ATLANTA—The first thing you notice in Atlanta’s sparkling new Mercedes-Benz Stadium is the halo, a six-story-high, 360-degree screen hanging hundreds of feet above midfield. It’s an architectural and artistic marvel, replays and stats and on-brand messaging visible from any angle. It’ll draw your eyes up there throughout a game, pulling your attention away from the field … which is a bit ironic, considering the entire ethos of this stadium is to pull you off your couch and get you inside.
The greatest rival of any NFL team these days isn’t in their own division. No, it’s in your living room, hanging on the wall. When you can set yourself up with a 60-inch HD television for about the same cost as a couple decent tickets to a single game, what’s the incentive to go to a stadium? When you can keep a close eye on half a dozen games at once, not just the one in front of you, why leave the sanctity of your own domain and bathroom?
It’s a riddle the Falcons are trying to crack Gordian Knot-style. Rather than make piecemeal improvements to an aging Georgia Dome, the Falcons blew it all up and built a brand-new palace that’s just like your living room—only much, much moreso. Twelve hundred beer taps! Two-dollar Cokes! Unlimited refills! Falcons Falcons FALCONS regalia everywhere!
Yes, Mercedes-Benz Stadium has helped Atlanta unseat Dallas as the unofficial home of epic widescreen college football. And the arena puts Atlanta right in the front row of cities angling for a potential World Cup venue come 2026. It’ll host everything from two marquee college games this weekend to the national championship next year and the Final Four in 2020. But first and foremost, from its red-and-black color scheme to its gargantuan falcon statue out front, this is a shrine designed expressly for the most popular pro team in town.
With a capacity of 71,000, and with nearly every seat already sold, the Falcons are already playing with house money. Every element of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, from the 100-foot-high vertical video board on the stadium’s east side to the section of seats aligned like the logo’s wings, sets up this stadium as something Atlanta has never held for very long: a true home-field advantage.
The stadium is a visual marvel, an architecturally brilliant addition to the city’s skyline. And the sheer numbers alone are staggering. That halo video board is 58 feet high and 1,100 feet long, a longer distance than the height of the Eiffel Tower. The stadium has 1,800 wireless access points and 4,000 miles of fiber cable, enough, the Falcons claim, to allow all 71,000 fans to stream concurrently. Video screens throughout the stadium allow you to keep up with every other game happening on Sunday afternoon, and a Twitter feed that will run on the halo board lets you become part of the action. (Get your 28-3 jokes ready, funny fellow; nobody’s ever thought of that before.) This stadium is trying to be all things to all fans in attendance, and the sheer overload of sensory input means it’s got a decent chance of doing exactly that.
But here’s the thing. Although last year’s gift of a Super Bowl to New England would suggest otherwise, the Falcons aren’t a charity organization. They’re in this to make money, and a $1.5 billion stadium creates a rather large hole on the balance sheet. Yes, there is indeed fan-friendly pricing, and anybody who casts any shade on $2 sodas and hot dogs at a stadium is a fool. But the Falcons’ financial generosity only goes so far. For instance, the “handbreaded free range fried chicken sandwich” tucked amid the $2 Cokes at the West Nest will run you $11. (However, having tasted the sandwich, I can testify that it’s an extraordinarily good sandwich.)
As for tickets, well … that’s been a bit of a touchy subject around Atlanta. You can’t just roll up to Mercedes-Benz on game day and expect to snag a few tickets. No, every single one of the seats at Mercedes-Benz is a season-ticket purchase, and every single one of those season tickets requires the purchase of a Personal Seat License. These PSLs run from $500 per seat for the rafter-scrapers all the way up to $45,000 for prime midfield locations. That may strike you as greedy, even double-dipping, but it’s the reality of sports in 21st-century America: if you want to run at the front of the pack, it’s going to cost you. (Lest you think this is irrelevant to anyone outside of Atlanta, well … heads up, it’s coming to your town too, if it hasn’t already.)
And hey, let’s be honest: it’s working. All of the $45,000 PSLs are gone, as are virtually all of the other options throughout the stadium. (The team picked a very good time to have the best year in franchise history last year, the Super Bowl notwithstanding.)
The Falcons are banking on the stadium’s Wow Factor sustaining years of goodwill. You can bring your date, your in-laws, your favorite clients – they’ll all be blown away by the artistry and architecture, and as long as you keep buying your season tickets, the Falcons are more than happy to let you share in that glory.
That, in the end, is the message of Mercedes-Benz Stadium: this isn’t just a game, it’s an experience. Much like the Braves’ SunTrust Park a dozen miles up the highway, you can have yourself one hell of a fine gameday without ever even watching a minute of live action. Long as you go in with your eyes wide open, there’s an awful lot of glory to behold.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.
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