Suggestions for Getting Fans Excited about the Braves Again

For my birthday last year, my daughter and I went to a night game to see the Braves take on the Marlins while they were in hot pursuit of the NL Wildcard. It also happened to be $1 ticket night. We arrived early to avoid the crowd, but I soon realized that it wasn’t necessary. A mere 25,000 was the listed attendance for this pivotal game, but even that low number was an exaggeration on the high side.

Despite the small crowd, it was one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever attended at the Ted. The crowd wasn’t just there for the cheap tickets, they were into the game and its playoff implications. Even my six-year-old didn’t want to leave her seat. In between innings, I scanned the empty seats and wondered what the Braves could do to get people to pay more attention to a team that is likely to be a winner in the coming years. I’m not a PR consultant, but I have a few ideas.

– As the $1 ticket experience revealed, the main price of the game isn’t the ticket. Time, parking, and safety are the big costs. People have plenty of other entertainment options, including watching the game on TV. The game has to offer something extra. At a minimum, the area around the stadium has to be cleaned up. Parking in a poorly-lit church lot and walking past a parade of beggars through a sketchy area of town is a big deterrent. I know you want people to get into the stadium to spend money, but scaring them in probably isn’t the best tactic if they don’t go down to the stadium in the first place. Buy some property around the stadium and clean it up. Expand parking opportunities to lessen traffic. Build some bars or restaurants outside the stadium that are only open around games. The goal isn’t to run directly profitable businesses in these establishments, but to clean up the area around the stadium. (Oh wait, a stadium didn’t spur economic development on its own?)

– Get some new between-innings “entertainment.” I don’t go to that many games and even I knew the script as to what was coming, right up the the annoying “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy” sing along. Do something new, and don’t do the same thing every game. Dare I suggest using the giant scoreboard to talk about baseball? Focus on pennant races, game updates, and web gems. Maybe use the television announcers with some between-inning commentary to integrate the broadcast experience that is familiar to Braves fans.

– Sell this team as a winner. Last season’s ad campaign focused on Turner Field. Turner Field? Look, I like the Ted as much as the next fan, but its 14 years old: too old to be seen as a new and exciting, and too new to have nostalgic value. The seasons before, they sold the “baby Braves,” and that turned out to be boring when all but one of them blossomed. How about selling Atlanta fans a winning team? Don’t just put a winner on the field, remind fans that that’s the goal that this team is aiming for. This team is going to be a contender. Come watch us take on the Division rival NL Champion Phillies! Isn’t that exciting? Why not use it.

– Signal that this team is different to fans. Let fans see a visible sign that this team is different. No more, hanging around until mid-season before breaking your heart. How can you signal this? Why not new uniforms? Be bold. Deviate from the string of Division championships as a motivation for following the team; that was five seasons ago. Adopt a slogan like, “A Whole New Breed of Winners,” but less lame.

– Be more open with fans, and cut the corporate trust-us-we-know-what-we’re-doing attitude. For example, just yesterday, John Schuerholz told Mark Bowman the following.

In addition, those fans who have summed the estimated salaries that the Braves will dish out this summer, find themselves wondering why it appears the Braves might be spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million less than they did during the 2009 season.

When asked about the 2010 payroll, Braves president John Schuerholz said it will remain the same despite that fewer fans came to Turner Field in 2009.

“It won’t be diminished at all,” Schuerholz said. “In the face of the economy and in the face of the downturn that we and a lot of other clubs had to deal with in terms of attendance and such, we’re not backing off. We’re going to continue committing all that we can in what I think is a very reasonable manner to put the club together.”

Calculations of salaries provided in 2009 confirm the Braves’ payroll was about $95 million. Estimated costs that will be incurred during the summer appear to rest in the neighborhood of $85 million.

Still the Braves contend that their payroll once again rests near the $90 million figure that was enhanced in 2009 with the insurance dollars they received while Tim Hudson spent the first five months of the season rehabbing from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.

This act is tiresome, and the condescending double-speak rubs everyone the wrong way. Fans have been buzzing all offseason about what the team was going to do with a payroll equivalent to last year’s, which is commonly listed at about $97 million.

Why suddenly act like this is what the team has been planning all along, and you’re just ignorant for thinking otherwise? Cut the bullshit. You either cut payroll by trading Vazquez, or you have been misleading fans by allowing the false expectation of a mid-$90 million payroll to persist. Insulting fans isn’t a way to build fan loyalty. And if this was on innocent divergence in expectations between fans and the front office, address it head on. Why are we just now learning about the Hudson insurance issue caveat to the “stable payroll” talking point that’s been pushed? Because this should be obvious to everyone, right? This could have been explained to a beat reporter weeks ago. Now after making some good moves, Braves fans are disappointed.

– It’s time for the Braves to embrace the new media. Braves fans just don’t watch TV, listen to the radio, and read the newspaper. And they read more than MLB.com in the Internet. Invite some fan-bloggers to the stadium for a meet-and-greet, maybe even hand out a few press credentials. How about Frank Wren sitting down for an interview with Mac Thomason, whose been blogging about the Braves before the term “blog” existed.

