I’ve spent the better part of a year arguing why right now may not be the most fiscally responsible time for Arthur Blank and the Atlanta Falcons to pressure the City of Atlanta and its taxpayers for a new stadium. But now that the financial argument has been deemed invalid, and the structure looks to be a foregone conclusion, it’s time I offered a little support from another direction.
For as many good monetary reasons as I can think of to not build this stadium, there are as many good football reasons to do it. The Georgia Dome, while still a very modern and useful venue, has never been a place conducive to watching football games, and the fans have taken a bad rap because of it.
Fans attending games at the 21-year-old dome seem complacent, even disinterested at times during games. And you can’t really blame them. Sitting in not all too uncomfortable chairs in a climate controlled environment, music booming from the loudspeakers and video screens at every head turn to distract their attention–who could concentrate on a game?
Yes, fans do get excited and keep the dome going at a fever pitch when the New Orleans Saints are in town, or when a game is nationally televised or has playoff implications (or is a playoff game), but for your run of the mill everyday regular season game, it can be far less than deafening.
The direction of teams to give fans a “complete experience” has taken away from the primary reason for coming to a stadium in the first place–to see a football game played live.
I spent the better part of 20 years attending Falcons games at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and for those of you who never had the joy of that experience, I’m here to tell you…it was something else. That outdoor flying saucer all-purpose stadium got just as loud or louder than the Georgia Dome did on a weekly basis, and that was for some pretty dismal seasons.
There was a game, souvenirs and food. That was about it. But really, what else more do you need when going to a football game? Fans immersed themselves in the action happening on the field, and didn’t need a giant video monitor to be able to tell what just happened.
It was a different breed of fan that came to games at the open air stadium–more rowdy, more prone to screaming. This isn’t to say that fans who come to the dome are any less loyal or supportive…just different. Perhaps the ability to constantly yell without the reverberations bouncing from wall to wall, causing permanent hearing damage, had something to do with it.
The planned new stadium is supposed to have a retractable roof. Frankly, this is more of a feature to appease Roger Goodell and the Super Bowl Gods than it is to enhance the experience of games. This is Atlanta, heart of the deep south. The cold, inclement weather during a pro football season here may be here for a few weeks at best.
Retractable roof? More like Super Bowl insurance policy.
Football is made to be played in the elements. It’s a game that’s at its best when you can see the breath of the players on the field, and the steam from the tops of their heads when helmets are removed. It’s a game where divots of sod lodged in a facemask are worn like badges of honor, and clean uniforms are only for punters and kickers.
Paint stains? Rubber burns? Turf toe? Please, enough already.
The new stadium has a planned capacity between 66,000 and 72,000 (the Georgia Dome currently can hold just over 72,000), so it’s obvious bigger isn’t necessarily better. But what is better is that fans will (supposedly) have a place to gather pre-game and tailgate, and that the new stadium won’t be surrounded by parking decks and busy downtown streets. Anyone who’s ever tried to throw a tailgate party at the Georgia Dome knows the frustration of trying to get a space in one of the two small flat parking lots that are near the building.
All in all, the new stadium will bring new fans. While there will be some defection of fans who don’t want to watch games outdoors and hold the Georgia Dome in high regard, the problem of having boisterous and intense fan support at every game will become a thing of the past.
Money and political arguments aside, the new stadium will be a big step in Atlanta shaking the unfair label of unsupportive and undeserving fans, and will make attending games a much more football-like experience rather than a cross between a game show and a sports bar.