Liberty Media: Opening-night revenue ‘largest in Braves history’

The Braves officially opened SunTrust Park with an April 14 game against the Padres. HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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The Braves officially opened SunTrust Park with an April 14 game against the Padres. HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Opening night at SunTrust Park set financial records for the Braves, according to team owner Liberty Media.

“Opening night revenue across ticket sales, retail and concessions was the largest in Braves history,” Liberty said in a news release Tuesday announcing the company’s financial results for the first quarter of 2017.

The April 14 opener drew a sellout crowd of 41,149 to the new stadium.

Although the opener occurred in the second quarter of the year, Liberty highlighted it in the company’s first-quarter earnings release and conference call.

“The team put on a hugely successful opening day,” Liberty Media president and CEO Greg Maffei, who attended the game, said on the call with investment analysts. “All revenue fronts exceeded expectations. We saw World Series-type retail and concession numbers.”

Liberty didn’t disclose specific figures for opening-night revenue.

Although SunTrust Park has about 9,000 fewer seats than predecessor Turner Field, higher ticket prices – particularly for about 4,000 premium seats – are expected to drive higher revenue. Braves officials also noted on opening night that food-and-beverage sales were unusually strong.

In general, first-quarter financial results shed no significant light on the business of the Braves because major-league baseball teams recognize relatively little revenue in the January-through-March quarter.

The Braves had revenue of $5 million in the first quarter this year, up from $4 million in the same quarter last year. Liberty Media said the difference was “primarily attributable” to a March 31 exhibition game at SunTrust Park.

Liberty said the Braves had an operating loss of $29 million in the first quarter before depreciation and amortization, compared to a loss of $36 million in the first quarter of 2016. The company attributed the smaller first-quarter loss primarily to “the acceleration of player salary expense as a result of released or injured players in 2016, partially offset by costs associated with the ballpark operations and mixed-use project.”

MLB teams post the vast majority of their revenue — and profits — in the second and third quarters.

Liberty said that as of March 31 approximately $653 million had been spent on SunTrust Park, “of which approximately $378 million of funding was provided by Cobb County and related entities and $275 million provided by the Braves.”

In addition, the company said $354 million had been spent on the adjacent mixed-use development, The Battery Atlanta, including about $40 million provided by joint-venture partners and the rest by the Braves.

Maffei said The Battery, part of which is open, “remains on-time and on-budget.”

“The Battery restaurants were packed (on opening night), both before the game and well into the night,” he said.

Liberty also disclosed that the Braves carried debt of $420 million as of March 31, up from $338 million on Dec. 31, mostly associated with the stadium and The Battery.