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Friday, October 04, 2019

Two Playoff Teams, Two New Stadiums and One Great Divide

Two maps tell the story.

First, John Schuerholz stared into a camera and stunned a city. Unflinching, the Braves’ GM turned president, whose teams had won 14 straight division titles, explained to Atlanta baseball fans on Nov. 11, 2013, that the club was abandoning the area just south of downtown, its home since 1966. No longer would the Braves play at Turner Field, where skyscrapers looming over left center made it feel as if the entire city was watching. Instead, the franchise would build a stadium 14 miles north, in Cobb County. “This new ballpark,” Schuerholz said of what would come to be called SunTrust Park, “will be in the heart of Braves Country.”

Accompanying the announcement, the team released a map showing where, precisely, Braves Country was—and, notably, where it wasn’t. That view of the greater Atlanta area was speckled with red dots, each one indicating the home of a 2012 ticket buyer, including season-ticket holders. Only a smattering of red appeared to the east, west and south of Turner Field, while thousands of dots congealed into a ribbon above downtown that expanded into a wide swath in the half-dozen suburban and exurban counties to the north. The new stadium would be closer to the middle of that mass, which happened to embody an older, whiter and more conservative population than the city proper. Those northern suburbs were fast diversifying, yet many in Atlanta—particularly in its black population—felt slighted by the decision, their perspectives colored by decades of racial and political tension between city and sprawl.

Five months later MLS commissioner Don Garber, Falcons owner Arthur Blank and then-mayor Kasim Reed proclaimed in their own press conference that downtown Atlanta would be home to MLS’s 22nd franchise, and the new club, Atlanta United, would take the pitch in 2017, the same year the Braves headed to Cobb. The soccer team would play in the same new $1.6 billion stadium the Falcons would soon call home, but United would be no afterthought. The facility would be designed to accommodate the beautiful game from the start. Pushing back against skepticism and pointing to an influx of young professionals near Atlanta’s urban core, Blank assured MLS’s leaders he could fill the massive venue, even in a market known for lukewarm enthusiasm toward pro sports. Reed boasted that his city’s foreign-born (and, seemingly implied, soccer-loving) population was growing at the second-fastest rate in the U.S. Garber himself insisted these factors combined to make downtown an ideal MLS incubator. The city “embodies what we call a ‘new America,’” he said, “an America that’s blossoming with ethnic diversity.”

A consideration of sport and space- of interest for those who wish for a long-form read.

 

 

QLE Posted: October 04, 2019 at 12:21 AM | 13 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: braves, soccer, stadiums, suntrust park

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: October 04, 2019 at 04:39 AM (#5886334)
Jeepers, per the Wikis, Atl MLS averaged over 50,000 per match in 2018, up from 43,000 in 2017. (I don't know why that page doesn't have 2019.) Looks like 2019 was exactly the same. I don't care what games they might be playing with how they count or how they price tickets, that's fantastic.
   2. Fernigal McGunnigle Posted: October 04, 2019 at 07:19 AM (#5886340)
My aunt and uncle (older, whiter and more conservative) in Cobb County have largely seen the Braves replaced in their hearts by Atlanta United. They still watch Braves games on TV, but they go to United games and live and die with them. A lot of it is that the culture around the soccer team is vastly more energetic than the culture around baseball, which makes it a lot more fun and lends to a sense of community when you go to a game. (In fairness, some of this has to do with the length of the season -- sure you can go bonkers for every one of 34 regular season games, but try doing the same thing 162 times a year.)

MLS has done very well with its expansion teams over the last several years. Even the Montreal Impact are averaging attendance at ~80% of capacity despite having been terrible for most of their MLS existence. Minnesota is close to sold out all of the time, Cincinnati is third in the league in attendance, Orlando averages 90% of capacity. Then of course there was the round of expansion 10-12 years ago that brought in the Cascadia teams (Portland, Seattle, Vancouver) and totally transformed the league. You can now really imagine MLS settling in solidly as the the #4 US sports league, or at least solidly occupying a spot in summertime sports analogous to the spot the NHL occupies in the winter.

(The Chicago Fire are moving back to Soldier Field next year, after spending forever in far-flung Bridgeview. It pisses me off that they left Soldier Field right when I moved to the city, and are moving back a couple of years after I left.)
   3. Belfry Bob Posted: October 04, 2019 at 07:33 AM (#5886341)
Interesting article. I grew up a Braves fan, watching them on TBS, attending countless games as a fan of their AAA franchise in Richmond, the occasional game at Fulton County. Always had a soft spot for them as my 'NL Team' after moving to Baltimore in the eighties...but they lost me with the Cobb County move. I spent several summers in Atlanta with my grandparents, working at Six Flags, and I was well aware of the racial overtones and attitudes that help fuel the move.

Also, I had forgotten how obnoxious and outdated The Chop has become until I tuned in to yesterday's game.

Go Cardinals!

