Why the Braves Are Really Leaving Atlanta

Last week, multiple sources reported that the Atlanta Braves will build their next stadium in the city's northern suburbs within Cobb County come 2017, and owner Liberty Media (NASDAQ: LMCA  ) is publicly behind the decision. Despite what you may have heard, this is not a simple situation. There are a number of different, complex influences at play here, and it's important to understand the reasons behind the move.

Why the Braves are leaving

The Atlanta Braves are one of Major League Baseball's trustiest franchises in terms of on-field performance. The team captured 14 consecutive division titles between 1991 and 2005, and it has only experienced three sub-.500 seasons since 1990.

Intriguingly, this consistently high level of play hasn't led to reliable attendance at Turner Field.

Credit: Kevin Eldon

According to ESPN Stats & Information, which tracks the percentage of seats each professional baseball team sells on a nightly basis, the Braves have finished in the league's bottom half every year since 2004. This past season, when Atlanta won the NL East by 10 games, just 63.3% of their home seats were filled, worse than 20 of the MLB's 29 other franchises.

Now, one might argue that Turner Field's abnormally high seating capacity (over 50,000) is responsible for low attendance percentages, but the aggregate totals aren't that pretty either. The Braves scanned a little over 2.5 million tickets in 2013, lower than the Chicago Cubs, the Colorado Rockies, the Philadelphia Phillies, the L.A. Angels, and the San Francisco Giants, all of whom had losing records last season.

What's my point? That success on the diamond doesn't always translate into booming ticket revenues. Other factors have a major effect on attendance, and in this case, on Liberty Media's profits. Although they often fly under the radar, some of these other factors include: (a) the proximity of season ticket holders to the stadium, (b) the presence of nightlife around the stadium, (c) parking availability, and (d) transportation options.

Interestingly, the Braves face every single one of these issues at Turner Field, and team executive Mike Plant has revealed the team will control a 60-acre area in Cobb County for the development of nearby amenities like bars and restaurants. Parking and bus availability is expected to improve as well. But the most telling reason the Braves probably called Cobb can be boiled down to one map.

Courtesy Home of the Braves.

That's a graphical representation of where Liberty Media's best baseball customers live: Braves season ticket-holders. As the team publicly states, "the new stadium will be located near the geographic center of the Braves' fan base."

The map also indicates that the next ballpark site is about 12 miles north of Turner Field, and just 2 miles outside of Atlanta city limits. This brings me to my next point.

Why Atlanta let them go

Obviously, this entire process was a two-way street. The city of Atlanta decided not to match their neighboring county's $300 million offer for a few reasons.

First, an official summary indicates that Cobb County is on the hook for 45% of the park's estimated cost, which is much higher than 20% benchmark that Atlanta established when it agreed to help fund the Falcons' new stadium earlier this year. Second, and arguably more fundamental, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has expressed that he would rather spend a couple hundred million dollars on city infrastructure projects over the next few years.

An op-ed from Reed to CNN also implies that he simply doesn't believe a 12-mile move is worth allowing the city to be "choked by debt," and he's absolutely correct. The new park is still in the broader Atlanta area, is closer to season ticket holders, and surprisingly, Cobb County has more people residing in it (707,000) than Atlanta (443,000).

In fact, the entire metro Atlanta area, which houses about 5.5 million people, is historically one of the most spread out cities in the U.S., so expansive that Paul Krugman dubbed it the "Sultan of Sprawl." It's within this context, then, that we can rationally understand Atlanta's decision to let the Braves out of city limits. If any urban center can house a professional sports team in a nearby suburb and get away with it, it's the Braves, demographically speaking.

What really matters

Unfortunately, Cobb County's key role in an oft-discussed "evolution is a theory, not a fact" court case, a mandatory gun law in one town within county borders, and a few other instances of political extremism have led some pundits to paint this as a race issue.

Yes, there is a higher percentage of non-white residents in Atlanta than there is in Cobb, and yes, the county is still adamantly against allowing the city's transportation system to expand to its towns.

