Planned Braves stadium move highlights race, class
For the Braves, abandoning downtown Atlanta for the suburbs
means moving closer to the team’s fan base and developing
money-making restaurants and amenities. Team officials say it’s
simply good business.
But the decision also highlights long-standing disparities over
wealth, where people live and transportation – all facets of life
connected to race and social class in Atlanta. The Braves will be
moving from an area that’s predominantly black and relatively poor
compared to whiter Cobb County – where the team says more
ticket-buyers live. Although it is long past segregation, the
hometown of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. is far
from integrated, and the city’s politics, business and even sports
teams reflect that gap.
Consider what Rick Grimes views from his home blocks from Turner
Field each time there’s a game: fans, mostly white, streaming past
on the sidewalk.
”I would say the large majority of people who support the
Braves are white folks,” said Grimes, who is African-American.
While no one would reasonably accuse the Braves of making a
decision based on race or class, one scholar says major attractions
often migrate toward money.
”It becomes a class issue in a lot of ways,” said Larry
Keating, a Georgia Tech professor emeritus who has studied
Atlanta’s development. ”A lot of the primo stuff that is highly
valued by the society ends up going where the wealthiest areas
Team officials say they were looking at other factors. When
Atlanta did not negotiate terms acceptable to the Braves, the team
found a suburban government willing to pay for a chunk of the
proposed stadium. The Braves will also own the property around the
stadium, meaning it can develop restaurants and stores within
walking distance. There are few amenities around Turner Field. Team
officials say the new site would offer better transportation access
considering the majority of fans come from north of the city.
”We don’t look at the exact makeup of the race, religion factor
of that ticket buyer,” said Derek Schiller, executive vice
president of sales and marketing for the Braves. ”What we’re
concerned about as a business that sells tickets is where do our
ticket buyers come from? … We are moving closer to where the
majority of our ticket buyers come from.”
Like many cities, metro Atlanta has an urban core that includes
a large population of black residents and suburbs that are
typically whiter. Atlanta famously marketed itself as ”The City
Too Busy To Hate” as other Southern cities resisted integration.
But the city has long-standing racial divisions.
Once owned by media mogul Ted Turner, the Braves grew a national
fan base as their games were carried on cable systems around the
country on one of Turner’s TV stations. To support its argument for
leaving, the Braves released a map based on ticket sales data that
showed its fans were clustered in an arc north of downtown Atlanta
that ran through the suburbs.
That information also shows fans tended to purchase single-game
tickets at the highest rates in places that were several times as
rich as neighborhoods closest to the stadium and much whiter. Of
the communities with the ten highest sales rates, all but one were
north of the current stadium and had median household incomes
ranging from roughly $61,000 to $100,000. Those communities ranged
from 58 to 85 percent white, according to counts by the U.S. Census
For this analysis, The Associated Press examined last year’s
ticket sales by zip code as tallied by the Braves and compared it
with Census counts and estimates showing the population of adults
in those areas along with race and income. The analysis ignored zip
codes with less than 10,000 people and those more than 100 miles
from the current stadium. The comparisons are imperfect. The zip
code areas used by the Census do not perfectly align with postal
zip codes. The sales figures do not include season ticket
purchases, people who pay in cash or customers who refuse to supply
their addresses. Braves officials think the sample likely
undercounts suburban fans since at least some suburban commuters
presumably buy tickets using Atlanta work addresses.
In contrast to the Braves, the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons decided to
remain downtown after Atlanta agreed to contribute $200 million in
tax money toward a $1 billion new stadium.
Some see class, not race, as the more relevant divide. C.J.
Stewart, who coaches Braves star Jason Heyward in batting, sees
poverty as a deterrent to ticket sales. He runs a charity that uses
baseball to teach students, many poor and from the city, about
life. Stewart’s coaching business is independent of the Braves.
”It’s hard to go to a Braves game when you’re hoping and
praying that your child graduates from high school,” he said.
Some suburban fans acknowledge the panhandling, barred windows
and vacant lots in the area around Turner Field make them wary. The
proposed stadium is near an exhibition center and a mall anchored
by a Costco and Sears.
”What I don’t like about the games, to be quite frank, is the
security aspect,” said Rocco Lionetti, who works with his brother
at a suburban Cobb garage. ”When you leave the stadium, you run to
your car because you don’t want to get mugged.”
Lionetti said his views are shaped by security concerns, not
race, and he would attend more games if the stadium was near bars
One politician was criticized for invoking – whether
intentionally or not – racial politics when discussing the stadium.
The chairman of Cobb County Republicans, Joe Dendy, said in a
written statement that he rejected calls for bringing rail transit
to Cobb County. For years, much of the debate about MARTA has been
wrapped in racial politics. White communities surrounding Atlanta
rejected the transit system in votes during the civil rights era.
Surveys show the transit system’s customers are roughly 74 percent
”It is absolutely necessary the solution is all about moving
cars in and around Cobb and surrounding counties from our north and
east where most Braves fans travel from, and not moving people into
Cobb by rail from Atlanta,” Dendy wrote in a news release.
Dendy declined an interview, but said in an email that his
remark was not about race, but rather his opposition to a prior
rail project that was rejected by voters.
Four generations of E. Lee Sullivan’s family have lived in the
Mechanicsville neighborhood near Turner Field. She said she
understands the concerns of suburban fans, at least to a point.
”You know, you can dress it up and say it diplomatically and
say crime in the area, which really breaks down to `I’m scared a
black person is going to rob me,”’ said Sullivan, who is
She acknowledged the neighborhood had a crime problem that she
blamed on poverty, not race. Sullivan blames Turner Field and its
massive parking lots for sapping the vitality of a commercial
district that once included a theatre, a bakery and a library.
”They ruined all that, they wiped that all out,” she said.
”Now they’re just kind of like, ok, we’re going someplace
Associated Press writers Jack Gillum in Washington; Mike
Schneider in Orlando, Fla.; and Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed
to this report.
Follow Ray Henry on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rhenryAP .