Braves move to Cobb spurs debate over race, status
by Ray Henry
December 14, 2013 11:07 PM | 5328 views | 13 13 comments | 48 48 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A message reading ‘people over profit’ is written on an electrical panel at an intersection surrounding the Atlanta Braves stadium, Wednesday in Atlanta. 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. 
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The Associated Press
A message reading ‘people over profit’ is written on an electrical panel at an intersection surrounding the Atlanta Braves stadium, Wednesday in Atlanta. 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.
The Associated Press
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ATLANTA — 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

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 are.”

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 Bureau.

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 and restaurants.

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 black.

“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 black.

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 else.”

Comments
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Mark in mid-town
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December 16, 2013
Cobb County is now about 55% white and near 30% black. The immediate area where the new ballpark is to be built is under 40% white. If current trends continue, within about 15 years the city limits of Atlanta will probably have a higher percentage of white people than Cobb County. In other words, it is ridiculous to focus on race as being the reason the Braves are moving. Within the Atlanta metro area, the new Cobb location will actually be closer to the overall population center of the entire metro area than the current location a mile or so south of downtown Atlanta. Turner Field does rub up against a ghetto, but the main problem with the location is that's it's become increasingly difficult to get to and there is nothing to do in the area for fans other than go into the stadium. The new location will rectify that. If one wants to focus on race, how about look to the northeast and let us know what percentage of whites and blacks live in, say, Foxborough, MA where the New England Patriots built their stadium a decade ago. Contrast the racial makeup of that town with where the Braves will be building their new stadium.
melanieb.
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December 16, 2013
I too am so sick & tired of hearing the race card class card played when there is nothing else to play. Race has nothing to do with the fact the Braves are moving to our county. Class either. It is a great business decision plus it was the Atlanta Mayor who would not work with the Braves in making it abetter area where the stadium is now. Just look around you where the stadium is; not safe, not clean not profitable. They tried getting Atlanta to get it cleaned up, build more attractions around the stadium & make it better for the people living around there. I am so glad they are moving to our county. More jobs, more revenue and this will clean up the area they bought to build. Welcome Braves to Cobb!
So you know
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December 16, 2013
The race card has never been the issue for any of the groups disagreeing with the move. This is the first I have heard and it is being pulled in this article by Mr. Henry who is a white male. It really does matter who pulls the card. In this case it makes folks like you (those who are tired of hearing it; and No! I am not calling you a racist. I think you have a right to your opinion.) become bitter and angry even if you are not for the move.
All About Choices
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December 16, 2013
I am fully tired of the race card whenever it is convenient. Everyone in the US has the right to an education and to fulfill their dreams. If you choose not to do well in school, choose not to go to college and choose to be on welfare, then that it what it is. The Braves chose to move where the money is and that is any smart business decision. Stop making it about race because we are tired if that excuse!
D.G. in Clarkdale
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December 16, 2013
At some point a community has to decide on what its to become. Will it be clean, safe, welcoming with high standards or whine and complain and expect the government/taxpayers to address issues that they failed to address themselves. Unless residents change "their standards" any efforts by others will be futile. That is why the area around Turner Field is the way it is, the people there have failed to take matters into their own hands and true to the mentality that has been cultivated over the last 50 years expect someone else to do it for them. On the other side of this, government using taxpayer funds to bank roll,in part, the move of a sports team to Cobb is rather chancy and I'm totally against.
Taxpayer Funds
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December 16, 2013
That is the issue and not race.
Just a Thought
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December 15, 2013
The only color that made this decision is GREEN, so kindly do not bring black and white into it. Really? Is this what the MDJ wants to spend it's time on these days?

If you really want to take a stand on something, help us make our citizens...all of them...educated and prosperous. The City of Atlanta chose to keep the Home Depot guy happy, although interestingly enough, his HQ is in Cobb. They selectively ignored the Braves. Learn from this, live with the consequences and move on.
demographics
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December 15, 2013
Better check out the demographics and crime rate in Cobb County where the stadium will be built. It is very diverse and not always safe.
Bob Bummer
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December 15, 2013
I don't think the issue is whether or not the Braves have a choice in where they play their local games because they can clearly play wherever they choose. The issue is that Liberty Media being a private business can afford to build their own stadium and if they could not they could go to a bank or the ABC Shark Tank for funds not the county taxpayers.
Confused Here
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December 15, 2013
The Falcons have more African American attendees but it's location hasn't made fans feel unsafe. Yet the new stadium cost extra for political reasons but the race card hasn't been played.

Cobb has a diversity population.

The Braves obviously made a business decision.

How is this racist?
anonymous
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December 15, 2013
Ah, such a world we live in. When things dont go the way of certain people, the only argument they have is it must be about race. Decisions cant be based upon logic, good business sense, or even science - if I dont like it, it must be because of race.
anonymous
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December 15, 2013
OMG. Really? Really? "The hometown of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. is far from integrated." Really again? Atlanta? We ARE talking about Atlanta, aren't we? What is not being said is "no, in Cobb County you won't have to worry about being mugged or murdered if you venture past Turner Field." "no, you won't have to worry about being panhandled to death." "no, you won't have to worry about your children seeing drunks peeing in front of them." That has absolutely nothing to do with race or the county. It has everything to do with enforcing laws. Give me a break. This is the most useless article I have ever read race baiting.

Crime follows
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December 16, 2013
Doesn't matter where the stadium is built the crime will follow. Of course being a police officer in Cobb, I can tell you that crime is and has always been here. Watch the stats on the malls during holidays especially. When people move from the surrounding parking lots to the stadium, the same crimes will occur. Not trying to scare you, just being real. The numbers will be less than Atlanta, but when you are the victim, numbers don't matter.
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