How the Braves have drawn in first season at SunTrust Park

Fans try to catch a home-run ball at SunTrust Park.
Fans try to catch a home-run ball at SunTrust Park.

This is the first of three stories by the AJC wrapping up the Braves’ inaugural season at SunTrust Park.

The Braves enter their final home series of the season this weekend on pace to draw about 500,000 more fans in their first year at SunTrust Park than in their final year at Turner Field.

By the time the gates close Sunday, the Braves likely will have a 2017 attendance – defined by MLB as tickets sold – of about 2.5 million, up from 2.02 million last year.

That would be about a 25 percent increase, slightly below the average increase of 28 percent by 14 other MLB teams in their first year in new stadiums since 2000.

For the Braves, the new-stadium bounce probably has been mitigated by the drag of a fourth consecutive losing season.

Still, the Braves will finish with their highest attendance since 2013, their last winning season. The team drew 2.55 million that year.

The Braves’ attendance increase of 6,622 per game through Wednesday, compared with the same point last season, is the largest in the majors this year.  The next largest gain -- 5,619 per game -- is by the Cleveland Indians, the runaway winners of the AL Central.

“I’ve thought it’s been terrific,” Braves Chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk said of his team’s attendance. “We’re coming off a rebuilding period at Turner Field and sort of in this renewal of convincing our fan base that there is this wonderful future.

“I think we are going to get better (on the field) for a long time, and I think the attendance will rise for a long time. It may not be an absolute even graph, but I think if you look back five years from now you’ll see a … growth rate that would be meaningful and impressive.”

SunTrust Park’s first season closes with a three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. The Braves then finish the season with eight road games.

The Braves’ average home attendance of 30,725 per game through Wednesday ranked 14th among the 30 MLB teams, but just 383 fans per game below the 10th-ranked team. The Braves finished last season 22nd in the majors in home attendance.

Through Wednesday, Braves attendance was up 27 percent per game compared with the same point last season, but that percentage will slip a bit this weekend because last season’s final series at Turner Field drew huge crowds, including 51,220 for the last game at The Ted.

SunTrust Park has 41,149 seats. The Braves have had 10 sellouts there.

In their first season at Turner Field in 1997, the Braves drew 3.46 million fans, up 19 percent from their final year at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. In 1997, the Braves had a team that won 101 games and had appeared in four of the previous five World Series.

A couple of longtime Braves attendance patterns have held in their first season at SunTrust Park. Attendance predictably has remained much higher on weekends than on weeknights, and the school year has continued to have a large effect.

The Braves averaged 39,838 per game in July, when they had just eight home dates. But they slipped to an average of 29,609 in August, when schools were back in session.

“Our lobby is not being heard that we’d like to see school (start back later),” McGuirk said with a laugh.

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Below is a look at how at the team has fared. (The red line constitutes the average attendance over the season. Hover over the columns -- or select a group of columns -- to get details on the games and attendance. You also can filter by opponents.)

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Derek Schiller, the Braves’ president of business, said the school year has a more pronounced effect on attendance here than in other markets because of the makeup of the team’s crowds.

“I think that’s a testament, and actually a positive, to the type of crowd we have here – very family-friendly,” Schiller said. “I think we have an even higher percentage of kids coming to the ballpark (than at Turner Field).”

Still, Braves executives believe a contending team could draw 3 million fans in a season at SunTrust Park.  The Braves drew 3 million-plus five times in the 1990s, but haven’t reached that level since 2000.

“When the rebuild of our team is in place and feeding itself on an annual basis and fans start seeing that,” Braves Vice Chairman John Schuerholz said, “I think every bit we can get to 3 million.”

That would require averaging slightly more than 37,000 fans per game, or about 90 percent of SunTrust Park’s capacity.

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