The Atlanta Braves generally go into zero dark thirty mode during the annual winter Hot Stove period. However, during the preamble to what was expected to be another muted offseason, the Braves closed a $672 million deal to construct a proposed new stadium in 2017. The location of their new stadium in the bubble community of Cobb County just outside the perimeter has created a bit of noise that has woken up dormant MLB and inspired vitriol in Oakland.
The Braves new Cobb County stadium is just the latest example in a pattern of franchises leaving city limits for one reason or another. The San Francisco 49ers are in the process of constructing their pristine Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, the Golden State Warriors crossed the bridge from their stadium in Oakland to hoist up a stadium on the San Francisco bay. This is a business move. The Braves are seeking to get closer to their fans (here's a map illustrating the location of the Braves ticket purchasers.) There are other examples, but both are exemplar models of the axiom, “Money Talks.”
Here’s another one. Say it with me, “I’m a sports franchise in Atlanta, I have a problem and this week I relapsed by picking up a load-bearing pipe.” The Miami Marlins and their terrible $634 million stadium deal, due in part to poor public transit (which counties on the outskirts of Atlanta of familiar with) could scare them straight. Atlanta has a stadium-construction addiction. The first step is admitting it.
In a span of two years, Atlanta has lost an NHL franchise to Winnipeg, green lit a state-of-the-art origami stadium just a few yards from the 21-year-old Turner Field and set a moving date out of 17-year-old Turner Field. The weird thing is that compulsion isn’t apparent in their front office’s recruitment of elite free agents. Justin Upton’s on the rise, but he was an affordable acquisition due $38 million over the final three years of his deal, who is still blossoming.
The price tag should be raising a few eye brows. For one, Turner Field — which opened four years after The Georgia Dome, also due for demolition in 2017 — was built to operate as an Olympic Stadium. The lease expires in 2016 and the Braves used that timeline as an opportunity to construct a world-class piece of modern baseball architecture. No, they won't try to follow the Miami Marlins model by regionalizing themselves by becoming the Marietta Braves.
By moving into the front yards of the majority of their revenue and ticket-purchasing fan base, their attendance numbers should be expected to increase exponentially. According to some estimates, the Braves would be expected to raise profits from ticket sales alone by nearly $12 million. Selling stadium naming rights could also net them an additional $5 million. Overall, net revenue increases from the Braves smaller Cobb County stadium would be anywhere from a $20 to $40 million boon for the franchise.
The $672 million projected price tag would make it the third-most expensive MLB stadium ever constructed. The other two are the New York Yankees’ $1.3 billion Bronx baseball cathedral and Queens’ Citi Field. Money ain’t a thing to those two front offices.
On another hand, the Braves have been a penny-pinching franchise for much of the past two decades. The Braves will likely let All-Star catcher Brian McCann walk due to the Braves unwillingness to offer him a multi-year contract in the neighborhood of $75 million over five years.
You don’t move into a million-dollar mansion with a fountain and gate, then ride out in an economy car. If the Braves are going to move into an expensive new mansion, they need to decorate it with championship hardware and upgrade the product on the diamond.
The Braves’ $89.3 million payroll in 2013 was the 17th highest in the majors. The Mets were 18th and missed the postseason. The Braves lasted four games. It’s time to stop playing and start fanning some cash. The Oakland A’s play in baseball’s most dilapidated stadium. Moneyball is a necessity for them, not a choice.
The Red Sox proved that you don’t have to cut excessive checks or buy your own cash printing machine to match the Dodgers and Yankees, but the Braves have to begin paying their talent or risk becoming a niche team bunkered in Cobb County. They can start with McCann, their All-Star catcher and party enforcer. The Braves conservative free agency strategy will be under more of a microscope if they’re annual revenue balloons after their construction of this intimate stadium.
Atlanta has a stadium-hoarding problem. They also love to hoard division pennants. Now they just need to transfer that obsession to the World Series. Atlanta never won a World Series in the Turner Field era. Upton’s contract also expires in 2016. By that time, the 28-year-old outfielder should have fulfilled his superstar potential. Divisional titles are great, but Braves fans are yearning for a World Series victory. Cobb County wants it so badly they’re about to make $450 million rain on the Braves new stadium plot. Hopefully, the Braves return the favor and pony up to make it happen.