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Volume 21 No. 13
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With so many choices at SunTrust Park, how fans found their spot

“No columns. There’s not a bad seat in the house.” — Charlie Lockwood

When the Atlanta Braves opened SunTrust Park for its first regular-season game April 14, fans got to see all the bells and whistles that $672 million can buy in a new ballpark.

Season-ticket holders also got a view of their view, their vantage point for a season of baseball.

That night, SportsBusiness Journal caught up with seven season-ticket holders to find out what drove their decision about which of SunTrust’s many seating options to choose, as well as their connection to the team and their thoughts on the ballpark, in Cobb County 12 miles north of the Braves’ old home.

Most were existing season-ticket holders coming over from Turner Field. They all agreed that the new park is a big step up for the Braves and that the dining and drinking options at The Battery Atlanta, the mixed-use district next door, will prove popular.

Baseball buddies Charlie Lockwood and Peter Tennis prefer sitting in the upper deck at Atlanta Braves games.

They’ve held season tickets together for seven years, first at Turner Field and now at SunTrust Park. They’re part of a group of four that bought seats in Section 431, Row 2 at the new stadium, about halfway down the third-base line.

Others in the group had the seats on this night, so Lockwood and Tennis bought single-game tickets in the 300 level, one floor below the ballpark’s top level. Both men are in their mid-70s and don’t mind sitting up high, considering they pay just $9 a game for a full season ticket.

“It gets mighty hot down there with those high-priced seats in the sun,” Tennis said. “Up here, we’re close to the bathroom and close to the food. It’s where we need to be at our age.”

Their views to the game are similar to those at Turner Field, where they sat in Section 408 in the upper deck, although Lockwood and Tennis feel they’re a little closer to the field at SunTrust Park because of its steeper rake.

SunTrust Park

■ Cost: $672 million
■ Owner: Cobb-Marietta Coliseum & Exhibit Hall Authority
■ Operator: Atlanta Braves
■ Square footage: 1.1 million
■ Seats: 41,500
■ Suites: 32
■ Club seats: 3,800
■ Architect: Populous
■ General contractor: American Builders, consortium of Barton Malow, Mortenson, New South Construction, Brasfield & Gorrie
■ Project manager: Heery International
■ Concessionaire: Delaware North Sportservice
■ Pouring rights: Coca-Cola
■ Major sponsors: SunTrust Bank, Comcast, Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola, MillerCoors, Panasonic, Infiniti, Georgia Power, Chick-fil-A, NAPA, Home Depot, Hyundai, Northside Hospital, Kauffman Tire, Wellstar, Gas South, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, State Farm
Sources: SportsBusiness Journal research, Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment

The pair have made baseball trips to ballparks in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Washington and Cleveland, and they can see touches of those stadiums in the Braves’ facility. Sports architect Populous designed all five venues.

“I think they took the best of many other parks and combined it into one,” Lockwood said. “We love the cantilever design. Obviously there are no columns. There’s not a bad seat in the house. The roof overhang gives us shading and rain protection. I like the fact that they have outfield lights, which they didn’t have at Turner. Everything was in the shadow for the outfielders at Turner.”

They also like what The Battery Atlanta next door has to offer with bars and restaurants open year-round.

“The place doesn’t close at 7 p.m.,” Tennis said. “It was kind of the basis for Camden Yards … you have all kinds of things going on before and after the game.”

First Look podcast on debut of SunTrust Park:

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Rob Ragan is a rabid Atlanta Braves fan whose firm played a key role at the ballpark.

Ragan is vice president of business development and co-owner of New South Construction, an Atlanta company that was part of American Builders, the joint venture that built SunTrust Park. His firm has been a Braves season-ticket holder for 17 years, dating to the first job New South completed for the Braves at Turner Field. The company itself is 27 years old.

“We’ve upgraded our partnership through the years as the Braves have trusted us and given us more projects,” Ragan said. “Then we got selected to help build the stadium and upgraded even further to a new level.”

New South holds four season tickets in the Delta Sky360 Club in the Chairman’s Seats section behind home plate. Ragan personally selected the seats toward the third-base side so he can peer into the Braves dugout to see what’s going on between the manager and the players.

The all-inclusive club lounge itself, the biggest to date designed by Populous, accommodates 1,700 ticket holders and is “dressed to impress” for corporate entertainment.

