In this file photo, fans fill Coolray Field for a Gwinnett Braves game.
In an effort to bolster disappointing attendance, particularly in the middle of the week, the Gwinnett Braves moved their start times next season up one hour to 6 p.m. for most of their Monday though Thursday games.
It's a change designed to appeal to the group the G-Braves see as their biggest audience, regionally based families with younger children, who may not be able to stay up past 10 p.m. on a week night, especially during the school year.
"We've looked at every conceivable option to make (our games) more appealing to our fans," Gwinnett Braves General Manager North Johnson said. "It was just based on looking at who our fans are and trying to make it as convenient and appealing for them as we possibly can."
Since opening to a sell-out crowd in 2009, the G-Braves have consistently drawn less than half of Coolray Field's 10,000-seat capacity, foundering among the bottom three in attendance in the International League. Last season, they averaged 4,680 per game, third worst in the league and lowest since the team moved to Gwinnett.
With a slate of mostly 7 p.m. start times a season ago, games typically ended close to 10 p.m., and Johnson said the organization hopes the difference of getting families home by 9:30 rather than 10:30 will remove a hurdle. The average fan, according to Johnson, arrives at a G-Braves game about 15 minutes before to 10 minutes after the scheduled first pitch.
"There doesn't seem to be an innate sense of being there for first pitch," Johnson said, noting that people in limited surveys acknowledged a desire to be there for the final out.
The change impacts nearly every weekday G-Braves game. Friday and Saturday games will still start at 7 p.m. and Sunday games will follow the same schedule as last year, beginning at 2 p.m. through June and 5 p.m. in July and August.
"We feel like from the fact that most of the ballpark is in the shade by 5, it makes it much more enjoyable to come out," Johnson said of the Sunday time change made last year.
The G-Braves open the season at home against Charlotte on Thursday, April 4. That game, ironically, is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. for opening day.