I should begin by saying that I have never been to a Braves game. I have never been to Turner Field, and I haven’t even been to Atlanta in several years.
So I don’t have a dog in this hunt. At the end of the day, I don’t have any emotional stake in where the Braves play baseball.
As a columnist and as a journalism teacher, however, I’m fascinated by the story of the Braves’ planned 2017 move to a new stadium in Cobb County.
I love baseball on some levels. When I was a kid growing up in Kentucky, my dad and I routinely traveled up to Cincinnati for Reds games. For a few years there, I could recite Big Red Machine stats off the top of my head — and there are still a few in my brain to this day. Like George Foster’s 52 home runs in 1977 — in the pre-steroid days, that was a shit ton of homers. I actually saw Game 5 of the 1975 World Series against the Boston Red Sox — that’s the game when Tony Perez hit two homers.
Riverfront Stadium was a pretty soulless place compared to stadiums built both before and after it, but those trips to Cincinnati branded baseball games as urban experiences for me.
For most Americans, professional baseball is something of an urban experience. (I have really fond memories of seeing games at Fenway Park and Camden Yards too.)
Yes, baseball fans might largely be suburbanites these days — communities with enough room for Little League ball fields — but that doesn’t mean that those attending professional games want to watch them in the suburbs. There’s a grittiness, a toughness, a smudged quality to baseball that tells many of us that it belongs in the city.
But the Braves’ move makes business sense, right? They’re moving into the heart of their biggest fan base, aren’t they? There are many factors that contribute to fan support, and there’s a paradoxical but fairly obvious counter-argument that I haven’t heard yet from any Braves’ detractors. If the team already has strong support from Atlanta’s northern suburbs, how much larger of a fan base can be cultivated in those neighborhoods? And if the supporters in Fulton County, Atlanta, and points south are less committed, how much of that marginal support will be lost when the team moves?
And how many more comments will we hear that echo this one from Cobb GOP Chairman Joe Dendy?:
It is absolutely necessary the solution is all about moving cars in and around Cobb and surrounding counties from our north and east where most Braves fans travel from, and not moving people into Cobb by rail from Atlanta.
The emphasis is Dendy’s, by the way.
Um, wow. Is this a bias against transit? Against urban centers? Or is it just a bias against the bulk of the residents of Atlanta — the people who actually live there? Ironically, the Braves cite “lack of consistent mass transit options” as a key reason for abandoning Turner Field.
A few more public statements like that, and it’s possible that Atlanta residents, especially those who have generally taken MARTA to games, will give up on the Braves en masse.
And there’s also the bizarre (to me, at least) fact that Braves management and Cobb County officials have been largely mum about how the county will come up with the $400-450 million in public financing apparently needed for the $672 million new stadium, which will be surrounded with a huge new mixed-use development.
Ongoing road projects are already costing Georgia taxpayers over a billion dollars in Cobb and nearby counties and now officials are floating even more plans, like a new bridge for pedestrians and a fan shuttle that will cross over I-285.
At the same time that they’re preparing for some big spending, Cobb County officials might be banking on revenue projections that are far, far, far too optimistic. For example, Commissioner Bob Ott predicts “about 400,000 new hotel stays per year.”
So there are going to be 5,000 hotel stays in Cobb for every Braves home game? Consider this contradictory data from a recent economic impact study, as cited by the Saporta Report:
Visiting Braves fans stay 110,000 nights each year in local hotels and motels (averaging about 2.5 nights per out-of-town fan).
That means that some of those fans see one game while they are in town for longer stays. Will a large number of fans really stay in Cobb County hotels for an average of 2.5 nights while just seeing one game? Really? Or will they just, you know, get a hotel in downtown Atlanta for a couple nights and drive out to Cobb to catch a game?
And how many hotel stays in Cobb will be lost when would-be visitors realize their plans conflict with Braves’ home games and all that additional traffic?
I could go on and on. Maybe all of this will work out fine for the Braves and for Cobb too.
But I think it has trouble written all over it, and I’m shocked that the famously tax-averse citizens of the Cobb County aren’t up in arms about the move.