New stadium should keep Braves competitive

sports@macon.comNovember 12, 2013 

Braves Stadium Baseball

This artist rendering provided by the Atlanta Braves shows the team’s proposed new ballpark and mixed-use development design in Cobb County. The stadium is scheduled to open in 2017, replacing Turner Field.

BEN GRAY — AP

It was an unusual news story Monday. No one had a clue the Atlanta Braves were going to announce they were leaving Turner Field for Cobb County in 2017. It was a secret the NSA would be proud of back in the day. We’re not used to hearing something out of the blue in this era of Twitter and the Internet.

The Braves didn’t float a story to try and threaten Fulton County into making improvements to Turner Field. Instead, they just said, “We’re going to the suburbs.”

This is so new, so fresh that there are so many questions. It was obvious the Braves were not happy with the prospects of a 20-year-old facility that would only get older. They were tired of the complaints about the neighborhood around Turner Field, tired of the parking issues and tired of hearing how people from north Atlanta just didn’t want to battle the traffic to go to the games downtown.

And Fulton County obviously didn’t want to make the improvements, so the Braves found someone who would fix all those problems.

It’s not going to help us in Middle Georgia. Instead of it taking a little more than an hour (without traffic) to get to Turner Field, it might now take 90 minutes or so. And if there is heavy traffic at all, plan on at least two hours.

But the Braves had to worry about their highest area of concentration of ticket buyers, which is north of Interstate 20 and up to 30 miles north of the top end of I-285. That’s where the population is now, and that’s who the Braves have to target. If those fans can get to the games easier, certainly they’ll come more often.

Many will logically ask why the Braves have to move after only 20 years in a facility that looks like it still has wet paint signs in some areas. But blame poor planning during the build-up for the Olympics, which were awarded in 1990 and took place in 1996.

When the city of Atlanta knew it was getting the Olympics, it should have made sure a MARTA line was built to the new stadium. That would not only have helped in 1996, but it would have given people from the north suburbs easier access to the new baseball facility. They also should have done a better job at purchasing more land around the stadium so the new place wasn’t boxed into a corner like it still is today.

Promises were made that the area around Turner Field would be developed over time, but 17 years later it’s still unspectacular. It’s hard to believe there is only one sports bar in the ­entire area. And shouldn’t there be more signs the Olympic Games were held there, instead of just a burned cauldron?

For those of us who drive south when we leave Turner Field, there’s no doubt the traffic patterns out of the stadium are horrible. It’s not only troubling that you have to sit in a bad neighborhood in a traffic jam, but that there’s no easy access to the Interstate system.

So the team will move north, and you’ll get to the games from I-75 or I-285. They’ll have more parking, more space and more places to develop to make the game-day experience better. Yes, that’s important now. Attract the casual fans with a full experience. The days of getting people to simply go watch a ballgame are over. You need more than just the game to get people to come more often.

The new stadium should only be a good thing. It will give more value to the organization, and even though team owner Liberty Media will hang onto the Braves until after the new stadium opens, it should make it more attractive if they do put it on the market five to seven years from now. And Liberty Media would be smart to keep the team competitive. No one wants to see a bad team in a new facility. Right, Arthur Blank?

If the average attendance increases in the new ballpark, that will give the Braves more annual revenue. Remember, they don’t have the best local TV deal compared to other teams, so they need different avenues to raise more money. If that happens, that should make it easier to make investments in talented players, which will, in turn, keep the team competitive.

That is, as long as Liberty Media doesn’t pocket the money, which the company might do in the next few years to pay for the new stadium.

Getting a new stadium seems to be the thing to do now, and if it helps the Braves stay competitive, let them have it.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at www.twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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