The Braves expect their move into SunTrust Park to result in sharply higher attendance this season, as usually happens when a team opens a new stadium.
An analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows that the 14 major league baseball teams that have opened stadiums since 2000 posted an average attendance increase of 28.3 percent in the first year in the new buildings.
Call it the New Ballpark Bounce.
Attendance increased for 11 of the 14 teams. The increase was more than 40 percent for six teams.
Other variables were at play to varying extents, such as how well the team drew before opening the new stadium, on-field performance and the relative seating capacities of the team’s old and new stadiums. But the overriding trend was clear: If you build it, more people will come.
At least in the first season.
“The traditional response is that there’s a big push of curiosity to see what’s going on,” Braves Chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk said.
The Braves drew 2,020,914 fans last season, up slightly from the year before, but still their second lowest attendance in 26 years.
If the Braves get the average boost of 28.3 percent, that would lift their attendance to almost 2.6 million, which would be their highest since 2007.
But they are hoping for more than that.
“I think 3 million is a stretch, but it’s something we certainly have as a goal,” said Derek Schiller, the Braves’ president of business. “Like every business, we’ve got to have our goals, and that’s a good goal.”
Attendance of 3 million would represent a 48-percent increase over last season and would be the Braves’ highest since 2000, when they drew 3.23 million in their fourth season in Turner Field. That also was the season following the Braves’ most recent World Series appearance.
Drawing 3 million this season likely would require significantly improved performance on the field from the 93 and 95 losses of the past two years, which depressed attendance and TV ratings, and certainly from the team’s play in its 1-6 start.
Still, of the six MLB teams since 2000 with attendance increases of more than 40 percent in the first year in a new stadium, three had winning records and three had losing records.
For the Braves to reach 3 million would require averaging 37,038 per game in 41,149-seat SunTrust Park, or 90 percent of capacity.
The Braves set a goal of selling 20,000 season tickets, which is believed to be about double last year’s total. They won’t say how many they have sold to this point, citing team policy.
“I will just tell you we continue to trend well toward our … numbers,” Schiller said.
That assessment suggests they remain short of 20,000. The team typically sells season-ticket packages through the All-Star break, prorating them to reflect the number of games remaining.
“We believe that once people show up and start to sample SunTrust Park, there absolutely is going to be another uptick in our season tickets and multi-game ticket packages,” Schiller said.
“In addition to the new ballpark element, we certainly believe and expect the location of this ballpark is going to be a fundamental driver in increasing attendance. We’re in effect moving 10-12 miles closer to the center point of our fan base. … Someone who (chose) to go to three games in the past may go to five or six games in the future because it’s closer to their house, as well as the fact this ballpark has many of the new amenities they like.”
The Braves also expect the adjacent mixed-use development, The Battery Atlanta, to improve the fan experience and thus boost attendance.
But variables such as on-field results and fans’ experiences with traffic and parking also will play into attendance.
Of the 11 MLB teams since 2000 that have posted first-year attendance increases in new stadiums, five got boosts big enough to vault past 3 million for the season.
The two New York teams posted the largest attendance declines in new stadiums since 2000. The Yankees’ attendance dropped by 13 percent and the Mets’ by 22 percent in 2009, the first season in new stadiums for both teams. Both New York teams’ stadiums have smaller seating capacities than their predecessors, and the Mets’ attendance decline in 2009 also was due in part to a 92-loss season.
Not counting the Mets and Yankees, the other 12 teams to open new stadiums since 2000 averaged a first-year attendance increase of about 35 percent.
In their first season at Turner Field, 1997, the Braves got a new-ballpark bounce, drawing 3.46 million, up almost 20 percent from 2.9 million the year before.
The Braves will draw a capacity-plus crowd for Friday’s regular-season opener against the Padres in SunTrust Park, having sold all seats plus standing-room-only tickets. SRO tickets also have been sold for Saturday’s game. Advance sales have been strong for Sunday’s game, too, but seats remain available.
After the first few games, it remains to be seen how the new stadium in a new location will affect the Braves’ long-standing attendance patterns.
“We always have had … our highest attendance during the summer months when school is out,” Schiller said. “We’ve consistently had families with kids as a very high percentage of our attendees. … We’re still going to see some ups and downs in attendance based upon when the games occur and even who the opponents are.”
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