– And speaking of Frank Wren, let’s see some more of him. I have been very impressed with Wren’s open and frank style in interviews. He comes off friendly and honest, and he’s made some good moves. He’s very different than his predecessor, and I think the club would benefit from seeing Wren as the club’s figurehead; especially, with Bobby Cox stepping down after the season. To his credit, Wren does make himself available to the media, and I think he should continue to expand to new outlets.

13 Responses “Suggestions for Getting Fans Excited about the Braves Again”

  1. Marc Schneider says:

    I don’t live in Atlanta and haven’t been to a game there in over 25 years, so I can’t comment on the stadium, but I know in DC, I go to more games because I can take the subway and get off near the stadium. It’s a bad neighborhood here too and I suspect that the prospects for renovating the neighborhood aren’t good.

    I totally agree with the idea of stopping the bullshit. As good a GM as JS was, he could also have easily worked in the Nixon Administration. The organization is devious and condescending, for no good reason. They stopped selling out the stadium years ago. The Braves act as if they are still an elite team and organization, which they are not anymore. A little more candor would be welcome instead of sending Wren out to take the flak for Liberty’s deceit.

  2. Brent says:

    Hey, I like John Denver!

    Some good ideas for reinvigorating the fanbase. However, I think the spark of interest has to be present before it can be fanned into a flame. And in Atlanta, I’m afraid only a winning team will ignite it.

    I’ve had my gripes about our “fans” for a while – I was actually asked to sit down with two outs in the bottom of the ninth (!) at a game last season. That doesn’t happen at Wrigley.

    Seems too few of us here go to baseball games to be active participants…after all, it’s not like we’re at a football game or something. ;)

  3. Brent says:

    If anybody cares to read it, here’s a profile of one of the good guys in Braves nation, with some of my commentary on fan apathy mixed in:

    http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/news/archive/18543/

  4. Andrew says:

    I’ll agree with you on the Braves front office double speak. However, it’s simply common sense to see the Braves payroll get cut back slightly. Braves fans didn’t show up – you saw this when a very important game drew 25,000 (eek, this is a bloated number when it’s probably more like 15,000). Braves fans just aren’t very good fans. Your points about the area around the stadium are true, but would you rather have them cut back their payroll further in order to buy some surrounding property? Seriously? I think when it boils down to it most people want to see a winning team that ISN’T the Braves. We draw for the Cubs, Yankees, Cards, and Sox… You’re obviously one of the many huge fans out there. How many games do you honestly go to?

  5. Heather says:

    JC,

    If your team is being forced to cut payroll, don’t you think the General Manager (or John Schuerholz, in this case) SHOULD publicly deny and lie about it? After all, if other teams know about your budget shortfall, then that may hurt your negotiating position. By lying earlier on in the winter, Wren was able to pretend that he didn’t absolutely have to trade Vazquez/Lowe if he didn’t want to.

    Isn’t the GM’s job to build the team first, and worry about the PR consequences later?

  6. Andrew says:

    Marc Schneider – is it Liberty’s deficit or the fans? Spend money and the fans come or other way around? Signing Tim Hudson a few years back didn’t spike attendance, nor Gary Sheff or JD Drew…or anybody

  7. ADC says:

    Boy, I hope someone with some influence in the organization reads this. I agree 100%.

    Thanks JC.

  8. Yaramah says:

    I agree alot with these suggestions, especially changing up the between innings entertainment. I have season tickets and it is very annoying listening to the same thing all the time.
    Also the team should insist on a direct MARTA stop at the stadium, perhaps even contribute a bit to ensure that happens. The bus is ok, but a direct stop would make it so much easier to get to the stadium. Here’s hoping the team does well early and the fans get on board. Go Braves!

  9. JC says:

    I don’t think a MARTA station near the stadium is a huge problem. The bigger issue with MARTA is that it doesn’t serve the suburbs, especially Gwinnett and Cobb.

  10. Andrew says:

    Unfortunately Gwinnett doesn’t want stops in their county. They’re scared of black folks

  11. Marc Schneider says:

    Andrew,

    I agree that the fans (or lack thereof) are a lot of the problem. If they don’t come, you can’t expect payroll to increase. But that doesn’t excuse Liberty’s (or its mouthpieces) deception. If they want to cut payroll because the attendence is bad, then say so; but don’t pretend that they are spending money that they aren’t spending and don’t act like fans are idiots for questioning their numbers.

    Re the crowds, it’s probably not my place to speak since I don’t live in Atlanta, but, whenever I see a game from there on TV, it just seems dead. I was watching a replay of Randy Johnson’s perfect game and the crowd made no noise until there were two outs in the 9th. Granted, it was a visiting pitcher, but there was no enthusiasm at all. Since the mid-90s, it seems as if there is no home field advantage at all. It’s sort of embarrassing watching a Braves game from Atlanta because, not only are the seats empty, but the fans seem to not care.

  12. Avery says:

    What are the benefits of the Georgia Dome and Philips Arena that The Ted doesn’t have (besides teams that made the playoffs last year)?

    A Marta Station. This absolutely a huge plus.

    Absent that, I 100% agree with your suggestions about the area surrounding the field.

  13. JC says:

    The Dome and Phillips aren’t exactly brimming with fans, even when the teams win. When the Braves aren’t playing, a Marta stop would be useless stop to nowhere. Fans from Cobb and Gwinnett would still have to drive. Given what it would cost to reroute a line to Turner Field, it would be much cheaper to just clean up the area.