Baseball writer wonders if Atlanta “deserves” the Braves, like what does that even mean?

A FoS reader points out a Twitter spat he had with 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:

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.

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6 comments on “Baseball writer wonders if Atlanta “deserves” the Braves, like what does that even mean?

  1. Most fans (and even sportswriters) have a wrong definition of what it means for a city to “support” its teams in this era of pro sports. That concept no longer has anything to do with the locals buying tickets or actually attending games. In this day and age, cities show “support” for their teams by handing them public subsidies for their stadiums and arenas. Empty seats at games don’t matter as much these days as empty reserves for stadium projects.

  2. I’m glad you tackled this particular locution. It’s the result of a system of artificial scarcity. Those of us who follow soccer abroad know that every community that wants a team is allowed to have one. The question of which clubs are allowed to play in the top division is settled on the field. It’s never a question of “deserving” a team (this notion implies that it’s in a rich person’s power to bestow one).

    Here in the States, we’re seeing this dynamic of fan groups being encouraged to show they “deserve” one of the several new MLS teams that are being announced this year.

  3. I think sportswriters are driven to write such nonsense because they are rather defensive in general about their choice of profession. If sports don’t “matter” in the big scheme of things then why should sportswriting even exist? Every sports league is absolutely determined to demonstrate that it has a cultural weight far in excess of just about anything else in society.

    Exhorting the public that they have to “show” their love and loyalty by regular purchases of $30 and up tickets is rather rich for a profession that goes to games for free. “Committing” to building a stadium and keeping a team in town for 10 years or so also elevates the perceived importance of sport, which is why writers always become economists, educators, and business development experts every time someone wants to build one.

  4. If a hamburger joint tried this tactic, the public would laugh.

    “Come on in and order up some crapburgers… we’ve reduced the actual food content by 10% just to we can maintain a healthy (get it?) profit margin on the offal we sell you at a price even those of you stuck in dead end minimum wage jobs (like ours) might be able to afford once in a while.

    If you don’t come down and buy them, we’re going to complain to the local gov’t and they’ll give us your tax dollars anyway, so you might as well buy them (we don’t really care if you eat them, just buy them), because you halfwits are going to pay our operating costs and guaranteed profit margin one way or another”

    Pause to remember that much of the US auto industry actually operates this way as well…

  5. Oakland does not draw from the entire Bay Area like the Giants do. The A’s draw from the East Bay, Alameda and Contra Costa counties. So, I think the Braves draw from a larger base than the A’s do.

  6. “which just means a different impassable highway interchange for them to drive to”

    On the contrary, for anyone living east or south of the new stadium, they will be forces to cross the Chattahoochee river in one of 6 choke points, with 80% of the fans probably using only 3 of those. For a weeknight game with a 7pm start time, these choke points are already highly congested, adding in 30k Braves fans is going to be a commuter disaster. But it is not really the fans that are going to be “punished”… Fans going to a game, expect to deal with traffic. It’s the other 500k Cobb County commuters who aren’t going to the game, they are just trying to make it home in time for dinner who will really be punished… 45 nights of commuter punishment. Some weeks this summer, the Braves have five 7pm week night games!!!

    Maybe I’m wrong, and a detailed and exhaustive traffic study was done in the 2 weeks of hallway negotiations by the Cobb County commissioners, and everything is going AWESOME, and the Cobb shuttles are going to solve all of Cobbs traffic issues.

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