Mike McDonald, an advertising executive, hopes to lure an existing or new American League squad to Atlanta but has many obstacles to overcome first.
Under the MLB by-laws, the Braves have exclusive territorial rights to play its home games in an area that includes the city of Atlanta and Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties. The team also has media — TV, radio and Internet broadcasting — rights to an area that includes all or part of seven Southeastern states, including all of Georgia.
Additionally, under the majors’ antitrust exemption, the Braves have the right to veto a team’s move to Atlanta and its owners must approve an expansion team by a three-quarters vote. MLB is the only American professional sports league with the exemption and it will take a U.S. Supreme Court decision against it and/or an act of Congress to overrule it.
McDonald has sent a letter to the Tampa Bay Rays, whose 2013 payroll of $59 million was the third lowest in the majors and the lowest in the American League. The Rays have not responded, he said. McDonald has also met with Atlanta and Fulton officials, including Atlanta Chief Financial Officer Jim Beard, but has made little headway.
“Mission No. 1 is to convince the city of Atlanta and Fulton County leadership that we should push back and try to get a Major League second team here in Atlanta based on the economic and legal support. … If enough people can rally around the city, it can happen,” he said. “We need to get the will of the leadership and the will of the people behind it. Second, we need to be prepared to go to war [to the Supreme Court and Congress].”
Growing up a baseball fan in New York, McDonald and his mother, Catherine, rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers. His father, Daniel, and his six siblings were New York Yankees fans.
“When you had three teams in New York, the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers, it was fantastic. Families were divided,” McDonald said.
He moved to Atlanta in 1958 before returning to New York four years later but came back to Atlanta permanently in 1968. A year later he co-founded McDonald & Little, which would become the city’s largest independent ad agency and one of the biggest in the South.
The company was responsible for First Atlanta Bank’s “Tillie the all-time teller,” the Atlanta Flames’ “The Ice Age cometh” and the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ “Soccer is a kick in the grass” ad campaigns.
McDonald has even come up with a name of the proposed team, the Atlanta Surge, short for “resurgens,” Latin for “rising again” and the city of Atlanta’s motto. He also has a slogan for its use of Turner Field: “Let’s Turner Lemon into Lemonade!”
McDonald said the city and county should get an equity stake in the team as a tradeoff for using the stadium, which he calls a “$600 million asset,” and MLB should waive an expansion fee as a way to make up for the harm the Braves caused by leaving the city limits.
Currently only four MLB markets — Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco/Oakland (Bay Area) — have two teams. In the Bay Area, the San Francisco Giants are battling the Oakland A’s in court over the A’s attempts to move to San Jose, where the Giants exercise territorial rights.
McDonald, who has talked to the lawyers for the A’s about their case, said metro Atlanta can sustain two squads because the Braves drew nearly 3.9 million fans in 1993 and nearly as many in 1997, Turner Field’s first year. Last year the Braves and Tampa Bay had 2.5 million and 1.5 million in attendance, respectively.
McDonald said two Atlanta teams could equal the attendance of Chicago’s Cubs and White Sox, which last year drew 2.6 million and 1.8 million fans, respectively, during losing seasons.
He said the Braves’ 2013 revenue was a combined $225 million from gate receipts, concessions, sponsorships, media rights and parking. McDonald believes a second Atlanta team could succeed because today MLB teams rely less on gate receipts and concessions and more on media rights, capitalizing on the digital age. He also said a second Atlanta team would help boost the economy of the metro area’s southern half.
Beth Marshall, a Braves spokeswoman, said the team declined to comment on the issue.
J.C. Bradbury, a Kennesaw State University sports management professor and author of two books on baseball, said McDonald has “a 0 percent” chance of bringing another MLB team to Atlanta.
“The Braves have territorial rights over the area, and they are not going to let an AL team in,” he said. “Look at all the trouble the A’s are having trying to move to San Jose. The courts haven’t been sympathetic to hearing the legal challenges based on antitrust claims.
“Furthermore, if there is a pent-up demand for baseball at Turner Field, then why are the Braves leaving? Why isn’t Mayor [Kasim] Reed on board? The demand is not there, and the Braves will not let it happen. There is a better chance that an entirely new rival major league will open up and put a team in Atlanta than the AL putting one here, and the chance of that happening is remote.”
But McDonald is not giving up any time soon.
“First of all, people thought Billy Payne was crazy to bring the  Olympics to Atlanta,” he said. “People thought I was crazy for opening an ad agency in Atlanta, which already had over 300 ad agencies. We started out as an ad agency with no clients and became the largest independent ad agency in the South. Is there a revenue base for [another team]? … Can two businesses be viable in this market? I say unequivocally yes.”