A FoS reader points out a Twitter spat he had with MLB.com reporter Tracy Ringolsby about the Atlanta Braves stadium situation, which started out with Ringolsby complaining, “Turner Field has not held up well. Never had surrounding growth. Traffic is horrid. Can’t blame a business for moving,” and eventually leading up to this:
@Cfountain72 Maybe Atlanta doesn't deserve a team as successful as Braves. If the stadium is great and team is great why is attendance poor?
— Tracy Ringolsby (@TracyRingolsby) February 20, 2014
Ringolsby, Ringolsby. Didn’t he say something like this similar once before? Oh, yeah, here it is, from the dispute early last decade about the fate of the Minnesota Twins:
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig had the right idea.
Might as well contract the Minnesota Twins.
The folks in the Twin Cities certainly don’t seem to care.
As much as they whined and as many lawsuits as they filed after Twins owner Carl Pohlad quickly volunteered to be paired with Montreal for contraction following the 2001 season, now that they have won the battle to keep the Twins, few in the Twin Cities seem to care.
Ringolsby’s argument back then was that the Twins were winning (they’d made the American League Championship Series the previous year) yet fans weren’t showing up (the “Twins rank 27th among baseball’s 30 teams in average home attendance,” wrote Ringolsby, though Doug Pappas pointed out that they were actually 20th). Attendance tracked upward to just under 30,000 per game after that, took a major leap the first two years of the Twins’ new Target Field, and last year dropped back near 30,000 per game again now that the team is terrible again.
In other words, about what you’d expect from a mid-sized market. (Minneapolis-St. Paul is 15th in U.S. Nielsen market size.) How does Atlanta’s attendance stack up?
The Braves’ “poor” attendance last year was 31,465 tickets sold per game, which was good for 13th in MLB. Atlanta is the 9th largest media market, but four of the markets ahead of it (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and S.F-Oakland) have two teams apiece. Of the 12 teams ahead of the Braves last year in attendance, only three (St. Louis, Detroit, and Colorado) hail from smaller markets; of the 17 teams that drew fewer fans, four (Toronto, New York Mets, Oakland, Chicago White Sox) came from bigger markets. That’s arguably a mediocre showing — the Braves won their division, after all, though so did St. Louis and Detroit (the Rockies are clearly putting something in the water) — but it’s hardly terrible. Braves attendance has actually been remarkably steady since the initial Turner Field, especially when you consider the team’s attendance was pretty dismal during the Hank Aaron years, so a more reasonable conclusion is: mid-sized market, mid-sized attendance figures.
When you think about it, the whole notion of whether a city’s fan base “deserves” its team is a bizarre one: Attendance is based on so many factors (market size, ticket pricing, perceived quality of team, whether there’s other stuff to do in the summer) that it’s tough to pin the blame on fans for not showing up in droves when the team demands it. For that matter, is it the fault of rabid A’s fans that more of their neighbors don’t come out to games? Is hosting a major-league baseball team some kind of test that citizens are expected to pass, by buying tickets whether they want to or not? And finally, in what way does it punish Braves fans by moving their team from downtown Atlanta to Cobb County, which just means a different impassable highway interchange for them to drive to?
Maybe I’m thinking about all this too hard — it’s just a tweet, after all, and Ringolsby may have just been snarkily countering the argument that Braves Field is a nice place to see a game. (He also remarked that “You need to get out more and see what a great place to see a game is like. Destination stadiums don’t work,” which I’m also not sure what it’s supposed to mean.) But regardless, it’s worth looking at the thought process behind this stuff, because it’s very easy to throw around concepts like metropolitan areas being worthy or unworthy of sports franchises, when really it’s just a matter of where the rich guys who own them decide to put them, based on their projected profits. What it comes down to is that Cobb County — or rather four members of the Cobb County Commission, standing in the hallway so they could avoid public debate — decided to throw a lot of money at the Braves, and Atlanta officials didn’t, so Braves owner John Malone decided to go where the simoleons are. If Atlanta had coughed up a few hundred million for a new or renovated stadium, the Braves would undoubtedly be staying put — and it’d be interesting to see what attitude writers like Ringolsby would have toward Braves fans, and the Turner Field environs, then.