The Braves and New Stadium Financing

Monday morning brought the startling news that the Atlanta Braves will be leaving Turner Field in downtown Atlanta at the end of the 2016 season for a new ballpark in neighboring Cobb County. The ballpark will be just 20 years old when the Braves depart. It opened in 1997, after the city of Atlanta converted its Olympic Stadium into what was then a state-of-the-art ballpark. But according to the Braves, Turner Field is in need of $150 million in renovations and upgrades, on top of the $125 million the Braves have spent on improvements to date. Even then, says the team, the ballpark would still sit in an area of downtown Atlanta that is not easily accessible by public transportation and that is surrounded by parking lots and little other economic development, which hampers the fan experience.

Instead, the Braves will reportedly invest that money and more into a new ballpark in unincorporated Cobb County, about 14 miles northwest of Turner Field.  The team purchased 60 acres near the intersection of Interstates 75 and 285 and plans to develop not just a new ballpark, but mixed-use properties (residential and commercial), parking lots, and open/green space.  Here’s a map showing where Turner Field is located (A) and where the new ballpark will be built (B).

Turner Field to Cumberland Mall   Google Maps

The Braves released their own map on Monday morning, showing where their 2012 ticketbuyers lived. Not surprisingly, there’s a large contingent of Braves fans who live north of the city. Presumably, these fans will have easier access to the new ballpark.

Bravesticketsmap

Or will they? While the Braves justified the move out of the city based in part on the lack of mass transit options near Turner Field, they said nothing about the mass transit now available or planned near the new ballpark site. Indeed, the Braves provided very little detailed information. Mark Bowman of MLB.com reported:

Although specific financial details were not revealed, the Braves said they are “putting a significant financial investment” into the construction of the stadium, which will cost approximately $672 million and include somewhere in the neighborhood of 41,000 seats.

Cobb County will also be investing in the cost of the stadium and its surroundings, as well as proposed transportation enhancements. Details of the public funding have not been released.

The Braves released no drawings or schematics of the proposed new ballpark but they know that it will cost $672 million? Or is that just a target figure agreed to by the team and Cobb County officials? Perhaps it’s the latter, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the Braves will be on the hook for costs above the $672 million figure. AJC also reported the Braves would invest $200 million upfront with $450 million “in financing” from Cobb County. On Monday, Cobb County officials had little to say on that matter. The Braves flatly denied the $450 million figure.

By Tuesday, Neil deMause, author of the excellent Field of Schemes blog and a book by the same name, was asking very good questions about exactly where the financing would come from and whether the new site would provide better transportation options, even if Braves fans are concentrated north of downtown Atlanta.

Also on Tuesday, Franklin Rabon of the Braves blog Talking Chop tracked down comments from a Cobb County Commissioner to the Marietta Daily Journal, suggesting that the Cumberland Community Improvement District — a self-taxing district that raises money from local businesses for infrastructure improvements — would be on the hook for the public financing and that “99 percent of county taxpayers should not see any tax increase related to the stadium project.”  Rabon also noted that the Cobb County Republicans, who control all levers of local government, aren’t terribly keen about any kind of taxes, and have specifically rejected the idea of extending MARTA trains (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) from the city north and west toward the new ballpark site.

So many questions and very few answers.

Here’s one thing we do know: the city of Atlanta did not agree to pony up hundreds of millions of dollars in order to keep the Braves at Turner Field or in another downtown location. Indeed, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told reporters that the city is fiscally conservative and couldn’t afford a new ballpark like “liberal Cobb County.” It’s a friendly dig, given city’s Democratic politics compared to the much more conservative Cobb County, but an interesting point nonetheless. Atlanta faced the prospect of losing a professional franchise and said, “Okay.” That doesn’t happen every day.

Of course, Atlanta is on the hook for at least $200 million for a new stadium for the NFL’s Falcons, also set to open in 2017. There, too, the new facilities will replace one — the Georgia Dome — that less than 25 years old. So no gold stars for Atlanta from those opposed to publicly-financed sports arenas.

