Atlanta Braves Go Against Trend and Announce Move From City to Suburbs

The Atlanta Braves baseball team currently plays at Turner Field, which was built just 17 years ago and sits right in the middle of Atlanta. You can see the skyline and the State Capitol building, and the building is outfitted with all the latest and greatest technology, luxury suites and other trappings.

Yet, the team announced that it will be moving to the suburbs of Cobb County and tearing the stadium down.

If you had just traveled in time to the present day from, say, 1978, you’d say, “typical” because that’s what was happening then. People and organizations were fleeing the cities for the suburbs, and that included some pro sports teams and their homes.

But since then, that’s changed. In fact, it’s gone strongly in the other direction. I was going to write about this in detail, when I learned that the guys at Deadspin did the work for me.

Pay special attention to this image (right).

Photo courtesy of Deadspin

Image courtesy of Deadspin

It shows all “significant” stadium moves for baseball teams since 1960. The length of the line indicates how far the team’s home stadium moved, and the color indicates direction: Red is AWAY from the urban center, and blue is TOWARD the urban center.

Note all the blue lines, including Miami’s LONG trek toward the city center last year. Note also that the last red line of any length at all was Kansas City, back in ’93 (and to be fair, KC doesn’t have a super strong urban core).

Then look at the Atlanta line: Red as a tomato and really long. Ditching the city for the suburbs.

There’s another image being shared about this, and it’s ticket sales. Take a look.

Image courtesy of WSB-TV 2 Atlanta

Image courtesy of WSB-TV 2 Atlanta

This image (left) supposedly shows the heat map of Braves ticket sales, and the conclusion we’re supposed to draw from this is that the new stadium location will be closer to the heart of where the sales actually come from. Let’s take this information as true. There are still two questions. First, there’s a difference between where people live and where they are. If you work in Atlanta and live in the suburbs, which location is more important to your buying decision. Second, do these ticket-buying decisions really get made in such a vacuum? The movement to the city centers for baseball teams provides pretty strong evidence that people don’t base their decision simply on how convenient the drive is, but instead, on what else is there when they get there.

The question for me is whether this is a freaky aberration from the (in my view, very positive) trend toward the city centers, or the front edge of a new (and not so positive) trend toward stadiums stuck on suburb islands of concrete from which people flee the second a game is over?

For now, I’m going with aberration, but it bears watching. The Braves are a good team and organization with a loyal fan base, but as a potential bellwether for the future of not just baseball ticket sales, but live entertainment and arts and how people will want to find it, it could be very instructive.

(Here’s a really interesting local perspective on the move, too. Brings up a couple dimensions, such as the ethnicities of people in different parts of Atlanta, that I’m not knowledgeable enough to talk about.)

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