I noted the article was from SI. After their final gutting this week, I assume they will no longer have any relevance, journalism-wise. Though it's only a shell of what it was in it's best days, it was at least still a shell. Now that's going to be gone, too.
   4. Jose Canusee Posted: October 04, 2019 at 07:50 AM (#5886344)
My last trip to Turner was a night game where you drove around some residential areas and parked on or across the street in the asphalt island and didn't see anything on the way to the ballpark except some t-shirt and water bottle vendors. No music, food trucks or other business. I suppose they also had their share of "it's the 7th inning, should we dash for the car and hope we don't miss anything?" fans since the roads weren't designed or signed to flow everyone out of the parking onto the highway, I got stuck following people going the wrong way.
   5. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: October 04, 2019 at 08:32 AM (#5886348)
Is there some rule that soccer teams can’t have plural-noun names?
   6. . Posted: October 04, 2019 at 09:43 AM (#5886364)
The whole thing that's developed wherein sports have to be redolent of and indicative of some broader underlying "culture" (*) has grown extremely tiresome. MLS is clearly in the throes of woke culture and its adherents glomming onto it -- all the way down to their hissy fits when MLS doesn't want the people in Portland and Seattle bringing the banners of their "fight" against "fascists" (LOLOL) to the stadiums.

I've noted a bunch of times that the saber embrace of and assault on baseball wasn't really about baseball and now we're seeing people glom onto MLS's minor league soccer ... and that isn't really about soccer.

(*) Things like this are stupid and tedious and silly and tiresome:

Reed boasted that his city’s foreign-born (and, seemingly implied, soccer-loving) population was growing at the second-fastest rate in the U.S. Garber himself insisted these factors combined to make downtown an ideal MLS incubator. The city “embodies what we call a ‘new America,’” he said, “an America that’s blossoming with ethnic diversity.”
   7. Belfry Bob Posted: October 04, 2019 at 12:04 PM (#5886416)
stupid and tedious and silly and tiresome


Sometimes the jokes write themselves...
   8. Karl from NY Posted: October 04, 2019 at 02:58 PM (#5886547)
Is there some rule that soccer teams can’t have plural-noun names?

The first of the New York teams totally can't decide about this. Half the time it's Red Bull New York, the other half it's the New York Red Bulls.

If baseball doesn't want to lose attention to soccer, maybe baseball should try not having 26 freaking seconds of average downtime between every ball movement.
   9. Quaker Posted: October 04, 2019 at 04:18 PM (#5886580)
So the United are good for building a stadium in Midtown and the Braves are bad for building one in Cobb even though that's where most of their fanbase is?

And it's logical for a longtime Braves fan to feel "abandoned" and give up on the team b/c they moved a dozen miles to the north?

Make sense and doesn't seem at all like there's an agenda behind this article.
   10. Walt Davis Posted: October 04, 2019 at 05:18 PM (#5886599)
So the United are good for building a stadium in Midtown and the Braves are bad for building one in Cobb even though that's where most of their fanbase is?

The article never says any such thing (at least in the first 20 or so paragraphs I read). The article in fact notes that the Braves negotiated for years trying to stay in Atlanta, consulted with the African-American community before leaving, have reached out to the African-American after commuting, took note of the increasing ethnic diversification of Cobb County and that this influenced their decision, notes the mayor of Atlanta says Braves' success is good for the city, and notes that part of the history was that the city government was so focused on the Falcons that they took the Braves for granted ... and that richer, white folks are gentrifying central Atlanta who are "the base the United are hoping to attract." The article does of course quote a fan or two who feels abandoned.

So the agenda-packing would seem to be coming from you.

Atlanta metro has a long history as one of America's most divided/polarized metro areas. These stadium decisions mapped very closely to these divides and the Braves openly acknowledged (and even provided the map) that they were chasing their fanbase which was much more concentrated on one side of that divide than the other while the United at least claimed to be chasing a potential fanbase on the other side. If you don't find that an interesting topic, that's fine.

As to 12 miles ... if you didn't know already you could have found out by reading the article that Cobb County is rather infamous for its attempts to isolate itself from central Atlanta, dating back 50+ years. They stayed out of the regional public transit system for this reason. It isn't a particularly easy place to get to from central Atlanta and that was the historical (and arguably present) intention of the Cobb County government. Nevertheless, Cobb County has been ethnically diversifying over the last decade plus and continues to ... and the article notes that the Braves' ticket sales map suggests the fan base is migrating further north.
   11. Brian C Posted: October 04, 2019 at 05:23 PM (#5886602)
And it's logical for a longtime Braves fan to feel "abandoned" and give up on the team b/c they moved a dozen miles to the north?

Seems logical enough to me. 14 miles is kind of far, as far as it goes. If the Cubs moved up to Glenview, that would make a huge difference to me.
   12. Quaker Posted: October 04, 2019 at 08:39 PM (#5886667)
“I see this movement of the stadium as the culmination of white flight.”

Yep, no agenda there. Totally my imagination.

The implication throughout the entire article is that the United should be celebrated for doing things the “right” way, embracing diversity, and the Braves are the team for conservative suburbanites scared of the big city.

I live at the Battery. I’m aware of Atlanta’s history. Maybe they have stats that disprove this, but the one Atl Utd game I’ve been to didn’t feel like some huge cultural melting pot. It was mostly 20-30 something white ppl.
   13. Fernigal McGunnigle Posted: October 05, 2019 at 08:43 AM (#5886745)
“I see this movement of the stadium as the culmination of white flight.”

Yep, no agenda there. Totally my imagination.
You're sort of conflating the opinions of the historian and the opinions of the article author. The quote you give is from the historian, who doesn't address the soccer team at all. You're also conflating agenda and analysis.

Seems logical enough to me. 14 miles is kind of far, as far as it goes. If the Cubs moved up to Glenview, that would make a huge difference to me.
As I mentioned in #2, the Chicago Fire completely died for me when they moved from Soldier Field to a stadium in Bridgeview that is a 13.9 mile drive from the old stadium. They went from being nearly on a train line to being a 30 minute bus ride from the nearest train line, which is exactly the same thing the Braves did.

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