Memo to Mr. Blank: Atlanta is a COLLEGE football town

Let me begin by saying that I have all of the admiration in the world for Mr. Blank, Rich McKay and the Falcons franchise. I’m not a pro football guy but I recognize a good organization when I see one.

So understand that what I’m about to say is with all due respect:

Have you people totally lost your minds?

McKay, the Falcons’ President, told the AJC yesterday that the Falcons’ first preference for a new stadium would be an open air facility that is still on the campus of the Georgia World Congress Center. The Georgia Dome, despite its renovations, just doesn’t quite do it for the NFL franchise any more. When I see facilities like Jerry Jones’ new playpen in Dallas ($1 billion) and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy (site of this year’s Final Four) I understand. It’s about generating revenue outside of ticket sales. I’ve got no problem with that.

But Mr. McKay told the AJC that building a stadium with a retractable roof is too costly (presumably the cost of a new building would be shared). So the Falcons basically throw this problem back in the lap of the folks at the Georgia World Congress Center who, if the Falcons get what they want, would have to continue to maintain the Georgia Dome in order to hold on to a bunch of signature events.

Several points here:

1. To Mr. Blank and Mr. McKay: This ain’t Dallas. It ain’t Philly or New York or St. Louis or Minnesota. This is Atlanta, Ga., and no matter how many football games your franchise wins—and I hope you win them all—Atlanta is and will always be a college football town. And a lot of these college football fans are your customers. You don’t want to hurt college football in this town and this has the potential to hurt college football. It would be a bad PR move.

2. If Atlanta is dumb enough to be a part of building an open air stadium without a retractable roof, then the champagne corks will start popping in Birmingham. Because you can bet that they’ll figure out a way to build a ball park to get the SEC championship football game to come back (the first two games were played in Birmingham in 1992 and 1993). And you can bet that New Orleans would be putting together a bid and sprucing up the Superdome. A big part of what has made the SEC championship game one of the great success stories in sport is that weather is not a factor. Weather has been a factor for the Big 12 and the ACC and the results on those championship games has been mixed at best. The SEC, in my opinion, will not play this game in an open air stadium.

3. Then there is a little basketball event called the NCAA Final Four, which is coming back in 2013. It’s clear that in the future the rotation for that event will be limited to a few cities with the building and infrastructure to support it. With a domed facility like Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy, Atlanta would still be in that mix. Without it you can write off post-season college basketball in this town. The NCAA has too many good options. The ACC and SEC Tournaments may or may not want to come to Philips Arena. They have other good options as well.

4. The Chick-fil-A Bowl people have grown that event into one of the best after the BCS level. They are positioning that bowl to get into the BCS picture if things change after the next four-year cycle. Right now Dallas has an edge with Jones’s magnificent stadium. Take the Georgia Dome away, or build a downtown stadium without a retractable roof, and Atlanta has no shot at being a part of those discussions.

5. Here is my bottom line. I know the NFL is powerful. I know that people sell their souls to keep the NFL franchise happy. But it is not the only game in this town. There is a reason why Indy, Dallas, Houston and Glendale, Ariz.—all NFL towns—built stadiums with retractable roofs. The people involved saw the bigger picture. I’m just assuming that Rich McKay said a retractable roof would be too costly because he and the Falcons want the city to pick up a larger portion of the tab on the stadium. Hey, that’s business. But Atlanta can’t go for that bait or the city has to realize that the cost is worth it. It can’t be short-sighted.

My recommendation: Do exactly what Indy did. It kept the RCA Dome in place and built Lucas Oil Stadium right next to it. The transition was pretty seamless and now Indy has one of the best setups in the country. If there is a Big Ten championship game in the future, it’s a pretty good bet that it will be in Indy.

Let’s get it done. This decision is too important.

By the way: I am right or am I wrong about Atlanta being, first and foremost, a college football town?

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287 comments Add your comment

TommyJack

May 20th, 2010
8:38 am

Why in the hayel do these guys insist on wasting money? Seems asinine to me.

Musashi

May 20th, 2010
8:42 am

Tony, I agree that Atlanta is a college football town. Falcons didn’t even arrive until the 1960s, but I’m not sure though about Birmingham trying to make a play for the SECC game again. Who else would play there, UAB?

Homer

May 20th, 2010
8:45 am

If the Florida Marlins in Miami can build a retractable stadium, geez Atlanta can surely get it done right?

Ron Mexico

May 20th, 2010
8:46 am

Just curious, how many SEC regular season games are played indoors?

Charlie Bama

May 20th, 2010
8:50 am

I agree 100% Tony. To build anything other than a retractable dome in ATL would be folly. I hope it’s not my money that would be mis-invested that way. Love the Falcons; they’re a good source of amusement. But LOVE college football even more.