“We love the Braves and use the tickets to our advantage,” Ragan said. “We’re very strategic in how we offer our tickets to our clients. We notify them early on and let them know about games coming up, and how we can go with them to strengthen relationships. Or, I can give the tickets to my clients and let them take whoever they want.”

At Turner Field, New South officials sometimes had to make multiple calls to let people know the firm’s four seats in the Superior Plumbing suite were available, Ragan said. He has had no problem distributing his corporate seats at SunTrust Park to customers eager to see what the Atlanta Braves’ new digs have to offer.

“People are calling us now, telling us they want seats,” he said. “And that’s what it’s all about.”

The regular-season opener was special for New South because of its role in stadium development. As a result, Ragan and company CEO Doug Davidson took their wives to the game.

“We were part of the team building it and wanted to be here Opening Day,” Ragan said. “Tomorrow night, I’ve got clients going.”

The Delta Sky360 Club, the largest club that architect Populous has designed.

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Larry Young is on a quest to attend as many Atlanta Braves games as possible after missing Hank Aaron’s 715th home run.

Young’s family had tickets for that game in 1974 but did not go at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, thinking bad weather would force the game to be postponed. But the game was played and Young watched on television as Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. He still remembers the empty feeling in his stomach.

“So, I’ve been on this journey,” Young said.

Young, a worldwide account manager for FedEx working out of Marietta, has been a Braves season-ticket holder off and on for 25 years. At SunTrust Park, a two-mile drive from his home, his corporate seats are the 4Topps tables midlevel behind home plate.

Apart from the FedEx seats, he personally holds four season tickets at the Coors Light Chop House in right field, which are hightop chairs fronting a drink rail equipped with beer chillers. The cost per ticket is $44 a game, which includes a $10 food and beverage credit.

Young bought them because the Chop House rail seats remind him of Wrigley Field’s famed bleachers. He’s attended multiple Chicago Cubs games with his friend Greg Hughes, senior vice president of communications for NBC Sports Group in Chicago.

In Atlanta, the amenities provide for a bleacher upgrade. The Chop House version has reserved seats, wait service, counter space and plug-ins for charging cell phones, plus an indoor bar open to all ticket holders regardless of seat location.

Young shares the 4Topps seats for the season among a dozen other FedEx corporate sales managers. The design lends itself to client entertainment, he said. “It’s relaxing and comfortable,” Young said. “You don’t put the pressure of doing business on them when you’re sitting in these seats.”

For the first regular-season game, Young sold his Chop House seats on StubHub and used the corporate seats to entertain his No. 1 client from Seattle and two friends that flew in from Tampa and Chicago. Together, they met up early at Sports & Social, a bar in The Battery Atlanta.

“I love the fact that they’ve built a destination vs. just going to the ballpark, which was a hassle in [downtown] Atlanta,” Young said. “You wouldn’t do that [outside] Turner Field. To be able to come early, stay late and avoid traffic is nice for me.”

“It’s relaxing and comfortable. … You don’t put the pressure of doing business on [clients].” — Larry Young

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Marsha Crowder and her family are newbies, enjoying their first year as Atlanta Braves season-ticket holders. The Crowders live in Marietta, an Atlanta suburb in Cobb County, where SunTrust Park sits.

Marsha is not a huge Braves fan, but she does follow the team. She helped pay for the tickets and expects to attend all 81 home games.

“It was too good of a deal to pass up because it’s right in our backyard,” Crowder said. “We wouldn’t get downtown very often to the other stadium, but this is convenient. It’s absolutely gorgeous and we feel safe.”

The Crowders’ four season tickets are in the 10th row behind the visitors dugout along the third-base line. They get access to a small indoor lounge sponsored by Carrier, a maker of home heating and cooling systems. The ticket price is about $80 a person per game and includes a $10 food credit.

The lounge, tucked underneath the stands near the left-field corner, is a no-frills space compared with the high-end finishes inside the Delta Sky360 Club behind home plate, but it’s good enough for the Crowders. Come summer, the air-conditioned room will provide relief from the hot Georgia sun. In addition, the lounge’s restrooms are in a private setting compared with the main concourse, and midway through the regular-season opener there were no lines at the concession stands.

