Can Braves sustain attendance gain in second year at SunTrust Park?

The Braves’ attendance increased last year, as usually happens for an MLB team in its first season in a new stadium. But this year the Braves will try to avoid another trend: a falloff in attendance in a stadium’s second season.

Before the Braves, 14 MLB teams had opened new stadiums since 2000. Eleven of the 14 teams enjoyed attendance increases in the first year. But 12 of the 14 posted attendance declines in the second year.

An analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows attendance increased by an average of 28 percent for teams in their first year in new stadiums since 2000, then dropped an average of 12.5 percent from those elevated levels one year later.

The Braves’ attendance increased 24 percent in their first season at SunTrust Park, up almost 500,000 to slightly more than 2.5 million, with the lure of the new ballpark and adjacent mixed-use development overcoming a fourth consecutive losing season. Whether the Braves can maintain, or extend, the gain in their second season at SunTrust Park probably hinges on how the team plays in the coming months.

“I think there’s definitely a correlation, a very strong one, between how the team does on the field and how many fans show up, especially if you’ve had either some kind of sustained losing or sustained winning,” said Braves President and CEO Derek Schiller, who runs the business side of the team.

“Alex (Anthopoulos, the Braves’ new general manager) talked about it very directly, and we’re all very aware of it here: We’ve lost enough; we’re ready to win; our fans are ready to win. We know that there is a going to be a result (of increased attendance) when that occurs. And until that happens, it’s going to be on the minds of some of the people as they think about whether they’re going to come here.”

The Braves completed their first homestand of the season Wednesday. They won back-to-back series over the Phillies and Nationals, and their announced attendance – defined by MLB as tickets sold -- was 194,778 for the six-game stretch, an average of 32,463 per game.

Based on the announced figures, this season’s opening homestand outdrew last season’s first six home games, which averaged 31,316 per game.

Before this season’s opener, Schiller acknowledged a decline in season-ticket sales from last year.

“I think there’s a little bit of a natural drop-off that occurred from our inaugural season to this year,” he said. “There are fans who come in and test season tickets to a new ballpark because of the new experience and everything like that. I think long-term we’re going to be great, we’re going to be fine, and fans are going to come in droves.”

The Braves typically don’t reveal their season-ticket sales figures, but they told investors in team owner Liberty Media in November that season tickets accounted for 54 percent of tickets sold last year. Based on announced attendance of 2,505,252, that would mean about 1.35 million tickets were sold in season-ticket packages – the equivalent of about 17,000 full season tickets.

Since 2000, five MLB teams lost 20 percent or more in attendance in their second season in a new stadium. All five had losing records in those seasons, including four with 96 or more losses.

And despite the second-year declines, 10 of the past 14 teams with new stadiums maintained higher attendance in Year 2 in their new homes than in the final year in their previous stadiums.

The Braves’ attendance last year left plenty of room to grow.

It was the team’s highest attendance since 2013, when the Braves drew 2.55 million in their most recent winning season, but well short of the levels reached in the 1990s. The Braves last topped 3 million in attendance in the 2000 season, which was their fourth year at Turner Field and the year following their most recent World Series appearance. And while 3 million will be difficult to achieve in the smaller, 41,000-seat SunTrust Park – it would require an average of about 90-percent capacity per game -- Braves officials envision a winning team eventually producing such crowds.

Seven MLB teams topped 3 million in attendance last season, and two other teams topped 2.9 million.

A key part of the Braves’ ticket sales strategy centers around drawing from a six-state fan base. Last season, 38 percent of their attendance came from outside metro Atlanta, including 25 percent from outside Georgia, Schiller said.

Anthopoulos was encouraged when he learned the Braves’ 2017 attendance.

“Everyone knew last year was a rebuilding year. I know it’s a new ballpark, but 2.5 million fans came through here in a rebuild,” Anthopoulos said. “I think the upside is through the roof.

“But that falls on baseball ops,” he added, referring to his department. “Now it’s a matter of letting these kids play, finding out what we have, making some decisions and adding to it. I’m really anxious to add and get us to where we need to go, especially when I see everything else that has been done.”

He recalled that the Toronto Blue Jays drew about 1.5 million fans in his first season as general manager there in 2010. The Jays’ attendance reached 2.8 million when they won the AL East in 2015, Anthopoulos’ final season as their GM, and topped 3.2 million each of the past two seasons.

NEW STADIUMS AND ATTENDANCE

For MLB teams that have opened new stadiums since 2000, here’s how their attendance changed from their final season in their previous stadium to their first season in the new stadium, and then how much it changed in the second season in the new stadium vs. the first:

Team (year stadium opened) / 1st year change / 2nd year change

Astros (2000) / +13% / -5%

Giants (2000) / +60% / -0.2%

Tigers (2000) / +20% / -21%

Brewers (2001) / +79% / -30%

Pirates (2001) / +41% / -27%

Reds (2003) / +27% / -3%

Padres (2004) / +49% / -5%

Phillies (2004) / +44% / -18%

Cardinals (2006) / -0.4% / +4%

Nationals (2008) / +19% / -22%

Mets (2009) / -22% / -19%

Yankees (2009) / -13% / +1%

Twins (2010) / +33% / -2%

Marlins (2012) / +46% / -28%

Braves (2017) / +24% / TBD

Note: The Mets' and Yankees' first-year declines are at least partly attributable to smaller seating capacities in their new stadiums.