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Braves Facing Economic Reality

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The economy is affecting almost every part of this country, and the Atlanta Braves should not be immune. My thought is that a baseball game is a luxury to most Atlantans and luxuries are the first thing that most people cut back on in a recession. Early in the off-season, most teams including the Braves, indicated that they didn't think the economy would affect payroll or their bottom line. Now it seems that the team is changing their tone (via Bloomberg):

“We’re going to try to put out the best product possible, but you’d expect that in these economic times there’s going to be some ticket falloff and we’re preparing for it,” Braves Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said in an interview.

The Braves ranked 14th out of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams last season with an average attendance of 31,269 at Turner Field.

McGuirk declined to discuss specific details of ticket sales for the 2009 season. Over the past five seasons, the team has averaged 32,004 fans per game. McGuirk said the team may benefit from an increase in walk-up ticket sales on game days.

“Our ticket holders want to have more flexibility, so the walk-up crowd for games continues to get bigger and bigger each year,” he said. “That’s something that we can rely on to maybe fill in some of the gaps.”

I read into this statement that season ticket sales are hurting, even severely hurting. Reading further into this statement, I think we may see the hesitency of the team to sign one of the available free agent outfielders to fill their left field void. This could also be the bearish approach to the Tom Glavine contract, and the possible withdrawl of the Will Ohman contract.

With this information in hand, I would not be surprised to see the Braves hold off on signing any other free agents (except maybe Glavine for not much more than the $2 million they have already offered). My belief at this point is that they will hold off on making any more moves until they can assess the team and see what they have on the field in spring training.

Good performances from Charlie Morton and/or Jo-Jo Reyes could boost their trade appeal and open the door for the Braves to acquire a lower cost outfielder. We may also see the team wait until further into the season to seek out any additional pieces they may need. This is obvoiusly not most fans' desired approach, but the Braves thinking could be that they have reduced the runs that the fifth-worst pitching staff in the NL last year gave up, and if several hitters perform better than last year that could boost an offense that scored the sixth-most runs in the NL last year (more than two playoff teams). Those two factors could help the team to more wins in 2009 without any more additions to the roster, but unless all these factors click (a rare occurrence) then it may still not be enough to push the team into the playoffs.