Guerry Clegg commentary: It takes more than good Falcons football to draw a sell-out crowd

sports@ledger-enquirer.comMay 25, 2013 

Once you get past the fact that the Georgia Dome was built on a political lie, was an architectural Edsel and lasted slightly longer than the NBA playoffs, the concept of a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons is a breath of fresh air.

It's scheduled to open by 2017, which means the Falcons have four more seasons inside the functional but antiseptic Georgia Dome.

Architects and Falcons officials are still working on the bells and whistles. Actually, no, that's so 20th century. They are striving for amenities that tantalize all five senses. Hi-def cameras and microphones tucked away in more places than the IRS. The aroma of Atlanta's finest five-star restaurants wafting through the air. And "impact" chairs to get the feel of what it's like to try to tackle Stephen Jackson. The team's insurance would not allow putting fans in a tunnel with a speeding dump truck, so the impact seats will have to do.

They want to create a fan experience that cannot be replicated in the comfort of your living room. That is, something beyond $12 jumbo pretzels that you have to wait for interminably in line.

Let us hope that they, unlike the developers of the Georgia Dome, begin with the realization that most fans do not walk to the game from places like Marietta, Peachtree City and Columbus. We have vehicles to park. I don't know anything about architecture. I haven't conducted surveys and studies to find out what would draw fans from the comforts of their home to watch the Falcons play the Tennessee Titans.

But this much I know. Most folks are not too keen on paying $30 to park anywhere, let alone in some abandoned lot littered with broken beer bottles.

Even Six Flags provides shuttles for patrons who have to park in an adjoining zip code. That doesn't seem to be too much to ask when fans are paying $40 a pop for upper level end zone seats. So here's my suggestion: If you're going to build a stadium for 65,000, parking for three dozen vehicles might be a tad short. Let's clarify: affordable parking. And leave room for shuttles. Or, hey, what about a sky lift from the parking lot to the plaza? Even this acrophobic correspondent would pay a few bucks for that at least once.

Other than that, I'm not too hard to please. Just give me a seat where I can see the play develop, have a general idea of what yard-line the ball is on and preferably at least two rows away from the two drunk idiots living vicariously through their teams, and I'm quite content. Who knows? I might even spring for that $12 pretzel.

The 250,000-square foot end zone monitor is nice. The speaker system designed to drown out an F-15 is OK. (Side note to Greg McGarity, Georgia athletic director: Please stifle that male cheerleader with the microphone.) I go to ball games simply to enjoy the atmosphere, drunk idiots and all.

But football alone is not enough to sell out a Falcons-Titans game in October. The Falcons have had five consecutive winning seasons. That span includes four trips to the playoffs and a 33-7 home record during the regular season. Yet last season, average attendance dropped to 92.7 percent of capacity, 24th out of 32 teams. If Arthur Blank, the team's owner, wants to spend his money to create his own JerryDome, then that's his decision. Even the hotel tax supplement is reasonable since, unlike with the Georgia Dome, Blank has never tried to disguise his intentions.

The best aspect of the new stadium is that it will have a retractable roof. There's just not much more enjoyable in terms of spectator sports than a gorgeous fall Southern afternoon watching football. And for those rainy and frigid December nights, they can just close the roof, and you ignore the weather and enjoy the game as if sitting in the comfort of your great room. Along with your $12 pretzel.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. Write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com.

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