For now, we’ll have to wait for more details on who will pay for what on the new Braves ballpark. And when the details emerge, we’ll have to look very closely, because these public-private partnerships often don’t turn out very well for the public. In a book published last year, Harvard University urban planning professor Judith Grant Long found that, for all stadiums in use in 2010 by professional sports team, public funds accounted for 78% of total costs, while the teams, on average, paid for only 22% of the total. Those figures are across all sports, including the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS.

Even before her book was published, Long examined the public and private costs associated with the 31 NFL stadiums in use in 2010 and provided a breakdown to the New York Times. Here’s the chart the Times created with Long’s analysis:

The N.F.L. Plays  the Public Pays   Graphic   NYTimes.com

There will be plenty more to say about the Braves’ new ballpark plans as more information is made public. We will have our eye on the financing and transportation issues, in particular. For his part, Commissioner Selig appears satisfied with what is known now. He issued the following statement on Monday:

The Braves have kept us apprised of their stadium situation throughout this process.  Major League Baseball fully supports their decision to move to a new ballpark in Atlanta for the 2017 season, and we look forward to their continued excellence representing their community, both on and off the field.

No word from the A’s or Rays on Selig’s statement.

 



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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.


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Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
2 years 6 months ago

While this area is indeed closer to the Braves’ ticket base, the complaint about accessibility is laughable, considering where they’re moving to. Rush hour traffic is already brutal leaving the city to the northern suburbs, given that there are only a couple corridors for people to drive home (MARTA woefully under-serves commuters). Adding 10,000-30,000 cars a night to I-75 N and the perimeter will just do wonders to the molasses flow that is Atlanta traffic. Idiocy.

Adam M
Guest
Adam M
2 years 6 months ago

Absolutely – right now the infrastructure at the 285-75 junction can’t handle rush hour plus stadium traffic. And dealing with infrastructure is absolutely the kind of thing that turns off Cobb County Republicans, who are already saying that 99% of residents’ taxes will stay as there are. Moreover, to complain about the lack of public transit to Turner Field, and then to use that as part of the justification for leaving downtown, is not only ridiculous but insulting. The new stadium will be in a county that has spent the past 40 years waging war against MARTA’s expansion to the north. Not only is there little public transportation to the new site – at least from Atlanta – but the new site’s county provides one of the primary historical reasons why rail service in Atlanta is so bad.

Dan Ugglas Forearm
Member
Dan Ugglas Forearm
2 years 6 months ago

The 75-285 junction can’t handle rush hour traffic, period. It’s unfortunate that the public transit issue comes down to race, but it’s the sad truth. Cobb County doesn’t want “those people” coming to Cobb and stealing their TV’s and taking them back on the trains, I guess. It’s also unfortunate that the county can hide behind taxes as the primary reason to keep public transit out. That’s why people in the city proper really hate this move. The stadium may only be 14 miles from Turner Field, but in terms of culture, it might as well be 100 miles south.

Eno Sarris
Editor
Member
2 years 6 months ago

Having lived there for six years… I totally agree. This is ridiculous, and woe to the Smyrna resident that works in downtown on game nights.

Sadwick
Guest
Sadwick
2 years 6 months ago

I have to agree with basically every comment about the traffic situation. I can’t imagine many ways to make the already abysmal traffic situation worse, but focusing traffic flow on a ludicrously inept intersection is a pretty good attempt. The Braves can claim the traffic situation as a reason they didn’t stay at the Ted, but money was the real reason, and probably the only true reason. They wanted to improve profits, and this was the best path available, period. Now everyone has to live with the fallout.

Anon21
Member
Anon21
2 years 6 months ago

“The team purchased 60 acres near the intersection of Interstates 75 and 285 and plans to develop not just a new ballpark, but mixed-use properties (residential and commercial), parking lots, and open/green space.”

Perhaps it’s a distinction of little significance, but the reporting I’ve seen indicates that the Braves have not yet purchased the site, but rather hold an option to purchase it.

Dan Ugglas Forearm
Member
Dan Ugglas Forearm
2 years 6 months ago

Right. They’ve “secured” the land. So they’ve identified it and there’s an agreement in place for when the funds come together. If the funds come together…

Falcon
Guest
Falcon
2 years 6 months ago

For this reason, the horrendous traffic with few alternate routes and because it will likely alienate a good portion of the fanbase south and east of the city, I think this whole thing is a charade.

