The news out of Atlanta this morning is surprising:
The Atlanta Braves plan to build a new stadium in Cobb County and move there from Turner Field at the start of the 2017 season, team officials said today. Braves executives John Schuerholz, Mike Plant and Derek Schiller, in a meeting with a small group of reporters, said the new ballpark will be built at the northwest intersection of I-75 and I-285 in the Galleria/Cumberland Mall area. They said the team has "secured" 60 acres of land for the project. 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. Schiller said the Braves will pay a substantial portion of the cost of building the stadium but would not say how much. The Braves officials declined to provide details on how Cobb County will participate financially in the deal. 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.
The Braves have launched a website today that has more details on this project from the team's point of view. The most interesting part of that site is this "heat map" showing where Braves ticket sales come from throughout the Atlanta area. (It isn't clear what time frame that shows, whether it's 2013 or multiple seasons.) The Braves say they're moving to where their ticket buyers are, but as you can see from that graphic, there are plenty around the area near Turner Field, too.
Eric Fisher of Sports Business Journal had some interesting comments via Twitter Monday morning:
Clearly, this #Braves move motivated by $. But Turner Field underrated ballpark and move defies all industry trends toward urban building— Eric Fisher (@EricFisherSBJ) November 11, 2013
Transportation/traffic will be big issue w #braves new park. Had family in Marietta for 15+ yrs. 75/285 intersection already nightmare now— Eric Fisher (@EricFisherSBJ) November 11, 2013
I wrote about Fisher's first point last March. The "trend", not only in baseball but in other sports, has been to build stadiums in or near downtown areas. Suburban stadiums have been built for NFL teams (Dallas, Buffalo, Phoenix, among others), but they can handle traffic issues more easily, because the NFL plays just once a week, mostly on Sunday afternoons, when other traffic is light. For teams in sports that play more often, weeknight traffic can make getting to games a nightmare (as it is for the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes, who are located far from the center of Phoenix-area population).
It's a real puzzle why the Braves wouldn't have figured out a way to spend less money on fixing up Turner Field:
Plant said Turner Field would need about $150 million in infrastructure work, including replacement of seats, upgrading lighting and plumbing, etc., to remain viable. "And that’s nothing that is going to enhance our fan experience, which is very important to us," he said. He said enhancing the fan experience would cost "upward of an additional $200 million."
Instead, they're going to spend nearly twice as much on a new park. I also found this strange:
"We also recognized that what is insurmountable is we can’t control traffic, which is the No.1 reason why our fans don’t come to more games," Plant said. "That over the last decade has grown immensely. … We are under-served by about 5,000 parking spaces. All of those things contribute to some real challenges for us that we just, looking forward, didn’t believe they could be overcome."
Based on Fisher's comments, traffic coming to games isn't going to be any better at the new location; having 5,000 more parking spaces is just going to mean more cars and more traffic. It's likely that you'll see crowds at the new Braves stadium resembling what happens at Dodger Stadium -- arriving late, leaving early. I know some here live in Atlanta and could weigh in on the traffic issues; from the couple of times I've been there, it seems as if traffic there is approaching southern California volumes.
As noted by Fisher, the Braves are going against industry trends by doing this. It'll be interesting to see how this all shakes out.