Braves’ making a beer mistake

A lot of Coors Light, but any room for Atlanta's burgeoning craft beer scene?

A lot of Coors Light, but any room for Atlanta’s burgeoning craft beer scene?

Aside from the home of the Atlanta Braves, the largest city in the Georgia is awesome home to a growing number of craft breweries. From the large (Sweetwater) to the very small (Burnt Hickory), metro-Atlanta is one of the hippest spots in the country for craft beer. Since the early-2000s, craft beer growth in the area seems almost exponential and it’s great. Craft beer creates jobs, tourism, and something the locals can be proud of and share with visitors from other states.

With the Braves impending move up I-75 to Cobb County, they had every opportunity to embrace the beer culture sweeping through Atlanta. In fact, the new park finds itself in close proximity to three breweries (Red Brick, Red Hare, and Burnt Hickory), yet it was announced today that Miller-Coors will be the beer sponsor in SunTrust Park. 

Miller-Coors you say? The Braves sure think it’s going to be a great idea. In today’s Marietta Daily Journal, Braves executive vice president of sales and marketing Derek Schiller said, “From the outset of this endeavor, we have sought to create a vibrant and engaging environment for fans attending Braves games, as well as for the visitors to our development. We could not achieve that goal without a premier partner like MillerCoors.”

Excuse me while I laugh at that notion.

Last year, the Washington Post put together a fun graphic allowing baseball and beer fans to compare the beer offerings at the 30 different MLB stadiums across the country. The Braves ranked a measly 27th. Sweetwater IPA is the highest ranked beer available at Turner Field, but the offerings are pretty slim, especially when compared to teams like Cincinnati, who offer a whopping 130 different beers at Great American Ballpark, including a bar with 50 different beers on tap.

Why aren’t the Braves learning from what teams are doing?

Some of the renderings of SunTrust Park show a brewpub, but what will become of that now that Miller-Coors will dominate the beer scene at the park, with Coors Light becoming the “official” beer of the Braves?

As a fan of craft beer and the Braves, I was hoping the team would use the new park as an opportunity to show a little love towards Atlanta and what makes our town unique, but with each passing day comes an announcement that gives me little comfort that SunTrust Park will be generic and will not feel distinctly “Atlanta”. Look, I’m not one of the irate fans over the move to Cobb and from a business perspective, I get why they’re moving. However, the fresh start in Cobb can and should allow the Braves to find ways to tie themselves into the community and larger metro area, instead of a generic corporate stadium.

Sure, those are harsh words, but you could swap the Braves logos throughout SunTrust Park for Royals, Rays, or Athletics logos and no one would think twice. A new park gives a team license to get creative, honor the city, the fans, and the roots you have in that town. Think of San Francisco moving from Candlestick to AT&T Park, or the Pirates moving to PNC from Three Rivers. Huge upgrades that make fans want to see a game and spend a few extra hours (and dollars) at those respective parks. If the Braves’ goal is to have fans show up early and stay late, spending extra time and money at SunTrust and the surrounding shops/restaurants, give us something more unique than Coors Light.

Granted, this is all a little bitchy, especially when you consider just how desperate the Rays want to get out from under their ironclad user agreement for Tropicana Field with the city of St. Petersburg. Hell, fans would probably take a stadium with only Coors Light if it meant a shiny new park tucked safely in the suburbs, but the Braves are making cold business decisions that leave fans behind.

I saw someone ask why fans (especially those who enjoy craft beer) weren’t asked what kind of beer offerings they’d like to see at SunTrust. It’s a novel idea, and who knows, the Braves may still consider soliciting fans’ advice on certain aspects of SunTrust Park, but right now, I see nothing of the sort. Instead, I see a very corporate mindset by a team owned by a media company based in Denver.

The Braves need to think long and hard about what they’re doing. Fans are upset and declining attendance at Turner Field should serve as a warning. The Braves are playing reasonable baseball (they’re 26-25 at the time this column was published) that’s exceeding expectations, but the fans aren’t showing up. The team could optimistically believe fans are simply waiting to spend their money at SunTrust when a reinvigorated team opens their park in just under two years, but what if that doesn’t happen?

It would be nice if someone were to take a scientific survey of Atlanta fans to see who exactly supports SunTrust Park and who will be there in April 2017. The Braves absolutely needed an upgrade and if it wasn’t going to happen at Turner Field, they did the next best thing: move. However, the decisions leave a lot left to be desired by fans who continue to scratch their head at the off-the-field decisions made by team executives.

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