What Is The Score Of The Dallas Cowboys Football Game The Braves Seek Out Suburbia

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The Braves Seek Out Suburbia

The cinematic wisdom of baseball holds that if you build it, they will come.

The Atlanta Braves seem to want to add a caveat: “…as long as you build it in the right place.”

In a move the Atlanta Journal-Constitution characterized as “impressive,” team officials announced that the Braves will leave their downtown Atlanta home for Cobb County, a suburban area northwest of the city whose largest city is Marietta. (1)

The Braves have played in downtown Atlanta since moving from Milwaukee in 1966, but their current home, Turner Field, is newer. It was built for the 1996 Olympics and became the Braves’ home park in 1997. The team said it will move for the 2017 season, the first opportunity to do so after its 20-year lease at Turner Field expires. .

There’s nothing inherently wrong with Turner Field. Its only major drawback is that it’s not enclosed, making it difficult to play or sit through a game day in Atlanta in July. But the Braves aren’t leaving because of the weather. (The new field will also be outdoors, team officials said.) The website the team launched to explain the move cites “certain problems that are insurmountable and will only become more problematic over the years.” (2) These include inadequate parking and lack of mass transportation.

I assume these are real issues, but I suspect the Braves have other considerations in mind as well. Money is high on the list, as usual. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed released a statement following the Braves’ announcement saying that keeping the team in downtown Atlanta would have cost taxpayers “hundreds of millions of dollars.” He claimed that Cobb County is providing a $450 million subsidy for the new ballpark, a figure neither the Braves nor Cobb County would confirm. Citing Reed, ESPN reported that the city plans to tear down Turner Field once the Braves leave.

Still, the Braves didn’t choose Cobb County because of the ease of getting around their offers. Like most of the Atlanta metropolitan area, the area around the proposed stadium is frequently blocked off, even without the added traffic that a major league venue would generate. As for public transportation, skeptics immediately noted that the MARTA transportation system does not serve Cobb County.

But the green suburban hills have other advantages, chief among which is proximity to the Braves’ fan base, a largely suburban crowd whose kids play softball and hardball on immaculately manicured fields. Baseball struggles to attract young players in urban areas, where basketball is especially popular. In some places, like Atlanta, the central city is not where most fans live, especially those who can afford big league prices. Derek Schiller, a Braves executive, said the new stadium would be “close to the geographic center of our fan base.”

The Braves understandably want to get as many of those fans into the stadium as possible. Despite the Braves’ consistent success on the field, they don’t draw crowds particularly well at their current home ballpark. In 2013, they averaged 31,465 in attendance per home game, though Turner Field can hold just under 50,000. The new Cobb County Stadium will seat approximately 41,000 to 42,000.

Downtown Atlanta is now lagging behind in the national trend of revitalizing urban cores. Unlike Miami, which is full of shiny new condo towers, Atlanta hasn’t attracted a huge number of new downtown residents in recent years. Atlanta is also a high-crime city by national standards. Very little happens downtown after dark. The center of the city hollows out as people take the huge freeways to leave the city or to more popular urban neighborhoods like Buckhead, Little Five Points and Druid Hills.

While I can’t fault the team’s management, the Braves’ departure looks like a financial disaster for the city. The Braves and Turner Field were one of the major attractions in downtown Atlanta. The decision also reinforces the position of skeptics who argue that publicly funded sports facilities do not add much value to a large established city, whether the stadiums are built for the Olympics (as in Atlanta or, this year, in Rio de Janeiro) or for professional sports franchises.

However, a big league team can put a smaller municipality on the map. This has happened in Arlington, Texas, which hosts the Texas Rangers and Dallas Cowboys. It has happened in Anaheim, California, which is home to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and an NHL team, the Anaheim Ducks. It may soon happen in Marietta. As Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted, Atlanta’s loss will be Cobb County’s gain, making it “a major destination point throughout the Southeast.” (1)

Downtown supporters can take solace in something of a consolation prize: a new downtown stadium being designed for the city’s National Football League franchise, the Atlanta Falcons. The team plans to move a short distance from their current home, the 21-year-old Georgia Dome which sits just outside of downtown.

Soccer is more popular nationally than baseball, and nowhere is the difference more stark than in Georgia, where even high school teams get their scores on the front page of the metropolitan daily. No doubt many would argue that the NFL is the treasure chest and baseball’s Braves are the consolation prize. But the Falcons only play eight regular-season home games a year, compared to 81 for the Braves. They also mainly play on Sundays, when traffic is less of a factor. You can get people traveling almost anywhere for an NFL game, but an eight-day schedule isn’t much for building a city.

The Braves are an attraction day after day. It’s too bad the city doesn’t offer a more attractive place downtown to keep them.

Sources:

1) The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Amazing news: Atlanta Braves move to Cobb”

2) Home of the Braves

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