Clmsntgrs

May 20th, 2010
8:51 am

Without a doubt Atlanta is a college football town. Athens, less than an hour away. Tech downtown with an improving program. Not to mention that alumni from many football crazed programs call Atlanta home. I agree. If there is no GA Dome, then you can say bye bye to the SEC Champ game and the Peach (always will be the peach to me) Bowl will lose it’s status as a small step below the BCS Bowls.

Big Al

May 20th, 2010
8:52 am

Tony, you are correct the ATL is a college town. I am old enough to remember watching games outside in Atlanta in the winter and would not go back to freezing my but off for the Falons.

gdawginkalamazoo

May 20th, 2010
8:52 am

Ron, good question. I would guess the Chick Fil A Kickoff game which started recently.

Move the Falcons to the aquarium see how they do underwater.

DP

May 20th, 2010
8:52 am

The Georgia Dome is still good enough for the NCAA Final Four and the SEC championship game but not for the Falcons? Fine, let Arthur Blank reach into his own pocket without a dime of taxpayer support and build a new venue for the Falcons of whatever type at whatever location he wants. If necessary he can take the Falcons out of town and out of state for all I care. The idea of an owner whining about a facility because it doesn’t have enough luxury boxes and Jerry’s is newer in this economy makes my blood boil.

And yes, Atlanta is a college football town.

Pago Pago Dawg

May 20th, 2010
8:53 am

We could care less about pro $port$!

alpharettadawg

May 20th, 2010
8:54 am

Keeping up with the Joneses…retractable roof. Arthur needs another hurricane to hit Florida so his stock price will rise and he can build Arthur-World in Doraville.

MattyB

May 20th, 2010
8:55 am

TB,
Your words could not be more “on the money!”
Let’s hope that it’s just posturing on the part of the birds and not a real, actual bird-brained idea.

Da Coach

May 20th, 2010
8:55 am

I agree wholeheartedly that Atlanta is a college football town…and we’re far better for it, too. Saturday is THE DAY in the South during the fall. The main reason Atlanta is not a pro football town is due to the fact everybody here is from somewhere else, most notably the Northeast and (to a lesser extent) the Midwest and those deep-seeded loyalties remain on Sunday afternoon.

joe

May 20th, 2010
9:00 am

How much would it cost to rip the roof off the dome and rebuild a retractable one? It can’t be as much as building a brand new stadium, could it? Tony, see if you can get a read on that cost for us…

ATLBadger

May 20th, 2010
9:05 am

Really don’t like indoor football. If they can play outdoor games in December in Green Bay, Chicago, Pittsburgh, etc, they can play them outdoors in Atlanta in December. Hearing Atlantan’s complain about the thought of an outdoor football game in December is just downright funny.

That being said, operating the Dome and a new outdoor stadium at the same time doesn’t make much sense. And having a Dome certainly helps for other events mentioned. Though an outdoor stadium could certainly help for soccer in the future. Tough choice. A retractable roof sounds nice, but at the slightest chill they are going to close the darn thing and we’ll be back to lame indoor football games.

TrueDawg

May 20th, 2010
9:05 am

Agree that Atlanta is a college football first town.

I initially thought that having both on the GWCC campus is the best option. Keep the Dome for the events that demand weather-control, and have an open-air venue for the Falcons. But, my concern would be the cost of maintaining two facilities. I could see a scenario where the Dome might get a little run-down, and be the ugly step-child. So, I think a retractable roof stadium is the solution.

Don

May 20th, 2010
9:06 am

Bunch of whiny babies. You play every football game OUTSIDE. Your argument makes no sense. The game is the first week of DECEMBER. I can understand your argument on the chikfila bowl. But the sec one is weak. Also if the chik ever got a a bcs game, that would come into play.

mike

May 20th, 2010
9:07 am

i never understood the allure of college sports.. a bunch of just-out-of-high school amateurs playing the game.. instead i would rather watch the best of the best compete against each other (pros)…oh and im from the south born and raised so dont tell me to move to the north.. just my opinion

BV

May 20th, 2010
9:07 am

Tony how is your 401k doing?

nathanfcox@gmail.com

May 20th, 2010
9:07 am

Who said they where going to tear down the Ga dome? Cant they have both? Personally I hate watching games in the dome…something isnt right about it.

Alphare

May 20th, 2010
9:09 am

Yes, Atlanta is a college football town that pulls for a college team in another town.

Yes, Tech is the hometown team.

Old School

May 20th, 2010
9:10 am

Football was meant to be played outdoors in the elements — be it under a spectacular October blue sky or in miserable December sleet/rain. An indoor stadium in Atlanta, in the heart of the deep south, proves that it is all about the money.

