Copyright 2016 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
With less than 150 days to go until the first regular-season game in SunTrust Park, the Braves are selling ticket packages, setting up new offices and spending some of their anticipated revenue increase on (very) veteran pitchers.
The Braves' race to opening day, which began with the announcement three years ago this month of the move to Cobb County, has entered the final sprint.
"From a business standpoint, it's a pretty significant pivot," said Derek Schiller, the Braves' president of business. "Almost from the day that the season ended at Turner Field, we began focusing on how we operate the new environments at SunTrust Park."
They are counting the days to the April 14 regular-season opener in the new ballpark against the San Diego Padres. As of Sunday, it's 145 days and counting.
While much work remains to be done on the $672 million stadium, the Braves and parent company Liberty Media proclaim it on schedule and on budget.
About three-quarters of the 41,000 seats have been installed. Drainage and irrigation systems for the playing field are in the works. Four parking decks are under construction for the stadium and adjacent mixed-use development, although the Braves haven't revealed details of a long-awaited parking plan. Trees are being planted and pine-straw spread on one side of the stadium.
The Braves' 65,000-squarefoot administrative offices, on the right-field side of SunTrust Park under the "Xfinity Rooftop" patio/lounge area, will be occupied months before the rest of the stadium.
The Braves plan for about 300 staffers to move into the offices in mid-December, beating the Dec. 31 expiration of the team's Turner Field lease. Some furniture was being delivered last week.
In preparation for the move, the Braves have been sorting through documents and memorabilia accumulated during the team's 51 seasons at Turner Field and Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.With the help of an archives company, Heritage Werks, staffers have been deciding what to take with them to Cobb, what to store, what to purge, what to convert from paper to electronic form.
Aside from the administrative offices, the rest of the new stadium will be occupied beginning in March, first for some trial-run functions in various club areas and then for a March 31 exhibition game against the New York Yankees. The Braves view the exhibition as a soft opening of the ballpark, and tickets will be limited to season-ticket holders.
At this point, the Braves are selling full-season and 27-game ticket packages. The 27-game packages, which went on sale this month, are available from three options: the Friday plan, Saturday plan and Sunday plan. Each plan includes all home games on that day of the week, plus 14 additional Monday-through-Thurs-day games scattered throughout the season.
Dates haven't been set for the start of sales of smaller packages and single-game tickets.
"As we get closer to opening day, we'll start to break (tickets) into smaller packages," Schiller said. "Historically, we have started single-game sales in combination with the start of spring training, so the likelihood is we'd be near that time frame."
The Braves won't say how many season tickets they have sold to date, although Schiller said they are "on pace" to meet a goal of 20,000 by opening day. Seventy-six percent of the premium seats "already are sold," Braves Chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk said at a Liberty Media investors conference last week.
SunTrust Park will have 3,800 premium seats -- defined as seats that come with added amenities, such as access to club areas -- compared with 400 at Turner Field. The premium seats are in the new stadium's prime locations and cost from $92 to $500 per game in season-ticket packages that require minimum contract lengths ranging from three to seven years. Non-premium seats range from$7 to $98 per game in season-ticket packages that don't require multiyear contracts.
The Braves plan to announce details soon about two areas of the stadium: "Monument Garden" on one of the main concourses, where statues and other treasures from franchise history are expected to be displayed, and a yet-to-be-named kids' zone, which is expected to include a zip line.
Preparation for the inaugural season in the team's new home extends from the business side of the Braves' front office to the baseball-operations side.
Theorganizationhastakensteps this month to try to strengthen the on-field product, spending $20.5 million to sign the two oldest pitchers in the major leagues as free agents: 42-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and 43-yearold Bartolo Colon.
The additions are intended to buy the Braves time until some of their pitching prospects develop and--assuming Dickey and Colon are able to squeeze another good season out of their aging right arms -- make the first season in the new stadium better than the final two in Turner Field.
The expenditures reflect a rising player payroll tied to rising revenue, although the Braves haven't publicly revealed their payroll budget. They opened the 2016 season with a payroll of about $85 million, MLB's fourth lowest.
The 2017 payroll clearly will be higher: With the Dickey and Colon contracts, the Braves have $86 million committed to nine players, led by $20.8 million to first baseman Freddie Freeman and $18 million to outfielder Matt Kemp (not including the portion of Kemp's salary the Padres are covering). Six arbitration-eligible players are projected to add up to $9 million to the payroll, while players not eligible for arbitration won't make much more than the minimum MLB salary, which was $507,500 this year.
With more activity expected on the free-agent and/or trade markets, the payroll seems likely to at least approach the $112 million level of opening day 2014 -- the season before the Braves began purging salaries and rebuilding their minor-league system.
"We expect pretty good near-term and long-term growth in revenue and free cash flow from the new ballpark," Liberty Media Chief Financial Officer Mark Carleton said in a presentation at last week's investors meeting. "History tells us that there is a 15 to 25 percent increase in revenues as you move into a new ballpark, and obviously ... this ballpark is quite extraordinary. So we're looking forward to that.
"Some of that will flow through to the bottom line, and some of it will prudently go into our on-the-field talent."
Carleton said that by projecting a 20 percent increase in revenue and factoring in the Braves' investment in the mixed-use development, the team could be valued at $1.5 billion -- sharply higher than Forbes magazine's most recent estimate of $1.18 billion.
A 20 percent increase in annual revenue would amount to almost $50 million, based on the Braves' $243 million in 2015 revenue.
Construction of the new stadium has gone according to plan, Liberty Media told investors.
"Fortunately, unlike some of these other projects, this project has been on time and on budget all the way along," Carleton said.
Meanwhile, in a temporary project-management office across the street from SunTrust Park, a countdown clock keeps track of the dwindling time until opening day.
SUNTRUST PARK COUNTDOWN
Mid-December: Braves move into offices at the new stadium. March 31: Braves vs.New York Yankees in exhibition game. April 14: Regular-season home opener vs.San Diego Padres.
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