New Falcons stadium could change Atlanta sports, from Super Bowls to MLS

Chris Graythen

There's more to a building than its primary tenant.

First, yes, Atlanta is putting up public money for the Falcons' new stadium. This is not ideal, but all things considered, it's about as good a deal as any city will ever get in the current climate. Actually, the real first point is that we still have no idea why we need a new stadium when the Georgia Dome was opened in 1992. But moving on.

The benefits for the Falcons are obvious. They'll make more annual revenue by having better ad space and retaining more in-game profits, increase the overall value of their franchise (which ranks No. 28 according to Forbes, despite consistent sellouts and a mostly successful decade on the field), and possibly be able to offer a variable game experience via a retractable lid.

The non-sports impact for the city is, on the one hand, spent tax money ($200 million in tourism taxes up front, with about $150 million in infrastructure costs yet to be claimed -- Blank has committed to $50 million of the estimated $200 million for roadwork and utilities), and on the other, nebulous alleged economic benefits always claimed in this sort of situation but often challenged by actual economists. Blank is, however, putting up $15 million and attempting to raise another $30 million towards improving the stadium's neighborhoods, which include some of the state's most challenged (you've seen Snow on tha Bluff, right?). He did not have to do that.

There are also non-NFL sports impacts. Let's walk through them, in no particular order.

College football playoffs

Atlanta was already juuust about a lock to participate in the post-BCS New Year's college football to-do. Starting in 2014, six New Year's-ish bowl games will become the BCS 2.0, hosting the best teams and rotating two playoff semifinal spots, with the Rose, Sugar and Orange the only bowls already locked in. Based on wide reporting and common sense (college football capital, son), the Chick-fil-A is expected to join the ranks, especially if a state-of-the-art stadium is on the way.

College football money people like money too much to pass on Atlanta, new stadium or not. We don't get to claim sovereignty over many sports things, but will chuckle at anybody challenging our college football status.

Super Bowls and Final Fours and WrestleManias and such

Yeah, sure. Both Blank and Roger Goodell have indicated multiple times that a new stadium is key to landing another Super Bowl. Another Super Bowl or two! The Dome held two during its life span, so let's set the bar for the new joint at two. Then we can build a new joint!

You might wonder what's so essential about hosting Super Bowls. Well, I'll tell you. Cities do not function unless fed a regular stream of Super Bowls. All law and order breaks down and factories go kaput and everyone has to eat at Steak n Shake and roads turn to scabby crags, all of which explains the midwest.

But anyway, yeah. We'll get to host a bunch of stuff. Maybe even different kinds of stuff, if our new stadium is capable of pulling up to the scene with its ceiling missing. I don't really know what other kinds of stuff there is that we haven't already hosted, though. Somebody come up with something so we can host it.

Soccer

MLS commissioner Don Garber has mentioned Atlanta as a potential expansion target multiple times. Blank and his associates have made no secret of their desire to bring in World Cup games and a major soccer team, actually submitting a bid for expansion in 2008. Atlanta is the biggest TV market that doesn't have a MLS team and a diverse city with a growing Hispanic population. I expect MLS to happen.

One issue has been the Georgia Dome's size; it wouldn't accommodate a FIFA-regulation pitch [edit: or so the story's gone - Atlanta's hosting a part of the CONCACAF Gold Cup this year]. Expect that to be resolved now.

Atlanta has a young NASL team, the Silverbacks, which I'd imagine would be a candidate for the jury-rigged American equivalent of promotion. There is somewhat of a connection between the team's name and its potential biggest booster: Blank prominently sponsors Zoo Atlanta, and the team's named after Atlanta's most beloved-ever gorilla besides Zaza Pachulia, the late Willie B. If you're not from Atlanta, you are learning so much about it right now.

From the Silverbacks on the matter:

The Atlanta Silvebacks professional team is already close to outgrowing its current facility, Atlanta Silverbacks Park. By the time the Falcons' new stadium is ready, our club and our league, the NASL, will require a facility like that. Other teams in our league such as the New York Cosmos and Ottawa Fury are already building facilities that are comparable to it, so we fully intend on talking to the city and Falcons about being a tenant there.

Before the stadium deal was announced, I asked Gary Stokan, Atlanta Sports Council president, about the city's MLS viability:

In chairing for the World Cup, I felt that if US had won, that we would have been the lead city in hosting the international broadcast center and we'd have been in the mix to host at least first and second round matches, which I think would've really spurred great growth in soccer in the US and Georgia.

Obviously I think the MLS has huge interest. We had meetings with MLS eight years ago, and they were very interested even back then when we brought them down to talk about having a franchise here. I don't think that's diminished, I think it's been exponentially increased because of Atlanta and its status as a top-10 market and the Hispanic growth in our marketplace.

What we lack is a facility, and hopefully Arthur's successful in getting a new facility built, similar to the one Seattle's done. I think there will be an integration of MLS to this city, and they'll have a place to play in the new Falcons stadium.

SEC Championship

Our biggest annual non-NFL event (nationally, it's arguably often our biggest), and one that a few Atlantans worried about losing to Dallas' Cowboys Stadium once Texas A&M joined the SEC.

New Orleans and Dallas will remain potential threats to take the game (assuming NOLA's paid its 'lectric bill since the Super Bowl), but for the time being, it's ours. Here's SEC commissioner Mike Slive with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2012:

Q: Amid all the changes in college football, the SEC Championship game has remained in the same place for 19 years. What has made Atlanta home for it?

A: First and foremost, the Georgia Dome has been terrific for us. The facility has been good and the Dome staff is really superb. And having the proximity of the World Congress Center so that we can have our FanFare running in conjunction with the game, that has become very popular. It's that, plus the fact Atlanta is an easy city to get to. With the development of Centennial Park and all the surrounding events and places that people can go, it has worked out extremely well for us. And we are looking forward to continuing on, even beyond our current contract.

Q: Have you had talks about extending the contract?

A: Once plans are finalized for the new stadium, we'll sit down and resume conversations about an extension.

Q: What do you think of the plan to replace the Dome with a retractable-roof stadium?

A: First of all, we've not been unhappy at all with the current Dome. But we like the fact that the new stadium is projected to be in essentially the same footprint with the World Congress Center. It reaffirms the fact that Atlanta is committed to staying at the forefront and therefore even makes the game more attractive for us there.

Chick-fil-A Bowl and Kickoff Game

Already being enhanced next year by the College Football Hall of Fame making like a Northerner and moving to Atlanta (the Chick-fil-A people are heavily involved in promoting and sponsoring the Hall, and Stokan told me they plan to integrate Hall events into game weekends), one of the nation's two biggest neutral-site season openers will continue to hum along just fine. They've tried expanding it into a double-header and reportedly have big matchups through 2015 (Alabama vs. West Virginia and Ole Miss vs. Boise State are set for 2014).

The bowl game, arguably the nation's best non-BCS bowl already (it has the third longest sellout streak, behind only the Rose and Fiesta and often outdraws BCS bowls), will likely join the playoff rotation and thus become one of the seven or so annual biggest college football games, and every three years one of the biggest three. A new stadium will boost that somewhat, I reckon.

Other football

I can see HBCU and high school football events, of which we have many, becoming really cool with a retractable roof in play. Kind of like the Chick-fil-A games, season openers could be played under the sky.

And Georgia State football will happily sell out a portion of whichever lower bowl the Falcons bequeath it.

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