What does $1.5 billion look like? On Saturday night, Falcons fans finally got to find out. Matt Ryan, the MVP and all-everything quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons threw an interception on his team’s very first play – but that didn’t matter very much – the star of the show Saturday night was the sparkly new Mercedes Benz Stadium. After more than five years of preparation, the Falcons opened the door to their hugely anticipated stadium for the first time and the spectacle of the building buoyed any disappointment in what was happening on the field.
In the next few years, this building will host a Super Bowl, a College Football National Championship, and a Final Four. But tonight was just a pre-season game, a chance for fans, players and staff to fully bask in the ooohs and ahhhs before anything really counts.
Walking into the main gate of Mercedes Benz Stadium, you’re greeted with an expansive view of the field, surrounded by the one-of-a-kind Halo Board, 58ft tall and 360-degrees around. The three seating levels all offer something unique, whether it’s a 100-yard bar on the top level, a high-tech internet-friendly lounge on the second, or even a virtual reality racing experience on the bottom. In the background of it all is a glass-pane view of the Atlanta skyline. In short, it’s not a bad place to watch a game.
The cheap dining options, which made all sorts of news months before the stadium even opened, were all there, along with some local Atlanta favorites. And if you think Mercedes Benz Stadium wouldn’t also feature the world’s largest bird sculpture, you might want to think again.
For the Atlanta sports fan though, this whole new stadium thing is an old hat. The Braves opened their new Sun Trust Park just four months ago, and the Hawks are in the middle of the second largest arena renovation in NBA history. But there’s something different about Mercedes Benz Stadium. When the Braves packed up and moved from downtown Atlanta to a different county in the suburbs, it was a tough lesson in the fickle nature of sports business. So the joint investment between the city and its premiere team towards a billion dollar downtown stadium represents a future for Atlanta that includes the people who live in the heart of it.
Atlanta, of course, is not alone in the stadium wars. Starting with the famous Jerry World in Dallas a few years ago, it’s the norm for a new pro-stadium to cross the billion dollar threshold. And unfortunately, more often than not, it’s the taxpayer that has to take on an inordinate share of the burden. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is no different, $200 million of the building funds came from city money. But for the 70,000 fans that packed into the building on Saturday, most wearing huge grins and pointing camera phones in every direction, this one was worth it.
There’s a lot to marvel at, but its impact is just beginning to be felt. Mercedes Benz Stadium will bring Atlanta into the world stage in a way it hasn’t since the Olympics over twenty years ago. The city is apparently a finalist to be a host site for the 2026 World Cup, and it’s hard to imagine this stadium being turned down. So whether you watch Falcons games this year from your couch, or inside the building in the shadow of the world’s largest bird sculpture, you might want to get used to the stadium they’re playing. You’ll be seeing a lot of it.
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