The Braves have announced plans to move to a new stadium in Cobb County in 2017, after (what will have been) 20 years of calling Turner Field home.
I don’t have a lot of thoughts at the moment. The team’s website for the move announces that the stadium is near the intersection of I-75 and I-285, so clearly the team believes that their attendance will rise by placing the stadium on multiple major highways. The team also subtly criticizes the city of Atlanta for its stewardship of the downtown area on which the former Olympic Stadium rests:
There is a lack of consistent mass transportation, a lack of sufficient parking and a lack of direct access to interstates. Furthermore, the Braves do not have control over the development of our immediate surroundings.
Translation: MARTA access to the stadium has never been great, there isn’t enough parking for people who want to drive, and the immediate surroundings of Turner Field are tremendously economically depressed, which means that there is nothing for fans to do after the game but try to leave as quickly as possible.
The city doesn’t bear all the blame for that. Among other things, MARTA’s problems result from a collective action problem — the people who want massive MARTA construction in a given area are the people who don’t live there. The people who live there would prefer not to have it. Therefore, the people who most benefit are not the ones who have standing to make the decision. Plus, because it’s Atlanta, there are always undercurrents of class and race that I will avoid mentioning here so as not to violate the no-politics rule.
But the area around Turner Field is economically depressed, and has been since before the stadium was built for the 1996 Olympics. There was a hope that the stadium would help lift up its neighborhood. That did not happen. And now the team is throwing up its hands and moving to a place with better highway access, which, in Atlanta, often amounts to the only thing that matters.
The team is also careful to note that while Turner Field has been fine for its first two decades, major reinvestment is necessary, and so they make an economic argument for the move:
Turner Field has served the Braves well since 1997, but it is in need of major infrastructure work, which will cost around $150 million. These upgrades are functional ones, such as replacing worn-out seats or upgrading the stadium’s lighting, and they would do little to significantly enhance the fan experience. If the Braves were to pay for additional projects focused on improving the fan experience, the additional costs could exceed $200 million.
According to the AJC, the team is quoting a price of $672 million for the new stadium. Therefore, the team’s math suggests that it would cost $350 million to maintain Turner Field for the next 20 years, and only an additional $322 million to move to a location with better highway access and parking.
That said, team estimates for stadium construction are always, always low: there are always cost overruns, and because Cobb County will be footing much of the bill, the team has every incentive to lowball the cost. Moreover, I don’t quite understand the nature of the $200 million estimate for “improving the fan experience”; in my experience, going to a baseball game with your dad or your best friend is still a pretty great way to spend three hours. However, the team believes it’s important for its new stadium to be “a mixed use, 365-day destination,” which is not currently true of Turner Field, and perhaps it would require hundreds of millions of dollars to make that possible. Few outdoor stadiums are capable of 365-day use, but it would certainly raise revenues.
Anyway, the team is presenting this as a fait accompli, but that’s usually a negotiating posture. They remain the “Atlanta Braves” — the team is careful to note that the Cobb location “will have an Atlanta address.” I am depressed by this not so much by the team’s actions, which appear rational as far as it goes, but by what this means. The city is losing its team. The poor people who live around the old stadium are still poor. But someone’s going to spend the better part of a billion dollars on this anyway.