The Atlanta Braves announced plans today to move out of Turner Field and into a new stadium in suburban Cobb County for the 2017 season. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
The Braves said the stadium is projected to cost $672 million, including parking, land and infrastructure, and will be built in partnership with Cobb County ... [Executive vice president Derek] Schiller said there is not a signed agreement at this time, but Schiller and Plant said they are 100 percent confident the stadium will be built.
(Although Schiller initially declined to say how much the county would be paying, this story says that Cobb County will be on the hook for $450 million, with the Braves paying roughly $200 million.)
"We've played in our current facility for quite some time, and it was with mixed emotions that we made this decision because we have many great Braves baseball memories that occurred for all of us ... in that facility," team president John Schuerholz added. "But we are quite enthused about where our new facility will be."
I guess 20 years qualifies as quite some time, because the Braves moved into Turner Field for the 1997 season (the ballpark was originally used for the 1996 Olympics).
There's another reason for the move, of course, and it has little to do with Turner Field being an outdated facility. Check this map of Braves' ticket buyers from the 2012 season. A new ballpark in Cobb County would be closer to more of the affluent Atlanta suburbs.
Martin Gandy of our Braves blog "Gondee" wrote five main reasons why the Braves would make this move, including this one:
2. They need to find more revenue. Since their TV deal is below industry standards and locked in place for years to come the team must see a new stadium as a way to add more high-dollar seating options to help fund the team. Luxury seating upgrades have been added every year for the past few years to Turner Field, but an entirely new stadium gives the team the opportunity to add lots of high-dollar seating and possibly get an advantage over other teams. Consider that the Braves don't currently sell out their luxury suites, and many of those suites are in non-preferential locations towards the outfield.
Despite averaging more than 90 wins and making the playoffs three of the past four seasons, Braves attendance has remained stagnant in recent seasons at about 2.5 million -- ranking just eighth in the National League each of the past three seasons. On-field success usually leads to attendance growth, but that hasn't happened with the Braves. The club hasn't ranked in the top five in the NL in attendance since way back in 2000, when it drew 3.23 million fans.
A move to the suburbs could possibly help attendance, although Martin pointed out that MARTA (the rapid-transit system in Atlanta) doesn't have a rail line to Cobb County (it has been discussed). Martin also points out that the parking lots around Turner Field are owned by the city of Atlanta, so a new ballpark would lead to more revenue in that area, as well.
In their meeting with the media, Braves executives said traffic is the No. 1 reason fans don't go to games. I covered the Division Series games in Atlanta this year and can attest that the traffic situation is horrible and the parking situation is even worse. Turner Field, while located near freeway exit ramps, is also located in the middle of a bunch of side streets with very few immediate parking areas around the stadium.
The Braves said they are underserved by about 5,000 parking spots and I believe it. As an outsider, I can certainly understand the disincentive to drive in from the suburbs to go to a game (if that is the primary reason; it could just be the sports fans in Georgia would rather spend their money on football games or other activities).
It will be interesting to see what happens here. As Schiller said, no official deal has been signed, but for the Braves to make an announcement, it's likely, as Martin headlined, that we'll be seeing the Cobb County Braves in 2017.