None of this played a role in the Braves' recent decision, though.

As mentioned above, the franchise is leaving Atlanta proper for a multitude of reasons, and each is logically justified. A closer proximity to season ticket holders and better amenities around the ballpark should boost Liberty Media's attendance shortcomings, while the city of Atlanta will be able to use taxpayer dollars on more important infrastructure projects.

Also, don't forget that this city in particular is one of the most spread out in the country. Any fan that thinks Braves jerseys should be embroidered with the words "Cobb County" come 2017 simply doesn't understand Atlanta.

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Read/Post Comments (18) | Recommend This Article (7)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 19, 2013, at 8:28 AM, NoBravesInCobb wrote:

    Another non-Atlantan, telling us how much sense this move makes. Reality is, the Braves are making a kneejerk reaction to the breakdown in negotiations with the City, and moving to one of the most congested intersections in Atlanta. Braves fans and commuters alike with quietly rage in game day traffic, and the Braves will bear the brunt of the resulting hostility.

    Neither the Braves, nor Cobb county has done a traffic impact study. There has been zero planning, zero analysis, simply a hey, we got 60 acres, come on up to Cobb County. They cannot even show us a rendering of the planned stadium, because they don't have one, it's still an idea in someone's head.

    As for attendance, the Braves average attendance in 2013 is 31k, and ranks 13th in MLB. Atlanta is ranked 11th in market size, and when you consider there are 6 teams basically tied in attendance at ~31k, (11th through 16th are within 1500) the Braves 2013 attendance seems completely reasonable.

  • Report this Comment On November 19, 2013, at 11:36 AM, JakeMann wrote:

    'NoBravesinCobb,' I respect your opinion, but what about the closer proximity to season ticket holders, and the increased amount of nearby amenities the new stadium will provide?

  • Report this Comment On November 19, 2013, at 2:12 PM, thecarnivore123 wrote:

    The author still missed the point of the REAL reason the Braves are moving: Turner Field simply is in a dangerous neighborhood, and many thousands of people do not want to risk their lives trying to get to a ball game.

  • Report this Comment On November 19, 2013, at 6:41 PM, rdizzle404 wrote:

    This article mostly misses the mark as to why the Braves are moving to Cobb Co.

    First and foremost, Cobb is giving the Braves a huge cut of the revenue to be had from the development surrounding the new stadium. The Braves demanded from Atlanta either $10M annually or 25% of all revenue from a proposed development surrounding Turner Field. While Cobb will own the new stadium, the Braves are going to own and develop the surrounding acreage for mixed-use.

    Secondly, each dot on the heat map does not in fact represent a season ticket holder, but "a ticket sold to a Braves game in 2012." There is a difference, and the map is most likely misleading. It likely over counts multiple purchases bought in single transactions, and definitely over counts repeat customers. It also fails to account for gameday box office sales and presumably purchases through Stubhub and other secondary markets. Unfortunately the Braves have not provided the data backing up the map.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 11:31 AM, actualatlantan wrote:

    "Any fan that thinks Braves jerseys should be embroidered with the words "Cobb County" come 2017 simply doesn't understand Atlanta."

    Jake Mann, you're from Chicago. I'm from Atlanta. I've lived here most of my life. I know this city's history, and how much Cobb has always resisted being a part of it. Don't presume to tell me what I don't understand about my own city, because you clearly know jack about it.

    If the Braves want to move to a part of the metro area that makes every effort to isolate itself from the city, then the Braves should not continue to be associated with the city.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 11:33 AM, nmwander wrote:

    I'd like to see a map of where the season ticket holders for Chicago Cubs live.....

    My guess is they are spread all over the map....and dont really care how close to Wrigley Field they are..........

    Bogus Explanation for the Braves Move.

    How to build a stadium.

    1. The land that Cobb County seeks to develop is land that some Real Estate Speculator bought years ago and failed to develop properly.......political connections always help when you need to unload some unproductive investments!