The Braves are upset with the Falcons deal, and while I understand their point about development down near the Ted this is a disaster waiting to happen. I think Kasim Reed did a good thing calling their bluff. A Pro sports team’s ability to promote the economic growth they promise is a myth repeatedly used to manipulate the masses. They’re extorting money from the taxpayer. They should co-op with corporations and developers to acquire the most of the resources needed.

Dwayne Carter
Guest
Dwayne Carter
2 years 6 months ago

I am a lifelong Atlanta resident. Cobb and Gwinnett county voted against MARTA expansion years ago. It will be interesting to see how these unreconstructed crackers go about constructing this thing. Atlanta is unfixable.

Trent Phloog
Guest
Trent Phloog
2 years 6 months ago

“Unreconstructed crackers” is my favorite new phrase. I’m going to be using that as much as possible from now on. Thanks Dwayne!

Cody
Guest
Cody
2 years 6 months ago

The very first thing I did when I heard the news was create that same exact map on Google Maps.

dale pearl
Guest
dale pearl
2 years 6 months ago

Public funds should never be used for a private business. I sincerely feel for the residents of Cobb County. They will turn on their TV set in the morning and hear news after news of lack of finances in their local government and then that will be immediately followed by the new Braves stadium being funded by a sudden cash in flux from tax payers.

Chandler Faccento
Member
Chandler Faccento
2 years 6 months ago

This certainly isn’t ideal short-term for Cobb residents with their lack of monetary funds, especially with school furloughs continuing, but long-term this could have a huge impact for Cobb. Hotels, restaurants, etc. should expect to see a significant impact of people through their doors 2017 and on; time shall tell, however.

Train
Guest
Train
2 years 6 months ago

They can always sell off their schools when that happens.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
2 years 6 months ago

It’s a red state, they don’t care about education

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 6 months ago

Minor nitpick, as it doesn’t change the analysis, but the Georgia Dome opened in 1992, so it is not less than 20 years old. It will have been the Falcons home for 25 years before they move to the new stadium.

what...?
Guest
what...?
2 years 6 months ago

The Giants and Jets are each capable of raising $800million in private funding. So why is it so impossible for other professional teams to raise any kind of private capital for their stadiums?

Lipson
Guest
Lipson
2 years 6 months ago

Because Atlanta is full of front runners and not true fans.

Its smart of the Braves to make a smaller stadium. They might actually get sellouts during big games.

Hell, playoff games dont even sell out here. Its silly.

the flu
Guest
the flu
2 years 6 months ago

Atlanta’s 13th in average home attendance:

http://espn.go.com/mlb/attendance

All the claims about Braves’ games not being reasonably attended are way out of proportion.

If there is, in fact, a paucity of sellouts (I can’t find data on that), the fact that Turner Field is the 4th largest stadium by capacity probably has a lot to do with it.

Mark
Guest
Mark
2 years 6 months ago

It’s not impossible, but if you don’t have to and someone else is willing to foot the bill, why would you bother?

nil satis nisi optimum
Guest
nil satis nisi optimum
2 years 6 months ago

oh I dunno, because it’s the morally correct thing to do? Instead of saddling the overburdened taxpayers with a huge debt, the very same taxpayers who already support your business.

piratesbreak500
Guest
piratesbreak500
2 years 6 months ago

Giants+Jets=New York.

JAMill
Guest
JAMill
2 years 6 months ago

Long time Atlanta resident who lives near the proposed stadium.

The statements about traffic and transit by stakeholders who are for the stadium are laughable. For residents outside of Cobb County it will make it extremely difficult to get to the stadium. Atlanta rush hour traffic is already among the worst in the country and this will only make it worse.

Even worse is the money the county will poor into the stadium at the expense of every other social service. After Atlanta already got extorted by the Falcons (the Georgia Dome is a perfectly fine stadium) I’m glad they weren’t willing to spend more tax dollars.

kevinthecomic
Guest
kevinthecomic
2 years 6 months ago

Atlanta is home to the highest number of Fortune 500 companies in the country. Surely they can get this thing funded privately. Coca-Cola Stadium anyone?

