16-year journey led to Atlanta winning 2019 Super Bowl
By Maria Saporta and Amy Wenk
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on May 27, 2016
For Arthur Blank, securing the 2019 Super Bowl was a culmination of a dream that began when he announced he was buying the Atlanta Falcons in December 2001 — nearly two years after the city hosted its last Super Bowl.
“It’s amazing from where Atlanta has come in the last 16 years,” Blank said in an interview in Charlotte, N.C., on May 24 after the 32 owners of the National Football League awarded the 2019 Super Bowl to Atlanta. “My heart is touched by a lot of people. My motivation comes from what we can do for others, in making people happy and seeing the gleam in their eyes.”
It’s been a long and winding road since that day – full of emotional ups and downs as he has had to deal with the daily angst of running a professional sports team.
There were the difficult days of Michael Vick’s dog fighting charges and the betrayal of Coach Mike Petrino.
There were the long and detailed negotiations with the Georgia World Congress Center Authority on building a new stadium, as well as demolishing the Georgia Dome. Then came the tension of where to locate the new stadium and ultimately deciding on a site that involved acquiring and demolishing two churches.
And as recently as this spring, the Georgia General Assembly passed a religious freedom bill that could have killed Atlanta’s chances on winning the Super Bowl — a bill that Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed on March 28.
But now, it all seems to be paying off. The 2019 Super Bowl marks the third major sporting event Atlanta has landed for the new $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium that’s now taking shape downtown. The city will also host the College Football Championship in 2018 and the Final Four in 2020.
Blank was quick to thank everyone who was involved in the multi-layered efforts to win the Super Bowl — considered the most lucrative annual sporting event a city can win. The Metro Atlanta Chamber estimates that the 2019 Super Bowl will have an economic impact of $400 million.
“The ultimate, from a community standpoint, is winning a Super Bowl and hosting a Super Bowl,” Blank said. “As a franchise, the ultimate is playing in a Super Bowl. We would love to do that in 2019 or before.”
Blank, 73, also faced his own challenges – getting diagnosed with prostate cancer late last year and having surgery in February — barely losing a beat working on his various business and philanthropic endeavors.
“Arthur has put his heart and soul into the franchise and into the city,” said Doug Hertz, CEO of United Distributors, who is a minority owner of the Falcons. “He’s doing everything he possibly can to transform the franchise. He’s gone through a lot for this. I’m really excited for him personally and professionally.”
The vote for the 2019, 2020 and 2021 Super Bowls took place at the upscale Ballantyne Hotel in the suburbs of Charlotte, N.C. There, the 32 NFL owners heard 15-minute presentations from each city in the running: Atlanta, Tampa, Miami, New Orleans and Los Angeles.
Hertz and Rick Smith, chairman and CEO of Equifax Inc., served as the Atlanta Bid Committee co-chairs and delivered the successful pitch.
The presentation, labeled “Atlanta Transformed,” highlighted the city’s evolution since it last hosted the Super Bowl in 2000. That includes the host of new attractions that have come downtown, including the Georgia Aquarium, College Football Hall of Fame and Center for Civil and Human Rights. And, emphasis was placed on Atlanta’s walkability and inventory of roughly 10,000 downtown hotel rooms.
There was also a moving video narrated by former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. Following the presentation, Blank privately addressed his peer owners prior to the vote.
It took four votes from the NFL owners for Atlanta to score the 2019 game, beating out New Orleans in the final round. It marks the third time Atlanta will host the Super Bowl. Other cities such as Miami and New Orleans have held the event 10 times.
After it was announced Atlanta had won 2019, the bid team popped a bottle of champagne in their “war room.”
Blank, dressed in a dark gray-and-red pinstripe suit, a deep red tie and wearing both Falcons and Atlanta United pins on his lapel, spoke to the media in a short press conference. He showed little emotion, but graciously thanked all those involved.
“The single emotion is relief,” Rich McKay, president of the Falcons, said soon after. “There’s a lot of work that a lot of people put into it. One of the reasons we built a stadium was to get the Super Bowl. That’s what we told Mayor [Kasim] Reed and Gov. Deal.”
It will cost Atlanta $46 million to host the Super Bowl. Of that, $10 million will come from a sales-tax exemption on ticket sales passed this year by the state legislature. About $16 million will come from a fund set aside for large events that draws from the city’s hotel-motel tax. And, $20 million will be raised from corporate donors.
“You celebrate for one day and then you get to work,” said Dan Corso, executive director of the Atlanta Sports Council.
Blank is certainly not slowing down. On June 11, he will marry his fiancé Angela Macuga.
“It is all part of life. It’s a great journey to be on,” Blank said. “I’m not done. There is no finish line.”