in the past 15 years has chosen to move its ballpark into the suburbs. In that time, 14 new MLB stadia have been built.
Derek Schiller, Braves’ executive vice-president of sales and marketing, says there is a clear rationale behind the new site.
“The first thing we did was look at our ticket buyers and where they come from,” he told SportBusiness International.
“We then produced a heat map of where our tickets were bought throughout the entire metropolitan Atlanta area. We did a lot of searching around, and had other areas under consideration, but ultimately Cobb County was the best location to place our new stadium for the next 30 years.”
The Braves have invested in 60 acres of Cobb County land. Fifteen acres will be used to build a 41,000-seat stadium, and the rest to create an entertainment complex, including shops and restaurants. Costing a total of $672 million, $300 million of the construction will be covered by public funding.
Some fans are worried that the Braves could elude south Atlanta ticket buyers by moving away from downtown. Cobb County also has an older – and more affluent – demographic than that of the Turner Field area, which means the team could lose younger gameday goers, and hence future Braves fans.
“I don’t think it’s safe to say that we will have less ticket buyers from south Atlanta or even from the Turner Field area,” Schiller says. “I believe it will be just as convenient, if not more, for fans to travel to the new location.
“We’re currently the Atlanta Braves and we will still be the Atlanta Braves when we move. We have a regional draw of fans, and a significant percentage of fans buy gameday tickets across the whole south-east of America.
“At Turner Field, the average distance a fan has to travel is over 50 miles, now we’re moving 12 miles closer to the majority of our fanbase. We’re helping them get there, and we believe the composition of ticket buyers will reflect that. We’re not just moving to attract Cobb County fans, we’re moving to this location to be attractive to most of our fans.”
Built as a venue for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Turner Field originally sat 85,000 spectators, which was then reduced to around 50,000 to accommodate the Braves when they leased the venue a year later. With the lease ending in 2016 and the stadium in need of $150 million of major infrastructure work, a new purpose-built stadium for the Braves was a logical progression.
“We’re reducing the stadium capacity, but because it will be easier for fans to travel to the stadium whilst also having the entertainment complex, our ticket sales will increase quite dramatically – especially over the first few years. We will be close to sell-outs more often, and the 41,500 capacity is more typical of the last 10 or so MLB stadiums that have been built.
“There has been a small number of fans that have expressed a level of concern. But anytime you make a change of this nature, you’re going to encounter a resistance to change. Once fans understand more about the location and how to get there, as well as the entertainment and retail options that will be created, we will have even more support than ever before.”