Lipson
Guest
Lipson
2 years 6 months ago

I was talking with co-workers yesterday and we all came to the conclusion that it will likely be named this. Maybe Home Depot.

a5ehren
Guest
a5ehren
2 years 6 months ago

Naming rights wouldn’t even come close to covering the costs.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew
2 years 6 months ago

Naming rights could cover the Braves owners cost, 20 year rights at $10 million a year.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
2 years 6 months ago

As long as it’s not chic fil a stadium. That’d make it hard to be a braves fan.

Chris
Guest
Chris
2 years 6 months ago

The traffic argument is simply an excuse. The section of I285 from Gwinnett to Cobb is already the worst in the city. It will probably be less accessible to fans in the North Eastern Corridor than it is now. I’m not saying Turner Field was easy to get to (since it lacked direct MARTA access), but Cobb will be no better.

The real reason is the area and money. Turner Field is located in an area of town that the only reason to visit is a ballgame. Outside of the stadium it is really run down. That and the amount of free money Cobb is giving them are the real reasons for the move.

Neal
Member
Neal
2 years 6 months ago

I’m a Braves fan from South Carolina and I think a lot of Atlanta residents overlook the team’s regional presence.

Traffic is the biggest deterrent for me and Braves fans in my area. Much more so than the price of a ticket or lack of things to do around the stadium. I’m not familiar with the particular area of Atlanta where the new stadium would be. Based on everything I’ve read it doesn’t appear to be any more accessible than Turner field. I can’t speak for all of South Carolina but if the traffic situation isn’t improved at the new stadium I doubt it would lead to increased attendence from out of state fans.

Adam M
Guest
Adam M
2 years 6 months ago

Well, it will be more accessible from Chattanooga, but it probably won’t make much of a difference if you’re from, say, Greenville. But ultimately there’s no way around the traffic hassles if you’re from out of town. That said, at least in the old location you could stay downtown and be a relatively moderate cab ride away. Now… staying in Cobb county, off Cobb parkway? There’s a reason I left Marietta when I graduated high school.

Ultimately, what peeves me is that moving the stadium to Cobb makes it definite that there will never be adequate public transportation to the ballpark. There’s no way in hell Cobb will allow MARTA to build there, ever. Perhaps I was fooling myself, but lately it seemed that even sunbelt cities were starting to discover the merits of streetcars, broader public transportation systems, etc. I guess Atlanta, if it every builds a proper infrastructure, will be doing so without the Braves. Ugh.

Different Colin
Guest
Different Colin
2 years 6 months ago

Traffic, traffic, traffic. It’s not possible to place the team in Atlanta and not have issues with traffic.
It amazes me that for a region where traffic is the number one problem, and has been for decades, that there is still more political will power to finance stadium projects then to meaningfully improve transit.
(To those who have not lived here, I should mention that traffic here does not merely mean that the interstates are clogged. The surface streets are a slow, painful drive, too, primarily, because so very few lights actually have turn lanes. And because so few roads actually connect.)

Maverick60
Guest
Maverick60
2 years 6 months ago

(Good article, Wendy. My comments are about the other comments.)

Being in California… When the Giants moved to downtown SF, the SF Bay Bridge was already heavily congested. They put the stadium right next to the bridge. Downtown San Francisco has horrible traffic at all hours of the day. They made it work. 41,000 people get in and out every game. Granted, they do have BART trains, but, then you must board a Munni train or walk a mile or two after you get off BART. I drive in every time. Traffic is terrible if you are going to a 7:15 game. So you go early. But they still get 41,000. To make it worse, they just built a new section of the Bay Bridge, so it was a construction zone all of last season.

I understand that people have a problem with the team using lack of MARTA while not addressing the lack MARTA or some other form of rapid mass transit at the new place. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a plan to address it, they might… But it also doesn’t excuse Atlanta from having 15+ years to address the Braves current situation by adding a MARTA stop, or doing something to make it worthwhile for the team to stay, and not doing anything. I went to my first games at The Ted in 2012. I stood in line with my 7 year old daughter for almost 3 hours under an umbrella waiting for a cab to take us 4 miles to our hotel. The night before we walked two thirds of the way to our hotel after the game. Getting to the games we had no problem, we went 4 hours early. But getting away from the stadium was far worse than anything I have ever experienced at AT&T park in SF.

