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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