“It’s our own little club,” Crowder said.

Mikel Vann, a fellow Marietta resident, was Marsha Crowder’s guest for the Braves’ regular-season opener at SunTrust Park. “The stadium is near us and it feels like it’s our team now that it’s in Cobb County,” Vann said. “We’re connected to it and have an investment.”

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Local attorney Bill Johnson is part of the chilled-shrimp-and-wine-bar crowd at SunTrust Park. He holds season tickets for two seats in the fourth row behind home plate connected to the SunTrust Club, the stadium’s most exclusive premium seats, priced at $450 a game.

Overall, Johnson has been a Braves season-ticket holder for about 15 years, and a member of the SunTrust Club over the past four years dating to Turner Field, where the new stadium’s naming-rights holder sponsored a similar high-end space behind home plate.

Separately, Johnson, whose office is in Marietta, has two season tickets in Section 324, which are also used for entertaining customers tied to his law practice.

“We have two purposes for these tickets,” he said. “One is the exclusive club to really ‘wow’ somebody. Then we have other tickets that are very good but are designed to let them and their families to go out and have a great time. Normally, with the SunTrust seats it’s me plus the client.”

Over the past few seasons at Turner Field, Johnson wound up sitting in the second row behind home plate. He took over seats held by former Braves third baseman Chipper Jones after Jones moved to seats closer to the Braves’ dugout.

At SunTrust Park, the season-ticket holder priority list relegated Johnson to the fourth row. Still, Johnson feels his seats at the new park are much better because of the upgraded cushioned chair and table space, a perk he didn’t have at Turner Field.

“It’s a better angle,” he said, comparing the view from behind home plate at the two parks. “I certainly like the table. We’ve got a TV [attached to the table] where we can see replays [and order food]. It’s just a nicer environment.”

Johnson grew up in Cedartown, Ga., about 60 miles northwest of Atlanta, and has been a Braves fan “since before they came to Atlanta,” he said.

His allegiance started when a car pulled up to his Little League field unannounced in 1965. Much to his surprise, three Milwaukee Braves players emerged and signed autographs for the kids.

“I’ll never forget it. I got an autograph from Eddie Mathews,” he said.

Fifty-two years later, hall of famer Mathews has a presence at SunTrust Park, where his image graces a banner.

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“The personal experiences are tremendous … I hope that can continue.” — Howard Evans

Howard Evans has been a Braves season-ticket holder since 1984, a streak of 34 consecutive seasons spanning three ballparks.

Evans’ four seats are in the first row of Section 36, situated just beyond the third base line. Those seats are in about the same location as Turner Field, where the Braves played for 20 seasons after moving from old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in 1997.

Evans points to the interaction he’s enjoyed with players and umpires over the past two decades as the primary factor for why he kept the same spot at the new stadium.

Even at Fulton County, a multipurpose venue, his second-row aisle seats in Section 108 on the left-field side were close to the on-deck circle for the visiting team, which led to short conversations with players, he said.

“The personal experiences are tremendous and so I hope that can continue,” Evans said.

Evans’ non-premium seats are priced at $63 a game and include a $10 concessions credit. The cost is a relative bargain, considering he’s sitting in the front row next to the field at a major league ballpark.

He expected a price increase at the new park, but decided against purchasing club seats, which, starting at $92 a game, were too expensive for his budget.

“In the Turner Field seats, my average price was about $40 [a game], and the Braves marketing guys reminded me constantly that I had the best seats in the house for the price, and I couldn’t disagree,” Evans said.

At the old park, Evans had access to the 755 Club indoor lounge, a prime amenity during the heat of a typical Atlanta summer. He’ll miss the club’s air conditioning and the camaraderie.

The tradeoff in part is the comfortable 23-inch-wide mesh seat he sits in for every home game at SunTrust Park. The design will help cool things off in the heat and dry quicker after it rains, he said. Turner Field’s seats were just 17 inches wide.

“The heat’s going to be fun,” Evans said, tongue-in-cheek. “Tell the Braves I need to bring in three bottled waters, not one [as allowed], to get through a Sunday afternoon game. I’m sure they’ll be flexible on that.”

The Chop House in right field
The Infinity Club, a premium-level space
Hank Aaron display in the Monument Garden