So I have no idea what they plan to do about the traffic situation, but even a bad traffic situation around the stadium can draw 40,000+ every night. And it likely won’t be as bad as their current situation.

As for the finance issues, if you don’t like it, run for local office. I, for one, can’t wait to see the new place. Stop killing my joy. That is all. Have a nice day.

Harry
Guest
Harry
2 years 6 months ago

as an atl resident, there is very little (if any at all) momentum to expand MARTA to the North East part of the city (where the new stadium will be). First of all, going from downtown/midtown area up that way would require them to build tracks up the 75 corridor, which is not feasible space wise. Also, Underground rails are very cost prohibative, so they are not really an option either.

Long story shrt, I would be very surprised if there was MARTA (or any rail transportation) available to take ppl to the new stadium by April of 2017.

MARTA requires way more than 3.5 years to approve, funs, and build any new lines (closer to 20 years than 5).

Adam G
Guest
Adam G
2 years 6 months ago

I moved away from Atlanta this year primarily because it is such a backwards, unsalvageable mess. Too many people spread out across too much space with no plans for reconciling any of the barriers that create so many dead zones throughout the city. Even the airport is a massive headache. For those living in and around Cobb, I’m sure this will make it easier to go see the Braves more often. For anyone else, it’s going to be the same old story. Hurry up and sit in traffic, get to the stadium in time for the 3rd or 4th inning, leave early so you can beat traffic and get the kids in bed at a decent hour. Regret spending $150 on 3 innings of baseball and a few hot dogs.

NS
Guest
NS
2 years 6 months ago

Wendy Thurm’s fangraphs articles are consistently excellent.

piratesbreak500
Guest
piratesbreak500
2 years 6 months ago

Word.

Adam G
Guest
Adam G
2 years 6 months ago

OK, after stewing over this for a minute, I tried to put myself in the position of Braves ownership (y’all correct me for any mistakes or omissions…):

-TV contract that is too long and won’t pay enough to keep up with other teams
-Increasing difficulty getting a younger generation interested in the team/sport
-No where in downtown Atlanta to go that improves the financial situation
-Fanbase is slowly being alienated because of location of stadium, traffic, city dynamics, etc

So, if you are part of the Braves ownership, what are your options? First and foremost, you have to move the stadium closer to the fans that are willing to pay for tickets. There are very few other paths to increased revenue. Better ticket sells won’t fix the problem, but it will help.

The next problem is where exactly do you put a stadium that is still accessible to the rest of Atlanta while also taking advantage of the north Atlanta fanbase? Near I-285/400? I-285/I-75? I-285/I-85? You can’t go too far outside the perimeter or you risk digging a deeper hole. You can’t stay too far inside the perimeter or else you risk creating an island effect like they find themselves in at this moment.

The truth of the matter is that the Braves find themselves in the same predicament that the rest of the city does. You have to pick your poison and relinquish something in the process. You will be eaten up by traffic no matter where you build, so you might as well try to strike a balance near your paying fanbase.

As much as it doesn’t make sense, it actually does make sense. At least when you consider the context. Atlanta is a mess.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
2 years 6 months ago

It makes financial sense for the braves for sure. For their market size, regional media reach, and the number of huge companies in the area, the braves have an embarrassingly low payroll. They should just say that though, it’s not about transit. Although over time they might be able to make it better. It won’t be ready by 2017, but who’s to say that by 2025 there isn’t easier access?

Different Colin
Guest
Different Colin
2 years 6 months ago

Liberty Media, the owner of the Braves, is chaired by John C. Malone, who wikipedia lists as being worth $6.7 billion. Cries of “poverty” ring hollow in my ears.

For the amount of money that they are reportedly going to spend on a new stadium, one would think that pouring it into the existing stadium would be fruitful (And wouldn’t a change in the ownership of the stadium and the parking lots be possible for those sorts of monies?)

But here’s the missing part. I live close enough to the stadium that I can hear the crowd cheering. But I rarely want to go to a game, because sitting outside in the sunshine, and dealing with the heat and the humidity of an Atlanta summer is the last thing I wish to do.

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