As I write this, four days before the Falcons host the Seahawks in the playoffs, the Super Bowl picture is still fuzzy. The only thing I know for sure (besides that Beyoncé will show a lot of leg at halftime) is that the game will be played at the Superdome in New Orleans. For the seventh time.
Here’s another thing: The Superdome is old. It opened in 1975; only seven other active NFL venues were built before then. The Georgia Dome, which opened in 1992 and has hosted two Super Bowls, is actually one of the NFL’s newer stadiums, though far from the league’s prettiest. Sunk five stories into the ground, with little in the way of windows, the Georgia Dome gives the impression of the world’s largest bunker, hermetically sealed from life on the outside. (Not unlike the Superdome, actually.)
But when it comes to watching the Falcons play, the Dome holds up, inasmuch as any roofed stadium can hold up in one of the most temperate regions of the country. The sight lines are good, the seats relatively comfortable. Yes, the food remains lousy, the beer selection is behind the times, and the tailgate experience is just sad, but those things have nothing to do with the Dome itself. Indeed, just six years ago, Falcons owner Arthur Blank and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority poured more than $50 million into stadium renovations—overhauling suites, adding two huge video screens, replacing seats, and repainting the outside. (This was not just noblesse oblige: As part of his $28 million share of the bill, Blank and the Falcons got a bigger cut of advertising and suite sales.) “Anything you can see, touch, or feel is brand new,” a Falcons vice president said at the time.
So naturally it’s time to blow the thing up. In this month’s issue, Charles Bethea explores the ramifications of a new stadium, which appears a fait accompli at this point. One question, though, remains unanswered: What precisely is wrong with the stadium we have now? On 790 The Zone, Blank said the Dome does not have a “birthright” to the other events it hosts, such as the SEC Championship. But the SEC seems perfectly happy. “The Georgia Dome has been terrific for us,” the commissioner said last December. Conventions remain a huge business; in January more than 60,000 young Christians came to the Georgia Dome for Passion 2013. The Dome is a quick walk from MARTA. That’s no small thing: Up to 20 percent of Falcons fans and 60 percent of Dome workers get there by MARTA. By every definition of the word, the Georgia Dome works.
And yet, evidently, it does not. Arthur Blank wants a new stadium. He, along with the NFL, will bear the lion’s share of the $1 billion cost, a portion of which he says he’ll pass on to season ticket holders in the form of personal seat licenses. The PSL route is itself questionable: Atlanta is a fickle city that’s produced exactly one championship in something like 150 seasons of professional sports. Asking longtime fans to pony up $1,000 or $10,000 or more simply for the privilege of doing what they’ve been doing for years—buying season tickets to support a team that, as of early January, has never brought home a Lombardi trophy—seems risky at best, presumptuous at worst.
I should say I’m a season ticket holder, so I’ve got some skin in this game. I’m not sure what I’d pay to reserve the right to keep buying my forty-yard-line seats, way up near the roof. Especially when the seats I have—in the stadium that’s here—are perfectly adequate. In notices I get from the team, I’m thanked often for “supporting your Atlanta Falcons.”
Mine? How do you figure?