Fortunately, they will be checking tickets and not allegiances this week at Turner Field.
Revenue isn’t the worst fallback. You take what you can get if you’re the Braves, particularly when three of the visiting teams on a home stand — the Cubs, Yankees and Red Sox – come with overstuffed caravans and the term “meaningful games” locally appears to have a decreasing shelf life.
But if the Braves want to excite somebody other than Bob in accounting, this would be a good time to start. June is melting into July, and a .500 record is starting to resemble some lofty objective. Hammering home the reality of it all, the home team ranks 19th in attendance, creating ample room in the parking lot for incoming convoys from Chicago, New York and Boston.
“We picked up a couple of games on the Phillies in the last three days and we’ve just got to keep grinding,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said Sunday before the Braves finished a series in Boston. “That’s what you’re looking for – a team that will grind and won’t quit. But we know that at some point you can’t just grind, you have to win games. We’re getting close to that point where we have to start winning series.”
Actually, they’re probably at that point. The Braves lost in Boston, 6-5, Sunday. They dropped two of three at Fenway. No shame there. But they lost all three series on a 3-6 trip and have failed to win a series since sweeping Toronto May 22-24 (0-5-3 in series and 9-16 in games since).
The Braves own one of the worst home records in baseball: 15-17. It’s not a great backdrop for a 10-game stretch against Chicago (makeup of a rainout), Boston, New York and Philadelphia.
The sellouts at Turner Field will be a nice change of pace. But they’ll be an aberration if this team doesn’t start impressing the masses. For all the spin about bad weather hurting attendance to this point and the expectation of crowds increasing now that school is out of session, franchise officials know this is a hard-to-please market.
Sports fans already seem to be counting down the days to football season. Or even football practice. The Braves never will have a better chance to grab some attention.
Wren understands the crowds this week will be largely opponent-driven.
“You wish that weren’t so but that’s the reality,” he said. “But in past years when we’ve played against teams with a large number of fans, when we play well our fans drown them out. And when we don’t fare well, we hear it from their fans. This isn’t any different from what we’ve seen in the past.”
Slightly more pronounced, perhaps. The economic component can’t be ignored. But there’s also the hangover of three missed post-seasons and failed expectations, particularly last season and this one. The bottom line: The Braves’ average home attendance of 24,828 is down nearly 4,800 per game through 32 home games compared with 2008 (29,622) and is on pace to be the Braves’ lowest average since 12,100 in 1990 at Fulton County Stadium. (Since moving to Turner Field in 1997, the team has averaged under 30,000 only once: 29,399 in 2004.)
Fans want championships, sure. But more than that, they just want a good product. They want a reason to pay, a reason to believe ownership and management are trying off the field and players are trying on it. Somewhere along the way, a lot of people have stopped believing.
The Braves knew the Yankees and Red Sox games would be the year’s hot tickets. It’s one reason why they initially sold them only through multi-game packs, also hoping to limit the presence of New York and Boston fans. But that plan didn’t fill the stadium. Individual game tickets eventually went on sale three weeks ago.
The pitching this season has been solid. The offense, “has shown signs of coming around,” Wren said. This would be a good week to prove it. Crowds will be watching.