The Atlanta Braves have found a formula of success for getting fans into the seats. The rest of Major League Baseball should take note of projects that teams like Atlanta have implemented to increase attendance and revenue.
The Braves saw a notable drop in attendance from 2013 to 2016. In 2013, the Braves won 96 games and their division. That year, the team saw their highest yearly attendance since 2007 at 2,548,679. At the end of their second consecutive 90 loss season in 2016, attendance had fallen by more than 500,000 fans to 2,020,914. There is no doubt that wins put fans in seats, but the Braves found a way to get those fans back despite their third consecutive 90 loss season in 2017.
2017 was the first year that the Braves played in their new, state-of-the-art stadium. Sun Trust Park opened for business, and the fans wanted to see what all the hype was about. The Braves were 72-90 in a division that had only one team over the .500 mark at the end of the season. Fans do not want to pay to see a losing team play in a losing division, but the Braves jumped back into the top 15 for yearly attendance. They were one of only five teams under .500 to reach the 2.5 million mark for attendance, and their total revenue went up 47 percent from the previous year.
The secret is fan engagement. Sun Trust Park is more than a stadium. It is an experience. Inside the stadium, fans will find the usual amenities offered at ballparks including traditional box seating, executive levels, and concessions for each section. Beyond that, there are special and unique sections throughout the park. "The Coors Light Chop House,” is basically a restaurant that doubles as ticketed seating. There are three levels to it, and fans have everything from a personal server, to chilled cup holders that keep their drinks cold.
In addition to that, there are plenty of interactive experiences available to all ticket holders. There is a zip-line behind the outfield seating. There are cages for fans to test their arms and bats. There is the “Monument Garden.” Inside of the garden, Braves fans can experience the rich history of the franchise by looking at more than 300 pieces of Braves-themed memorabilia.
There is no denying that the $672 million stadium is a selling point that gets fans involved, but the thing that really separates the Braves’ game day experience from other teams is what is found outside of the stadium.
“The Battery” is described as a lifestyle destination anchored by Sun Trust Park. Before games, thousands of fans show to eat, shop, and play at all of the venues that The Battery offers. There are restaurants, shops, places of entertainment, apartments, and businesses all located inside of the Battery. It is a fan’s paradise. Fans that do not have tickets can come to the battery to watch the game live with other fans at one of the bars or restaurants.
The Battery is also capable of hosting other events. It has been used for concerts and shows. There are plans for a new movie theater that will include a full bar and in-theater dining.
The team owner, Liberty Media, is excited about what has been and can be accomplished. “We think The Battery, combined with the Braves, is a unique live experience. Our strength comes from developing interesting opportunities around that,” Greg Maffei, Liberty Media CEO said in an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
2018 shows evidence that fans weren’t just lured in by something that was new and shiny. Attendance for the 2018 season was up again, reaching 2,555,781 at the end of the regular season. It is time for other Major League Baseball teams to take notice and realize that the days of traditionalism are coming to an end. Teams will need to evolve if they want to see an increase in their revenue.
The Rest of the MLB
Major League Baseball is failing to reach young fans.
As the graph above illustrates, 74 percent of fans who attended a Major League Baseball game in 2017 were 35 years of age or older. The median age was 45. It is currently a time in sports where flashy uniforms, big celebrations, and big names on social media are king. Baseball seems to have the fewest of all of those when it comes to the major professional sports leagues in America.
The National Football League has problems of their own, but one thing they’ve done well with recently is allowing players to celebrate without the worry of a penalty. Young fans eat it up. There is a fear among players in baseball that if they celebrate too much, it could mean suspension or a 100 mile-per-hour fastball to the earhole. If Major League Baseball will not allow players to have big personalities, then they will need to find other ways to sell tickets to young fans. The Braves have done that. They have given young fans, who might not even enjoy baseball, a reason to come to games and buy merchandise, food, and experiences.
The future of Major League Baseball rests in the hands of the younger generations. While the sport will always hold a special place in the hearts of Americans, some things will have to develop in new directions if the league and teams want to keep fans in the seats.