There’s no event like a Disney event, and a recent Atlanta Braves spring-training game at Champion Stadium had all the hallmarks of a big Disney event: Crammed parking lot, crowded walkways, lot of folks buying food and drink in the concourses. Only one thing was missing: any semblance of Braves branding.
MLB teams are increasingly using spring training as a branding exercise for the coming season. There’s a long tradition of using spring games as a way to warn fans about the upcoming games and push Opening Day tickets, but in recent years the spring-training marketing has become more refined, a way for a team to proudly establish its roots while at the same time burnishing the optimism for the coming campaign. This has more notably happened in recently opened and renovated parks: We have a replica of the iconic Wrigley Field marquee at Sloan Park, green and gold touches throughout Hohokam Stadium on behalf of new tenants Oakland Athletics, plenty of reminders of Minnesota Twins heritage throughout Hammond Stadium and the accompanying player-development facilities at Fort Myers’ CenturyLink Sports Complex.
But there’s literally no Braves branding at Champion Stadium. The signage at the ballpark highlights Champion and Disney. The signage behind home plate — the graphics shown during Braves spring-training broadcasts — pushes ESPN and the Wide World of Sports Complex. The flags in the left-field corner promote Disney partners. Even the electronic signage in the concourse listing starting lineups promote Disney Field (yes, Disney hasn’t spent the money to upgrade this signage to highlight the current naming-rights partner). If there’s anything in Champion Stadium promoting the Atlanta Braves brand, we sure missed it.
Now, Disney didn’t grow into arguably the most success media conglomerate in the world by not paying close attention to branding. But the Braves are no slouches when it comes to branding, and with planning taking place on a new Cobb County ballpark opening in 2017, we’re guessing a day doesn’t go by that a branding decision is made in the front office on one level or another.
Which is why spring training is such a missed opportunity for the Braves. The team is perpetually a good draw at Disney World, and judging by the email we receive at our sister site, Spring Training Online, Braves fans are among the most passionate and loyal at the beginning of the season. These folks would be turning out to see the Braves train in a cow pasture, so they’re not the target audience.
But who is? One reason why things were so busy near the ballpark had nothing to do with the Braves: it had to do with the thousands of families descending into the area for a cheerleading competition. Add in the high-school and college teams training at the soccer and baseball diamonds, and you had a situation where the Braves were clearly a secondary tenant during the first full weekend of spring training.
Atlanta’s agreement with Disney expires in coming years. When Champion Stadium opened, it was in a little-used corner of the Disney World empire. Since then, sports tourism has exploded, and Disney took advantage of that development with an expansion of the Wide World of Sports area with multiple arenas, additional diamonds and soccer fields, and more. Spring training, once a centerpiece of the complex, is now an afterthought.
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