Gwinnett Braves still face challenge of falling attendance

Gwinnett is last in the International League and all of Class AAA with an announced average attendance of 3,289 per game with a six-day home stand beginning Monday remaining in the season. (File photo)

LAWRENCEVILLE — With average attendance heading to a drop of about 500 per game for a fourth straight year, the Gwinnett Braves are searching for remedies.

“Certainly there are frustrations,” G-Braves general manager North Johnson said. “We’re literally having meetings daily trying to figure it out.”

Gwinnett is last in the International League and all of Class AAA with an announced average attendance of 3,289 per game with a six-day home stand beginning Monday remaining in the season.

That compares with an average of 3,808 last season, 4,281 in 2014 and 4,762 in 2013. The team has averaged more than 5,000 per game just once in its eight seasons, when the figure was 5,966 in 2009 — Coolray Field’s first year.

“We’re looking at everything we do from marketing, ticketing, media, the game experience,” Johnson said. “We feel like we’re getting lost right now. The identity just isn’t there. The Braves still mean just Atlanta to most people.

“There is a lot of competition for the sports dollar alone, plus the entertainment dollar. We have a unique situation here. The competition is much greater here than in any other AAA market. It’s an ongoing challenge. We’re trying to figure out the best way we can position ourselves to stop this trend we are in.”

The Atlanta Braves move to SunTrust Park in Cobb County next season from Turner Field may give the G-Braves a boost.

“While it’s the same distance from here, it’s not the same drive (for people in Gwinnett),” Johnson said. “We’ll have to see how it all plays out. I’m an optimist.”

The Braves’ move of their Class AAA team from Richmond to Gwinnett has benefited the major league team because of the ability to quickly shuttle players back and forth.

It has come with difficulty, though, in building a fan base for the minor league team.

Boston, Seattle, Detroit and Toronto also have convenient situations, but Pawtucket, Tacoma, Toledo and Buffalo are established minor league markets.

Gwinnett isn’t and the G-Braves, although with a substantial population to draw from, don’t have one central community of support.

“The other AAA teams are all in large cities, not small towns, and they have their own media,” Johnson said. “The team is the focal point in the summertime.”

The G-Braves, not helped by traffic, have had trouble drawing for weeknight games since their inception, but had been able to make up for that somewhat by drawing big Friday and Saturday crowds.

Weekend crowds haven’t been what they once were this year, though, as the G-Braves have been hurt by the proliferation of the multiple free community concerts and festivals in Gwinnett.

“That’s great for all the communities, but it has definitely cut into our crowds,” Johnson said.

The earlier start of school also hasn’t helped, with August now a tough month as well as April and May.

“It’s a huge impact,” the GM said. “But we’re not going to get the school systems to change what they are doing.”

The G-Braves tried starting weekday games at 6:05 p.m. and 6:35 p.m. before going back to 7:05 p.m. this season.

Next season, the team will move up slightly the start of Saturday and Sunday games.

“We’ve tried about everything,” Johnson said. “All of the current trends of what you’re supposed to do in minor league baseball we’re doing. The people come out and they say they had a great time. But even then, they don’t always come back.

“The things that make Gwinnett great are also what helps make it challenging for us. There are great recreation parks, so much to do. Gwinnett isn’t a county of watchers. It is a county of doers with a lot going on. But I’ll always be an optimist. We just have to find our place.”

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