Attendance and home runs are up at Braves’ new home

The right-field wall at SunTrust Park is popular with hitters. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Caption
The right-field wall at SunTrust Park is popular with hitters. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Beginning Monday, the Braves will play 18 of their next 21 games at SunTrust Park — a stretch that should enable the team to settle into its new home and fans to get more acclimated to the place.

The upcoming stretch follows an early-season schedule that had the Braves on the road for 32 of their first 54 games.

The timing is good for a home-heavy month, with the peak summer attendance period just beginning.

“The Braves have always had an attendance surge during the course of the summer months,” said Derek Schiller, the team’s president of business. “So we’re excited about getting into those months where kids are no longer in school.”

The Braves have homestands of eight and 10 games this month, the first starting Monday night with the opener of a four-game series against the Phillies. The two homestands will be separated only by three games in Washington.

Entering this busy stretch, here’s a look at how things are going at SunTrust Park — how the new ballpark is playing, how it is drawing and how it is operating.

How it is playing

The Braves’ third stadium since moving to Atlanta is playing a lot more like the first than the second. The first, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, 1966-96, was such a hitter-friendly park that it became known as The Launching Pad. The second, Turner Field, 1997-2016, generally favored pitchers.

So far, SunTrust Park has swung the advantage back toward hitters.

Fifty-five home runs have been hit in the first 22 games at the Cobb County stadium, an average of 2.5 home runs per game. That’s up 54 percent from the 1.62 home runs per game hit last season at Turner Field (130 in 80 games).

Thirty-four home runs at SunTrust Park have been hit by opponents, an average of 1.55 per game, while 21 have been hit by the Braves, an average of 0.95 per game. That discrepancy suggests the home team’s subpar pitching also has contributed significantly to the long-ball surge. But home runs per game are up notably for both the Braves and the opponents compared with Turner Field’s final season, when in 80 games opponents averaged 0.97 homers per game and the Braves averaged 0.65.

When measured against other National League stadiums, SunTrust Park’s home-run rate is less remarkable than when compared with Turner Field. SunTrust’s 2.5-home-runs-per-game average is slightly above the 2.38 average for all NL stadiums this season. Entering this weekend, six NL stadiums had yielded more home runs per game than SunTrust, topped by Philadelphia’s 3.13, Arizona’s 2.97 and Cincinnati’s 2.93.

Numbers aside, it’s obvious from watching games — and batting practice — at SunTrust Park that the ball carries extremely well there, better than at The Ted and reminiscent of The Launching Pad.

Asked by a fan on Twitter if the Braves expected their new stadium to be so hitter-friendly, general manager John Coppolella replied: “No. I love the park, it’s beautiful. Very similar dimensions to Turner Field, but wow does the ball fly here. Scary!!”

Combine the way the ball carries with one significant difference in dimensions — 375 feet to the wall in right-center compared with Turner Field’s 390 — and it’s a whole new ballgame, even if largely unintended.

“The ball carries … a lot more than any of us had ever anticipated,” Braves pitcher R.A. Dickey told reporters after a start last month. “So you’re going to give up some home runs that might seem like ‘cheapos,’ but you have just got to make sure they are solo shots and … keep it as close as you can because this field is going to yield some runs for both sides.

“We’re not even into the bulk of the summer when the ball really starts to carry.”

How it is drawing

Through 22 games at SunTrust Park, attendance — defined by MLB as tickets sold — is up 38 percent from the same point last year at Turner Field. That is the largest increase by any MLB team this season, as would be expected for a new stadium.

The other 14 MLB teams that have opened new stadiums since 2000 posted an average attendance increase of 28 percent in their first full season in their new home.

The Braves have drawn an average of 30,109 fans per home game this season, an increase of 8,230 per game from an average of 21,879 in last season’s first 22 games. They currently rank 12th among the 30 MLB teams in home attendance, compared with 25th at this point last season and 22nd at the end of last season.

“I think it’s a strong opening,” Schiller said. “Overall, we feel good about where we are going into June.”

Still, SunTrust Park, which has a capacity of 41,149, has been almost half-empty for some weeknight games.

The Braves have averaged 37,825 fans for Friday-Saturday-Sunday games and 24,767 for Monday-through-Thursday games. Larger crowds on weekends than weekdays are typical in sports, but Braves officials long have believed weekday attendance is affected more by the school year here than in most other markets.

“Braves games have particularly been very much a family affair,” Schiller said. “In the summer, we also increase the amount of attendees that come from further away, from some of the neighboring states and outlying cities that make up such a big part of our overall fan base.”

The Braves have anointed the upcoming homestand “kids week,” scheduling special activities and promotions for youngsters at each game. Following Monday’s game, for example, kids 14 and younger can run the bases under the lights.

June is a particularly important month for Braves attendance this season because the team has only eight home games in July. It has 17 in August, when schools are back in session, and 16 in September.

How it is operating

SunTrust Park generally has gotten positive reviews from baseball fans, as well as from media outlets, despite some operational bobbles typical of new venues.

Many fans have praised the proximity to the action of the steeply stacked seats, the design of the Monument Garden attraction in the lower-level concourse behind home plate, the wide array of group spaces, concourses that are open to the field (except between the dugouts) and the atmosphere of the adjacent mixed-use development, The Battery Atlanta. Many have expressed pleasant surprise and relief that they haven’t found getting in and out of the stadium area as difficult as feared.

On the other hand, fans’ complaints have included the narrow concourses that can become overly congested, the long lines at concession stands that sometimes contribute to clogging the concourses and the distance from some parking lots to the stadium.

Schiller said the team continues to make operational adjustments, such as adding more temporary concession stands in certain areas to address the long lines.

“Each day we’re learning more and more about how to improve our operations,” Schiller said. “The ushers and game-day staff are obviously becoming more educated about SunTrust Park and where to direct people. They’re learning the park just like our fans are.”


JUNE AT SUNTRUST PARK

The Braves will play frequently at home this month:

Monday through Thursday: vs. Philadelphia Phillies

Friday through June 11: vs. New York Mets (including split day-night doubleheader June 10)

June 16-18: vs. Miami Marlins

June 19-22: vs. San Francisco Giants

June 23-25: vs. Milwaukee Brewers

NEW STADIUM ATTENDANCE

Fifteen MLB teams have opened new stadiums since 2000. Here is a look at how the teams’ home attendance changed in the first year in the new stadium from the final year in the previous stadium:

Team / Year / Change*

Milwaukee Brewers / 2001 / +79%

San Francisco Giants / 2000 / +60%

San Diego Padres / 2004 / +49%

Miami Marlins / 2012 / +46%

Philadelphia Phillies / 2004 / +44%

Pittsburgh Pirates / 2001 / +41%

Atlanta Braves* / 2017 / +38%

Minnesota Twins / 2010 / +33%

Cincinnati Reds / 2003 / +27%

Detroit Tigers / 2000 / +20%

Washington Nationals / 2008 / +19%

Houston Astros / 2000 / +13%

St. Louis Cardinals / 2006 / -0.4%

New York Yankees / 2009 / -13%

New York Mets / 2009 / -22%

* - For all teams except the Braves, this is the percentage increase or decrease in attendance for the first full season in the new stadium compared to the last full season in the previous stadium. For the Braves, this is the percentage change through 22 games at SunTrust Park compared to last season’s first 22 games at Turner Field.

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