FLOWERY BRANCH – Falcons owner Arthur Blank, fresh from his wedding anniversary trip to Paris, took in the final practice of minicamp on Sunday.
Sporting a red Tommy Hilfiger sweater vest, black shirt and gray slacks, Blank, near the end of practice, talked about
the team’s offseason moves, the draft, season ticket sales and the collective bargaining negotiations. Below is the Q & A.
Q: Are you pleased with how your offseason has played out?
A: It started with free agency. We’re excited to have Dunta Robinson here. He looks like a rookie the way he’s running around and is providing us speed, youth, experience and the leadership that we expected. We had another terrific draft. It’s great to have Spoon here, Corey (Peters) here, the other players we drafted and the college free agents.
I’m excited about where we are as an organization. Thomas and Smitty have worked hard for the third season together. They have put together an outstanding group of young men. Now we have to develop them over the next number of months. I look forward to playing our games in September and being here for training camp in July. . . I read the column that Matt (Ryan) did with your associate Mark Bradley. I think he’s right. We are all kind of shooting higher than we did last year. I’ve been pretty public that I was excited about back to back winning seasons, but now I’m excited about rings. We need to focus on our division. Win our division, then go on from there, get into the playoffs and go as deep as we can.
Q: You’ve meet Sean (Weatherspoon) on the pre-draft tour. What are you impressions now that you see him in a Falcons uniform?
A: He looks great. He’s enthusiastic to be here and we’re enthusiastic to have him. I think as you’ve heard from Thomas and Smitty that we had a number of scenarios develop over the three days of the draft and pretty much hit on all of the key positions and players that we were anxious to see in our uniform. We are excited they are here. They are all here and look like we expected them to look. You would be disappointed if they didn’t. We are in a good place.
Q: There seemed to be an emphasis on drafting guys who graduated from college and guys who did
well academically. Was that the case?
A: Today’s game, as time goes on, is getting more and more sophisticated. Not just the size of the playbook, but the complexity of the playbook with the schemes, the number of coaches and the complexity of the way they are coaching today. The players’ ability to understand what’s in front of them and react within a quarter of a second. Frankly, to play in the NFL today you have to be smart. It’s not just being football smart. You have to be smart. We look for players that represent the organization well both on the field and off the field. That’s always been an important part of my philosophy and an important part about what this franchise is about. It’s about winning on the field and it’s about winning off the field as well. I’m proud of our players on both accounts.
Q: What’s ahead for the league in collective bargaining? Has it impacted the decisions that you might have made this offseason?
A: No, not really. We had a budget that we established. We had a plan and we worked our plan. We feel good about our investment in our players. I know both the union and the league are working hard on getting a deal done. I’m certainly optimistic that we’ll be playing football in 2011. It’s not going to happen automatically. It’s not going to be an easy process. But it’s a process that you have to go through. I think the union, the league and ownership are committed to
Q: It’s been a strange week in the economy?
A: We were over in Paris on our anniversary trip. We followed the whole situation over there in terms of what was happening in Greece. When you are in Europe you feel more closely to it. I think the book that Thomas Friedman wrote some years ago, “The world is flat” is true. What happens anywhere else in the world affects us. What happens here, including this oil spill off the coast, affects oil prices and everything throughout the world. This world is a community.
Q: Given the economy, how are your season ticket sales going coming off of those back to back winning seasons?
A: They have responded well. But having said that, we still have tickets to sell. . . We’re excited about where we are. We’ve lead the league in season ticket sales the last two years. This year we hope to be up there as well. We are doing well on the premium side, club seats and suites. There’s still some work there to do. Atlanta has always supported our team. They’ve been great. We’ve tried to do the right things for the franchise to earn the fans’ respect. I tell our players repeatedly that without our fans and sponsors, we’d have 22 young men playing sandlot football. That’s it. We are about our fans. We are about our sponsors. We are about the people who come to the games. We are about people who watch our games on TV and make sure that our ratings are high. That’s really important for the league and it’s important for us.
Q: How pleasing is it to have the players out volunteering in the community?
A: It’s great. With our players we had over 750 hours of player appearances this last year. We lead the NFL that way. We have over 200 appearances by our cheerleaders last year. We lead the league in that. Well, what does that mean. . .it means that they do care about the community. They understand that they are role models and that they need to perform that way. . . It’s a great credit to them that they do it during their limited time off.”