Seth

May 20th, 2010
9:12 am

Haha. GT and UGA play the week before the conf championships OUTDOORS every year. This argument is a joke on the football side. It matters only for basketball and you have phillips for that.

R

May 20th, 2010
9:12 am

With all due respect, this column completely overlooks the fact that the Dome kills the Falcons game day experience. If Atlantans could spend their Sundays outdoors enjoying beautiful fall weather rather than hanging out in a morgue, the Falcons would be #1 in this town. Two December college football games shouldn’t ruin it for the rest of us.

BamaGal95

May 20th, 2010
9:12 am

Without a doubt the ATL is a college football town. If another stadium is built sans a retractable roof it will be just one more half a$$ed project completed without real thought as to what is needed here!

sugarpikegang

May 20th, 2010
9:16 am

CFB is king in the Southeast and Atlanta has done well to position itself to host some of CFB’s best events. Its easy to lose focus on CFB in Atlanta. However, Atlanta must stick to the fundamentals here and remember who its people are (or those surrounding).

There are other “things” to distract Atlantans but indeed CFB is our bread and butter when it comes to sports.

Charlie Bama

May 20th, 2010
9:16 am

Hey, Old School. I remember when day-old news was dropped on my driveway, outdorrs in the elements. But I don’t miss it. Nor do I miss Jay Bookman (what does he do now?). Retractable domes are a good thing, called progress.

patrocket

May 20th, 2010
9:18 am

Is, yes. Always will be? Not so sure. Seventeen thousand yankees move here every day Tony.

NoGaGator

May 20th, 2010
9:18 am

If Blank wants a new stadium similar to Dallas (which is an 11 on the 1-10 scale) let him come up with the means to finance it, similar to what Jerry Jones did. It will only add to the value of his franchise.

help, I live in Ga

May 20th, 2010
9:21 am

TB, College Football won’t go to a playoff for purely financial reasons. The NCAA doesn’t care what the fans want. I don’t want the SEC to have 16 teams. The NCAA doesn’t care.
Mr Blank is a smart man who thinks big. Maybe this is the time to convert Atlanta from a college football town to a pro football town.

Mr. Blank: If you build it, they will come. Bring it on.

Keith

May 20th, 2010
9:24 am

Thanks for the update Tony. We had NO CLUE that this is a college football town.

CJ

May 20th, 2010
9:25 am

I personally have hated every basketball experience that I’ve had at the Ga Dome. Been to a Final Four, the ACC Tourney, Sweet 16, and the Hawks back in the day. Football was meant to be played outdoors and Basketball was not meant to be played in Football Domes.

From a complete fan point of view, I’d rather have the outdoor stadium for the Falcons and kiss the basketball goodbye.

Memo to Tony

May 20th, 2010
9:26 am

You are a hick from central ga. Keep your mouth shut on business affairs by real men. Stick to your college ball and stay out of real world matters.

Stuart

May 20th, 2010
9:27 am

Tony, I agree Atlanta is a college town. But Birmingham is more a college football town because in Alabama, college football is the only game in town.

FEAR THE TALON

May 20th, 2010
9:30 am

BINGO TONY!! I’M A FALCON SEASON TICKET HOLDER & WHEN I READ THAT STORY YESTERDAY I SAID TO MYSELF….SELF IF THE BRAIN TRUST(AND I USE THAT TERM IN JEST) FOLLOW THRU WITH AN OPEN AIR FACILITY I WILL NOT BE A SEASON TICKET HOLDER ANYMORE!!! NOTE TO SAID BRAIN TRUST…THIS AIN’T MIAMI BOY’S!!!

Scribe

May 20th, 2010
9:30 am

If the Falcons want a new stadium, let them build it. The Dome is fine for everybody but them. We cannot afford to build a facility that’ll be used 10 times a year by the Falcons. And the fannies in the seats for those 10 games are Atlanta-area people for the most part. They’re not tourists buying hotel rooms and cabs and…uh, entertainment services.

Ray

May 20th, 2010
9:31 am

I agree. Football should be played outdoors. How can you make this silly argument when 3/4 of the teams in the acc and sec play the week before the sec champ game outside!
Your argument is lame

Mike

May 20th, 2010
9:33 am

Are they crazy? I know it was different ownership then, but it was the Falcons that wanted an indoor stadium. Now they want open air. In this ECONOMY! What a waste of money! Just tell ‘em NO.

I'm Gumby, dammit!!

May 20th, 2010
9:34 am

Retractable roof or open air. Either one is fine, just please, no more indoor football in Atlanta. Having been a season ticket holder at both Atlanta Fulton County Stadium and the Georgia Dome, I say there is no comparison. Football in Atlanta NEEDS to be outdoors.

