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The Braves are no longer "America's Team"

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jeff Schultz notes that, with the Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies coming to town, the Braves stand to play in front of hostile crowds at home for some time:

Fortunately, they will be checking tickets and not allegiances this week at Turner Field.

Revenue isn't the worst fallback. You take what you can get if you're the Braves, particularly when three of the visiting teams on a home stand — the Cubs, Yankees and Red Sox – come with overstuffed caravans and the term "meaningful games" locally appears to have a decreasing shelf life . . .

. . . The Braves knew the Yankees and Red Sox games would be the year's hot tickets. It's one reason why they initially sold them only through multi-game packs, also hoping to limit the presence of New York and Boston fans. But that plan didn't fill the stadium. Individual game tickets eventually went on sale three weeks ago.

The expected influx of Yankees and Red Sox is not surprising. It happens everywhere anymore. It's one of the consequences of ESPN and FOX's efforts to make New York and Boston de facto national teams over the past decade.

What kills me, though, is that there was a time when the Braves were the de facto national team. Maybe not quite "America's Team" as Ted Turner tried to package them, but certainly a team with a fan base spread across the country thanks to 144 games on TBS every summer. It's one of the reasons I'm a Braves fan. I lived in West Virginia when I was a teenager, and they were the only game on the dial. I watched every game, and no matter where the Braves played -- Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Chicago and even New York -- there was always a surprisingly strong Braves' contingent in the stands.

A couple of years ago, however, Braves' ownership decided to scrap that plan. From a broadcast perspective, the Braves are now confined to the south, and thus the national nature of that fan base is atrophying. I'm certainly losing track of them to some degree, and I presume others who used to follow them from afar are as well. I suppose the Braves' suits could point to how much better the Braves are penetrating their local market since the broadcasting change, but shouldn't they have wrapped up that market before now? How many more Meridian, Mississippi households can they possibly reach?

Atlanta fans are famously fair-weather, so the low attendance Jeff Schultz cites in this article is no real surprise given their poor play of late. One wonders, however, if there would be a greater enthusiasm for this team if they, like the Yankees and Red Sox, were consistently reaching a national audience like they used to.