From near and far, ‘Braves Country’ rooting for a World Series

Braves fans Frank Schottgen (from left) and Erica and Trey Cockrell, all from Mobile, Ala., take a selfie photo as they arrive at Dodger Stadium to watch their team play the Dodgers in Game 4 of the NLCS on Wednesday. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Braves fans Frank Schottgen (from left) and Erica and Trey Cockrell, all from Mobile, Ala., take a selfie photo as they arrive at Dodger Stadium to watch their team play the Dodgers in Game 4 of the NLCS on Wednesday. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Frank Schottgen lives in Mobile, Ala., about 335 miles from Truist Park, and views the Braves as his hometown team.

“It might be five or six hours to Atlanta,” he said, “but I consider myself just as big a Braves fan as someone from there.”

All across the Southeast – and even beyond – fans such as Schottgen and his friends Trey and Erica Cockrell, also from Mobile, are part of “Braves Country,” their enthusiasm unencumbered by distance. Major League Baseball assigns each team a home territory for television purposes, and the Braves’ area, encompassing 5-1/2 states, is among the largest. With the Braves one win away from their first World Series since 1999 – Game 6 of the National League Championship Series is Saturday at Truist Park – their fan base is rooting them on from near and far.

“When we get to Atlanta, wearing a Braves jersey, surrounded by all these other people from Braves Country, it feels like a family atmosphere,” said Trey Cockrell, who is 30. “I’m proud to say that my family – my kids and my wife – are Braves fans and that we’re from Braves Country.”

Schottgen and the Cockrells attend five to seven home games a year, but they’ll also travel a lot farther to see the Braves play. They were in Los Angeles for NLCS games at Dodger Stadium this week. Schottgen, 27, attended Braves games in Miami and Washington this year.

Their passion doesn’t extend to other Atlanta teams. Schottgen’s favorite NFL team is the New Orleans Saints, the Falcons’ rival. Cockrell doesn’t have a favorite NFL or NBA team.

Several factors, some unique, contribute to the Braves’ sprawling fan base and the organization’s long adoption of the Braves Country moniker. Geography is part of the explanation as there’s not another MLB team within 450 miles of Atlanta. The team’s special place in cable TV history is part of it, too, as the Braves built a nationwide following during the three decades (1977-2007) that most or all of their games were televised on Ted Turner’s Superstation. And on-field success, particularly the team’s five World Series berths in the 1990s, certainly has been a factor, too.

“I’ve been in the TV business over 40 years in a lot of different markets, and (the difference is) the vastness of the reach of the appeal of the Braves,” said Jeff Genthner, general manager and senior vice president of Bally Sports South and Bally Sports Southeast, the regional networks that televise the Braves’ regular-season games across the Southeast. “You go to Nashville, you go to Memphis, you go to Charlotte, you go to all points in between, there are Braves fans loud and proud everywhere.”

The Braves’ regional telecasts are distributed across Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina and western and central North Carolina.

“Five-and-a-half states is a huge territory,” Genthner said.

While metro Atlanta residents account for almost all of the Braves’ season-ticket holders, the team estimates that over the course of a season close to 50% of its single-game ticket sales are to people who live more than 50 miles away, including about 30% to buyers from out of state. Braves president and CEO Derek Schiller said those percentages, which are highest for summer games when schools aren’t in session, have been pretty consistent for years. He added that they may have ticked upward recently because of the restaurants and hotels in The Battery Atlanta development adjacent to Truist Park.

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Braves President and CEO Derek Schiller. (Photo courtesy of Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves

Credit: Kevin D. Liles

Braves President and CEO Derek Schiller. (Photo courtesy of Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves

Credit: Kevin D. Liles

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Braves President and CEO Derek Schiller. (Photo courtesy of Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves

Credit: Kevin D. Liles

Credit: Kevin D. Liles

“We continue to monitor where ticket buyers are from, and that does continue to show that the Braves are very much a regional team in the makeup of the ticketed fan base,” Schiller said. “(Single-game) ticket buyers come from all parts of the Southeast and even farther away than that.

“I think there’s just a handful of other teams in baseball that transcend the market that they represent and have fandom spread across a much wider area. The Dodgers are one, (as are) the Chicago Cubs, the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox. The unique thing about the Braves, though, even compared to those teams, is how much we control a region of the country. That is a powerful thing.”

An analysis by secondary-market ticket company SeatGeek counted the counties in which each MLB team has the most shopped-for tickets. The Braves were first in 515 counties, the most of any team, across nine states.

The Braves drew 2.3 million fans at home this season, ranking second in MLB behind the Dodgers, as baseball reopened its gates after playing the 2020 regular season without fans in the stands because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The high ranking was boosted by the Braves reopening their stadium to full capacity in early May, sooner than all but one other MLB team (the Texas Rangers).

The Braves’ telecasts on Bally Sports South/Southeast averaged a 2.72 rating this season in the Atlanta television market, meaning 2.72% of the market -- about 72,000 households -- watched on average. Although that was higher than in other markets across the Southeast, as would be expected, the Braves’ ratings held up well elsewhere considering the distances from Atlanta: a 2.4 rating in Augusta, 2.2 in Huntsville, Ala., 1.7 in Chattanooga, 1.1 in Charlotte, 1.1 in Memphis, 1.0 in Columbia, S.C., and 0.9 in Biloxi, Miss., as of the July ratings.

In addition to the influence of TV, Schiller thinks the far-flung radio network that broadcasts Braves games contributes to the team’s reach. The Braves this season were broadcast on more than 160 radio affiliates, stretching as far away as Louisville, Ky., and Roanoke, Va.

The Braves also continue to have some fans in even more distant places -- a residual effect of the days when the team’s games were nationally broadcast on TBS by the late great announcers Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren and Ernie Johnson Sr. It was a different era, the infancy of cable TV, before all MLB teams were televised on regional sports networks. It was an era in which a small town in Iowa erected a billboard proclaiming allegiance to the Braves and the city manager of Hilo, Hawaii, came to Atlanta for a convention and presented flowers, macadamia nuts and a plaque to the Braves’ broadcasters.

Although 14 seasons have passed since TBS canceled the team as regular national programming, reminders of those days surface when vocal pockets of Braves fans show up in improbable locations, such as road games last month at Arizona and San Diego.

“What those fans often say is: I remember watching the team with my dad or my mom back when all the games were on TBS,” Schiller said.

Trey Cockrell knows that feeling well from his childhood in Alabama, a state without a major pro sports franchise.

“I remember when I was 5 years old watching Braves games with my dad,” he said. “Something that sticks out to me is my dad putting me to bed and then sneaking back downstairs to catch the end of the late-night World Series games. Since then, I remember getting our hearts broken a few times, but every year, as Braves fans, we think this year is the year.

“And now I have a 5-year-old who is just absolutely obsessed with the Braves.”

He’s the next generation of Braves Country.

“Trey has already passed it down to his kids, and, God willing, when I have kids, they’re going to be big Braves fans as well,” Schottgen said.

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