G-Braves expect for ‘packed house’ for opener

Since the opening week, selling tickets proved tough for the Gwinnett Braves.

But that first game, the home opener, was different. The opening game sellout, announced as 10,427 fans, stood as the highest attended game until they hosted a game on July 4 that same opening year. And since that first game at what would become Coolray Field, the opener of the season for the G-Braves has always shown strong.

The lowest was in 2012, when a day of rain and a question of whether the game would be played turned a good ticket sale into a paucity in the seats, leaving the stadium about half full. The following seasons, even with all of the games scheduled to begin on Thursday nights always comparatively sold well. Last season Thursday opener was postponed by rain, but Friday’s crowd came in above 6,000 for the double-header. For opening days, the G-Braves average 7,087 announced crowds, a far greater number than the average gate for games at Coolray Field even in the most successful of seasons.

And with less than two weeks out, the ticket manager of the Gwinnett Braves, Tyler Graham, insists sales for the opening weekend again looked strong.

“Opening weekend is going to be a huge event,” Graham said. “We should definitely have a big, packed house.”

There’s reason to believe so, beyond the typical energy surrounding a new season. The April 11 game against the Durham Bulls comes on a Friday, a typically strong draw all season and is the return of postgame fireworks. On Saturday, Chipper Jones is scheduled to throw out the first pitch, another attraction for Atlanta Braves and baseball fans on a whole.

“We are feeling really good about where we are at,” Graham said. “We are all confident that we will have a building that has the energy you’d want in a home opener, a highlight-of-the-season type atmosphere.”

Like play on the field, a good start is only that and for the G-Braves the good start hasn’t yet led to the type of attendance imagined when the team relocated from Richmond, Va., prior to the 2009 season.

Even in the first season, Gwinnett was third from last in the International League in average attendance. The organization has never climbed higher.

Though it has tried many things.

Last season every weekday game began at 6 p.m. rather than the typical 7 and this season, those games will begin at 6:30.

“Everything we do is a process,” general manager North Johnson said of the move to 6:30 p.m.

That’s the way it’s been from the start. Different ticket plans and prices, any type of incentive to draw fans to the ballpark.

“We’ve done well with groups and suites, the more outing oriented sales,” Graham said. “We’ve really developed some new (ticket packages).

“It’s going great.”