The Atlanta Braves recently announced naming rights with SunTrust Bank for the new stadium in Cobb County. The new SunTrust Park led Architecture Professor Benjamin Flowers to question what happened to the promise of a new, exciting sports destination.
Months ago the Braves (it seems increasingly curious to use the modifier Atlanta) announced plans to move to the suburbs. Last week the team doubled-down on a new suburban identity, announcing naming rights with SunTrust Bank. The team will in 2017 begin playing in SunTrust Park, a field whose name that to anyone except perhaps a banking regulator is nearly entirely placeless.
Beyond the commonplace, but still disappointing, faceless corporate name, the proposed baseball field will sit amidst a shopping mall dotted with housing, labeled by the Braves, curiously, as a “play, work, stay destination.” Who is playing, who is staying, and who is working is entirely unclear, but we can imagine for certain who is getting played.
After multiple public announcements about how the new park would be distinct, and built around the experience of the fans, SunTrust Park, as fans commenting across multiple websites note, looks rather more like the Ted planted in the suburbs than a new, exciting sporting space. Profit, not the experience of the fan or the player, is the driver in this story. The arrangement makes SunTrust Park a truly generic proposition, one that could be found here, there, or anywhere.
The naming is all the more deflating given that the Braves have one of the true, bona fide, history-making figures of baseball — Hank Aaron. In the city too busy to hate, Aaron’s story is precisely the granular, specific, place-based naming opportunity that any team should grab with both hands. But the Braves chose otherwise, seeking dollars rather than legacy. For a team that consistently underperformed for most of the last decade, any link to a legacy of greatness seems at least as valuable from a franchise-building perspective as money a corporate name provides. Jettisoning history in favor of the banking industry—the drivers of the economic meltdown from which Atlanta and Georgia have still not recovered—is uncommonly tone deaf.
Baseball parks can, and in an ideal world should, be drivers of urban identity, public celebration — spaces that draw people from far and wide to celebrate the social practice of sport. When those values are traded, like a player out of favor, in the interests of narrow expediency — whether public funding or corporate sponsor dollars — then the game and the city in which those deals are made suffers.
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