    2. Already the busiest intersection in town, I-75 and I-285 combine with US41 and Windy Hill, to make locals consider moving to Los Angeles to avoid traffic......There is no Public Mass Transportation system in Cobb County..........

    Not worth bragging about anyway.....CCT exists to milk federal funding for the administrators! Dont even think they operate this shell company for the purpose of actually transporting people to places they want to go!!.....

    A Stadium just on the verge of "ITP" (inside the perimeter)......allows MARTA an excellent chance to finally tap into Cobb County revenues........

    Cobb County will need to finally build a MARTA station at Cumberland Mall......and then use the communal brain cell to figure out how to transport Braves Fans from the MARTA station to the stadium.

    3. Jobs? Perhaps......maybe the local construction boys will get work here. maybe the locals will be manning the hot dog stands.......

    So there you have it:

    1. Real Estate Fat Cats are for it.

    2. MARTA is for it.

    3. Construction Companies are for it.

    4. Of course the Politicians are for it....

    5. Metro Atlanta Commission is for it......

    ...

    Only the Taxpayer gets skrud.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 11:52 AM, Localhooligan wrote:

    As a native Atlanta who has spent the last ten years living in Chicago, I think its important to note that the Cubs are currently the No. 1 tourist attraction in the city, so a lot of the people attending Cubs games are from out of town. They come for the history of the park, certainly not for the comfort or amenities, of which Wrigley Field has few.

    I think the Braves have made a grave error in moving to Cobb. Baseball is a circus that only plays 70 or so games a year. Traffic there is already bad. Will patrons want to hang out in the bars and clubs they plan to build around the new stadium in November? To sink several hundred million public dollars into placating a corporation that only produces revenue 70 days out of 365 is a fools equation.

    The Roman Collesum was used for nearly 500 years, the Braves are saying Turner Field is obsolete after 18.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 11:57 AM, cards wrote:

    It isn't the location it's the fanbase. Before there were mlb teams in the deep south and far west, a great majority of the people in that area routed for the St. Louis Cardinals and still do today. Atlanta is a late arrival on the MLB scene.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 12:20 PM, pslatterymd wrote:

    Braves need to move back to Milwaukee, thats where they belong.

    Atlanta can take the Brewers, even though the Brewers annually stink, Miller Park is always full, Wisconsin is deserving of a winning baseball team. Bring back the Braves to the town that Hank Aaron and Eddie Matthews made famous.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 12:35 PM, atlreader wrote:

    I was born in Cobb county and am currently a tax-paying homeowner there, and I'm all for the Braves move. I think the author has written a great article laying out the facts of the move. It's simple to understand, and I agree wholeheartedly. Yes, it's a really busy area of town. It's also super convenient for most people to drive to, and Cobb is apparently planning to create a new exit at Windy Hill that will specifically funnel people to the stadium. The city of Atlanta offered the Braves organization a rotten renewal deal, and you can't blame them for going elsewhere for all of the reasons the author stated about the parking, lack of nearby entertainment, proximity of ticket purchasers to the current Field, etc. Give it a rest people. This is a good thing for most fans.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 1:36 PM, bigjohn767 wrote:

    I'm from east Georgia and getting to the ball park was fairly simple (I-20 to Hill St. exit). The only problem I ever had was the surrounding area is not conducive to feeling safe after a night game. I do carry a gun in my truck but can't take it in to the ball park. Anyway, the new stadium, as stated by several posters, is in a very bad intersection. Unless they make some sort of adjustment in the traffic flow, they may lose some fans from other areas.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 2:33 PM, EP516 wrote:

    I'm 4th generation Atlanta native and I think it is a great idea to move. This isn't the same city that it was when my grandfather watched the Crackers across from the Sears Building on Ponce and it’s not the same city when I watched Hank Aaron make the record books. The City of Atlanta is in decay and needs to die before anything will get better. It’s sad but true. Atlanta is on its way to becoming Detroit.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 2:46 PM, deano61 wrote:

    I live in the city limits, am white, and I agree this is a good move. Mostly for selfish reasons. I live in the neighborhood just a few blocks east of Turner Field (Grant Park). Is this area dangerous? Absolutely not. Suburbanites perception of the entire city is based on the few annual occasions they visit Turner Field each season. Is Turner Field dangerous on game day? Absolutely. Thugs from all over the metro converge to take advantage of 40K cash carrying fans. These same thugs will show up in Cobb, unless Cobb PD takes a much harder stance than APD did. The bad element on game day is the reason I'm glad the Braves are leaving. New development will only increase my property value. These suburbanites don't have a clue. Within 5 minutes from my house, I can walk to the Zoo, Cyclorama, Grant Park itself, 6 Feet Under, Tin Lizzy's, Republic, Augustine's, Blue Bird, Octane coffee,the Beltline, and many other bars/restaurant's/activities. So, good luck in that office park in Cobb. Thanks for the extra space for new development.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 4:17 PM, EinsteinSays wrote:

    I'll guarantee that after the move the Braves still draw that attendance amount. Moving into a smaller venue does not change the fact that the Braves are second tier to college sports in Atlanta.

    I've lived in Illinois, California, and Virginia. I've been to Jacobs Field, Pittsburgh, Wrigley, Comiskey, Jack Murphy, Dodger Stadium, Anaheim, Camden Yards, Fenway, and others.

    Know what those places have (except for maybe Padres fans), true fans the majority of the time.

    Transportation sucks in Atlanta and that area is about to get worse. When in Boston I've taken their public transportation and been at the stadium in 15 minutes.

    What moron decided to not have the Olympics/Olympic Committee/Etc. not place a train station at the site? That's why people don't go there. Implode it and move it won't make any attendance difference.

    Atlantans go elsewhere before and after games. There are plenty of spots around the stadium that bars, restaurants, shops, etc. could have been built but they didn't.

    Have fun with your move dummies.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 4:37 PM, datruthdog wrote:

    Fact is, it's not safe in downtown Atlanta. It's the hood dominated by, well, you know who it's dominated by. And the people that pay lots of money to go to MLB games (and you know who they are as well), don't want to take their families to the hood to be threatened by gang bangers. The city fathers (the main hood overseers) don't want to change anything because these are the people that keep them in power. Most of them are hood alums anyway. There is nothing that would have kept the Braves downtown. Nothing.

  • Report this Comment On November 20, 2013, at 9:27 PM, Tigerhaze wrote:

    I am not from Atlanta but travel there often for work purposes. When this decision originally came out I made similar comments to others on here about the traffic in the CUmberland area as well as MARTA stopping short of Buckhead, much less the Cumberland Mall area. The one thing that no one mentioned (that I saw) was that the new stadium will be on the exact opposite side of the metro area from Hartsfield (the international airport). It will be a real PIA for those flying into the airport (including teams) to get to and from the stadium, especially in bad traffic on I-285.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2013, at 11:12 AM, Sheardbeard wrote:

    The land where the current stadium is, is more value to Atlanta, than keeping the TEAM inside the city limits. They still are in the area, and still make money of them being that close, so why agree like Cobb county did to fund 45% of the expected cost.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2013, at 11:35 AM, bRad404 wrote:

    @datruthdog

    everything about that comment is absolutely infuriating. anyone who thinks classism and racism hasn't played a role in this move need only read your comment. as a WHITE girl born and raised in downtown (never living further than 1.5 miles from the capitol) I cannot emphasize how much of this is merely perception. there is enough of a police presence on games days that people ought to feel safe, and if they don't there is plenty the city can do to fix that. same goes for the night life. this area of town has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, and will continue to change the way people like you want it. by continuing to push out, well you know who, and replacing them with, well, you know who.

    I believe all of this will been seen as a huge mistake in the coming years, even by current non-believers.

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