I understand the need for the Final Four, SEC Championship, and future Super Bowls(good luck on that thanx to Ray Ray), so if it has to be a retractable roof, so be it. But Falcons football fans deserve to see their games outdoors where they belong.

T3

May 20th, 2010
9:35 am

Would most people ACTUALLY miss the Falcons if they left town?

Chip Ramsey

May 20th, 2010
9:36 am

Can’t Arthur save some money by using his Home Depot discount card?

ATLBadger

May 20th, 2010
9:38 am

Besides, even if it’s 30 degrees and snowing, the SEC Championship game will still be sold out. 73,000 diehard Packers (or Bears or Steelers or Pats) fans show up for playoff football in January when it might be -5 out.

Even with an outdoor stadium, Atlanta is still the best city to host the SEC Championship game. Most people, best airport, most downtown hotel rooms, public transport, etc. New Orleans is great, but it’s not near as convenient as ATL for most SEC fans. If Birmingham wants to waste their money on a dome that is sold out once a year, let them be that stupid…

PKS

May 20th, 2010
9:39 am

Fact is the only people that buy Falcons tickets regularly either are northern transplants or can’t afford UGA tickets. Falcons season tickets can be had for a few hundred bucks. UGA tickets costs thousands once you figure in the GSEF donations required to buy them. UGA plays North Nowhere State U. and sells 95k tickets. The Falcons can’t sell 72k unless it’s late in the season and they are in contention for the playoffs. This is 100% a college FB town. Atlanta has huge Auburn, Florida and Alabama alumni numbers in addition to the obvious UGA fanbase. Blank and the GWCC better tread lightly where this is concerned. If they lose the SEC game, the Peach Bowl (hey, I’m old), and the Chick-fil-A kickoff game the college fans will not treat the Falcons lightly. One more thing… does Blank not see who goes to his games? Very casual fans that like to sit indoors, comfortably and have some drinks and talk trash. Trust me… they will not come out in such numbers in rain or cold.

Jay

May 20th, 2010
9:39 am

Arthur i dont care what you do. As long as you are paying for it. Until we get school funding back up and the state is not running a budget deficit we are not building a new stadium.

Otto

May 20th, 2010
9:40 am

Tony, I agree this a College Football town and could care less about the NFL, especially the Falcons. However seeing the Chik Fil A game, and SECCG leave Atlanta is enough to make me want to see the Falcons get their new stadium. CPJ had it correct when he said the games doesn’t help UGA or GT in their recruiting.

Rimfire

May 20th, 2010
9:44 am

If you’ll think back and remember, what killed the early Peach Bowls was lously weather. The reason ATL did not get the last couple of Super Bowls, was because the NFL had a bad experience in our weather in January. College atheletics is the golden goose here. Don’t fall for the illusion that an open air stadiuim is the end all to be all…!

Andre

May 20th, 2010
9:44 am

A darn good article Mr. College Football!!!

Mike

May 20th, 2010
9:48 am

Tony, the solution of your problem is to have the SEC/Chicken Bowl folks pony up the $ to put the retractable roof on the stadium. You can’t expect the Falcons to foot the entire bill for it and the SEC sure has enough money to help build it if that’s what they want in a stadium.

Sunny Purdue

May 20th, 2010
9:49 am

Every time I go to the Dome I am impressed with the facility. The place is electric during the SECCG and Chick-fil-A Bowl. The high school kids think it is great during their playoffs. I guess it is just not good enough for the pros. The building is only 18, not even old enough to buy a drink.

Why do the Falcons need new luxury boxes? Because they do not sell enough general admission tickets. Why not? Because they are a boring, lousy team.

Finally, every time we hear about a new stadium we are told about the hundreds of millions of dollars it will generate. If that is the case why do we have a hotel/motel tax that runs for the next 35 years? It seems this building should be self funding.

SaintsLSU

May 20th, 2010
9:50 am

Atlanta definatly seems like a college football town. If you look at number of comments for a SEC article vs comments on an ATL Falcons article, you can see what people want to talk about. College Football is just more fun to discuss in chats like this. School spirit and state bragging rights are on the line every Saturday. This is May, and we are already thinking about getting even w/ the Bama’s and the Florida’s of the world. I can make a legitimate case to root for all of the SEC teams, but I would never root for the Atlanta Falcons being a die hard Saints fan. Pro Football has an entire different meaning. I don’t know how else to describe it. College = Pride, Pro = Entertainment. All that being said, I would not trade anything for the events of the 2009 NFL season and the Saints SB XLIV Championship. That was a unique situation, and was the greatest time of my sports watching life.