No PSLs for Braves, but ‘premium’ prices loom

As the Falcons sell personal seat licenses for their new stadium, the Braves are preparing to begin next month the sales of season tickets for their new ballpark, also slated to open in 2017.

The Braves said they won’t have PSLs — consistent with their position all along — but they will convert thousands of prime, close-to-the-field seats into “premium” tickets that include amenities, require multiyear commitments and carry sharply higher prices. Some fans said they are bracing for sticker shock.

Braves executive vice president of sales and marketing Derek Schiller outlined the Braves’ ticket-sales plan for SunTrust Park in an interview this week with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

He said sales will be conducted in a “preview center” that will open in mid- to late-March in a Circle 75 office building overlooking the stadium construction site near Cumberland Mall. He wouldn’t disclose specific ticket prices, but said roughly 4,000 premium seats — located in the lower and middle levels behind home plate and between the dugouts — “will range from a few hundred dollars to less than $100 per game.”

Seats in roughly comparable locations at Turner Field, but without attached amenities, range from approximately $78 to $50 per game in 2015 full-season tickets (more if bought in smaller packages or for individual games).

In addition, the Braves’ 150 most exclusive seats — the first three rows directly behind the plate, in what is known as the SunTrust Club — will increase an unspecified amount from current prices, which already top $300 per game.

“I expect sticker shock, I really do,” said Braves fan John Shafer, who leads a group of about 55 people who shared 48 season tickets last year. His larger concern, though, is whether his group will be offered comparable seat locations in the new stadium.

“I’m very thankful we’re not having PSLs,” said Shafer, a season-ticket holder since 1991.

Personal seat licenses — common in the NFL but still relatively rare in baseball — are one-time fees for the right to buy season tickets.

Atlanta businessman Frank Argenbright, who has season tickets for both the Braves and Falcons, said the PSL issue is a big factor in deciding what to do with his company’s sports entertainment spending going forward.

“I look at what’s the highest and best value in entertaining customers and friends,” he said.

Argenbright said he currently has eight “spectacular” Falcons season tickets near the 50-yard line and that it would cost $360,000 in PSL fees — $45,000 per seat — to replicate those locations in the new downtown stadium. He said he and his management team have decided to walk away from the Falcons tickets and try to increase their number of Braves seats from four to eight.

Even without PSLs, though, the Braves’ new ballpark clearly will be pricier than its current one.

The number of seats designated as “premium” will increase tenfold from the 400 at Turner Field. The Braves define premium seats as those that come with an associated amenity, such as access to a posh club area.

Such seats — a growing trend in sports venues — fetch high prices, enabling teams to generate more revenue from affluent fans and corporations. At the same time, some long-time season-ticket holders typically are displaced because they no longer can afford their former seat locations.

“There are roughly 41,000 seats in SunTrust Park. What we’re talking about is having approximately 10 percent of our seats as premium seats,” Schiller said. “There’s still approximately 37,000 seats available outside of premium, many of which have what I would consider to be premier locations, but (without) amenities beyond just the seat itself.

“We’ll have a variety of different pricing levels … so that something is available for anyone. We’re not intending to alter the price of the non-premium seats by that much. We’re simply adding a new level of amenities and services for those customers that really want those.”

He said the new stadium’s design will improve the proximity to the field of many seats.

SunTrust Park will have three club areas connected to seating sections: two in the lower bowl (SunTrust Club and another that is being called the Home Plate Club until a corporate sponsor is landed) and one in the middle bowl (called Terrace Club for now). Also, dugout-level seats will have access to an enclosed air-conditioned space.

Other amenities included with some premium seats will include food and beverage, table tops and parking.

According to Schiller, this will be the Braves’ process for selling SunTrust Park season tickets:

  • Before sales begin next month, the team, which has kept stadium design details close to the vest, will release a new set of architectural renderings and prices for all season-ticket seats. Prices are still being "tweaked," Schiller said.
  • Current suite and season-ticket holders will be invited to the appointment-only preview center to meet with their account executives, who will be assisted in the process by Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment agency. Customers will be shown a three-dimensional model and computer animations of the stadium.
  • The focus initially will be on selling the premium seats, which will be offered first to current customers with seats in comparable locations. If they decline the pricey premium seats, relocation to other seats will be offered in the same meeting.
  • Premium seats will require commitments of multiple years. Schiller said the required lengths are still being determined. (When the SunTrust Club seats were added to Turner Field, contract commitments of three to seven years were required.)
  • Season tickets will go on sale to the general public after appointments are completed with current account holders.
  • Down payments will be required, followed by a payment schedule leading to 2017.