ATLANTA - The tipoff on Turner Field is that the longest lines are at the ATM machines. This is a ballpark that manufactures money. Correction, it is a "baseball theme park," a virtual shopping mall for seamheads - an interactive, cutting-edge, cash flow colossus.
If you want to know what the Cincinnati Reds really want in a new stadium, you should probably begin with these blueprints. Turner Field is an urban park with a suburban feel, a self-contained neighborhood with restaurants, shops, a video arcade, a day care center, a museum and six - count 'em - ATM machines.
All of these enterprises exist within the gates of the erstwhile Olympic Stadium, and all of them exist for the benefit of the Braves. Turner Field is not the prettiest ballpark in the business, or the most ideally located, but its success has been immediate, impressive and will shortly be imitated.
"We worked very hard pumping out the hype for this place before it opened," Braves President Stan Kasten said Tuesday. "But it has surpassed what we had expected."
Asked for financial details - say the average number of dollars each spectator drops - Kasten was not forthcoming.
"We don't release that stuff, but we're quite satisfied," he said. "We're right up there (among major league clubs) in every revenue category."
Hey, Reds: take note
It is not age nor decay that dooms Cinergy Field, but economic obsolescence. Neither the Reds nor the Bengals can effectively compete with franchises that generate substantially higher revenues, and each new one that gets built raises the bar a little higher.
Toronto's SkyDome demonstrated that the ballpark experience could go far beyond hot dogs and Cracker Jack. Camden Yards in Baltimore showed that ambiance could be made cost-efficient. Turner Field proves that casual fans can be drawn to the ballpark by other diversions and, once there, effectively fleeced.
It has 67 permanent and 50 portable concession stands, a two-story, 386-seat full-service restaurant, 59 private suites and three party suites, and a 23,000-square foot rooftop pavilion featuring a 42-foot Coke bottle.
Atlanta's home attendance - 3,463,988 - was second only to Colorado among National League clubs. Attendance at the Braves' "Chop House" restaurant exceeded 300,000. Spectators at Turner Field are as likely to be glued to Sega machines as the ballgame in progress, but they have no excuse to claim boredom.
Oh, and baseball too
Those who run out of funds can take positions on the Coca-Cola Sky Field. The fan who fields the first home run ball hit there will be paid $1 million. Typically, the place is packed.
"We open the gates three hours before the game," Kasten said. "We open the seating bowl two hours before the game. When Baltimore was in here, Tony Tarasco said this was the only place where they get more people for batting practice than Camden Yards."
Turner Field represents the latest tweaking of baseball's economic model. It is an all-inclusive entertainment extravaganza whose proceeds need not be shared with neighborhoods in need of economic stimulus. (See Disney, Walt). Though the concept of a ballpark at Broadway Commons continues to gain popularity with the Cincinnati public, it runs contrary to the idea that the customer should be the captive audience of the ballclub, and not its community.
Kasten thinks within the next 10 years, stadium seats will be equipped with computer screens as well as cupholders - yet another opportunity to advertise to a captive audience. He is a baseball guy who understands that the national pastime does not appeal to everyone all of the time. He is in business to appeal to as many people as possible.
"Baskin Robbins figured out that they sell a lot more ice cream with 31 flavors instead of one," he said.
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