When fans settle into the Turner Field seats for the first time this year Monday afternoon, they will see obvious signs that the ballpark’s days are numbered.
The Chick-fil-A cow that previously towered over left field is gone, already being refurbished for its move to Cobb County. And even more obvious, a display on the outfield wall will count down the number of games remaining at The Ted, starting with 81.
As construction continues on SunTrust Park 14 miles away, the Braves will open their 20th season at Turner Field with Monday’s 4:10 p.m. game against the Washington Nationals. It will be a year of mixed marketing messages as the Braves try to sell the nostalgia of their final season in a not-so-old ballpark while also seeking to build anticipation for a new place in 2017.
“We’re going to celebrate all the memories we have here,” Adam Zimmerman, the Braves’ vice president of marketing, said in an interview at Turner Field. “Then we will over the course of the season tell you, ‘Hey, SunTrust Park is less than a year away; you can buy tickets to it.’ Then you’ll see us come back here in grand effect (marketing-wise) the last couple of months … as we transition from here to there.”
The removal of the 40-foot-tall, fiberglass-and-steel cow from Turner Field is an example of the Braves having one eye — at least — on the future.
The cow — since 2008 a prominent part of Chick-fil-A’s campaign to urge people to eat more chicken — was removed last month and trucked to the New Orleans company that built it. After refurbishment, it will be attached later this month to a light tower above right-center field at SunTrust Park. The early installation is necessary, the Braves said, to coordinate with construction and cranes schedules.
Before the first game is played at SunTrust Park, though, there are 81 more to play at Turner Field. The Braves will count them down in a fifth-inning ceremony at each home game by having special guests adjust a display on the left-field wall to show one fewer game remaining.
During Monday’s opener, some members of the 1997 Braves — the first team to play in Turner Field — will remove the number 81 and change the games-remaining number to 80. At Wednesday’s game, former Georgia football coach Vince Dooley is scheduled to remove the 80, a nod to the Bulldogs’ 1980 national championship. The countdown will continue game by game through the Oct. 2 finale against the Detroit Tigers.
(No word on how the Braves will adjust the wall display if they extend Turner Field’s life by unexpectedly making the playoffs this season.)
Other changes fans will notice in the final season at The Ted include increased protective netting and a new concessionaire.
Major League Baseball, following a 2015 season in which multiple fans were injured by broken bats or foul balls, recommended that teams increase protection for some field-level seats. The Braves said the outer wing netting that extends to the dugouts at Turner Field has been raised from 10 feet high to 35 feet high, matching the height of the screen directly behind home plate.
Aramark, the Braves’ food-service provider since the team’s arrival in Atlanta, has been replaced by Delaware North Sportservice for the final year in Turner Field and the move to SunTrust Park. Buffalo-based Delaware North, like Philadelphia-based Aramark, long has been a big player in the sports concessions business.
Traditional ballpark fare will be joined by such out-of-left-field menu items as the $16 “Tater Top Chop,” described as a layer of tater tots pressed in a waffle iron, loaded with bacon, melted cheese and jalapenos, topped with a second tater tot waffle and served with Coca-Cola-infused ketchup. Or the $26 “Burgerizza,” described as a 20-ounce beef patty, five slices of cheddar cheese and bacon served between two 8-inch pepperoni pizzas.
Both can be found, if you dare, at “Taste of the Majors” in the fan plaza.
Reflective of this transitional season, the Braves and advertising agency Blue Sky devised a TV ad campaign with nods to the current team, the current stadium and the future.
“One of the key phrases you’ll see us use throughout our marketing this year is, ‘Here’s to Braves Country,’” Brad Meriwether, the Braves’ director of consumer marketing, said. “There was some intentionality from our part in ‘Here’s to Braves Country’ and not necessarily ‘Here’s to Turner Field.’ Turner Field is a part of Braves Country, but when you think about Braves Country, that’s enduring, that’s lasting. We felt like that was the right message to convey in a year like this.”
The TV commercials star opera tenor Timothy Miller, well-known for performing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning of Braves home games on Sundays and holidays. He’ll also perform on opening day, which many baseball fans consider a holiday of its own.
Commercials have been recorded featuring Miller with first baseman Freddie Freeman, catcher A.J. Pierzynski and pitcher Matt Wisler, as well as with prospects Dansby Swanson, Sean Newcomb, Lucas Sims and Mallex Smith.
The Braves plan to hold the Newcomb, Sims and Smith ads for when or if those players make their Atlanta debuts this season, but the Swanson commercial has already aired.
Swanson, who is from Marietta, said in the ad that he loves “everything about Braves Country … especially the big chopping cow in the outfield.”
Behind him, the cow drops from view as Miller’s big, bold voice belts out, “Whatever happened to the Chick-fil-AAAAA cow?”