By Maria Saporta
One of the biggest challenges that the National Football League faces today is to make the experience of going to a game better than staying at home and watching it on a high-definition television.
That’s what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told about 550 of the Atlanta Falcons’ most loyal fans at a Fans Forum at the Georgia World Congress Center before the team went on to win its eighth straight game in an undefeated season.
Somehow many of the answers would circle back around to the need for a new Atlanta Falcons stadium to replace the 21-year-old Georgia Dome.
“One of our biggest challenges in the League is the experience at home,” Goodell said. “H-D is only going to get better. It starts with a great facility,” Goodell said, adding that it was important for fans to feel safe going to games, for there to be latest technology with scoreboards and mobile devices. “There’s nothing better than being in a stadium with 70,000 people.”
Atlanta Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank agreed. “There are limitation in what we can do at the Georgia Dome,” he said. “Technology is terribly important. That will be completely solved in a new stadium.”
Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons, said the stadium/home experience is an issue “that bothers us everyday.” He went on to say that the team wants to “make sure the experience in the building is exactly what you can see at home,” adding that there are many ways to upgrade technology within the stadium. “What a new venue allows you to do is to take that to the next level.”
One fan asked that when could Atlanta expect to host a Super Bowl if a new stadium were to be built.
“I’d like to know the answer to that question,” Blank joked while facing Goodell.
The NFL commissioner went on to explain that a team has to play a full season in a new facility before it can host the Super Bowl.
“I know that for Arthur and Rich, that’s one of the big incentives in getting the stadium built,” Goodell said. “This is a great community, and with a great stadium it will be even better.”
But Blank, McKay and Goodell did not provide an update of the “ongoing” negotiations between the Falcons and the GWCC Authority. Both sides, however, have said it is important to have reached a formal agreement before the end of the year.
The Fan Forum did include several questions related to the safety of players, about the length of season, about various rules of the game, about the future of a Los Angeles franchise (“we have to get a stadium built that’s suitable for the game”), and about playing games in Toronto and London (Goodell said it’s “all about growing the game”)..
One fan complained that the ticket cost of pre-season games is the same as regular season games, which he said was not fair. To that, the whole room cheered — sending a message to Goodell and the NFL.
The Fan Forum also gave Blank an opportunity to compliment Goodell for how he has been leading the NFL Specifically, Blank said that under Goodell’s leadership, the NFL reached a 10-year agreement with the players — the longest such agreement in professional sports. The NFL also was able to reach an eight-year agreement with the officials.
“Those provide a platform of stability,” Blank said. “:We are very blessed to have Roger as our commissioner.”
The fans invited to Sunday night’s event were people who leased suites and club seats in the Georgia Dome as well as long-time season ticket owners.