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Editorial: Seats are only for the elite at Falcons' new home
With tax money spent to build new stadium, team owes it to fans to keep tickets within reach
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The good news is that Mercedes-Benz Stadium, left, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons, will have everything a fan could want, including throwback concession prices. The bad news is that seats will only be available for sale as season tickets, which are out of the price range for many. - photo by John Bazemore

The Atlanta Falcons opened training camp this week in Flowery Branch, eager for a fresh start and a chance to wash away the bad taste left from February in Houston.

We don’t need to rehash the full horror, other than to recall how a magical season and march toward the team’s first championship came unraveled in a final quarter-plus of agony. The memory remains all too fresh of watching Tom Brady inflate his legend as Atlanta’s weary defenders gasped for breath while those of us watching held ours.

As fans try to get over it, the players can focus on the task at hand by getting back to work. When the season begins in September, it will be in a new palace, the team’s $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta overshadowing its old homestead, the suddenly ancient Georgia Dome, soon destined for the wrecking ball.

The new stadium has everything fans could hope for: A high-tech roof that eventually will open and close, letting fans bask in the autumn sunshine; fancy new scoreboards that ring the roof enclosure; and, lo and behold, concession prices from the 1970s, including $2 hot dogs and soft drinks.

In fact, it will have everything fans could hope for except one thing: Affordable tickets. Those seemingly have gone the way of toe-first placekickers.

Earlier this week, the team announced it will not sell any single-game tickets this season in anticipation of selling out every seat via season tickets, of which some 6,000 remain. Those season tickets cost $55 to $385 per game, which isn’t small change.

But before you can get your checkbook out, you have to purchase what they call a personal seat license. That is the fee you pay for the privilege of buying tickets, something akin to tipping the hostess to get a decent table in a restaurant. Those start at $500 and go up to $45,000, all that money going into the team’s pockets. Without it, you can’t even get into the lobby.

So it goes without saying if you can shell out thousands of dollars to attend a game with the sofa change from your yacht, suddenly the $2 hot dog has lost its appeal.

So if you do the math, anyone eager to attend a Falcons game is already more than $1,000 into their wallets, and that’s just for one seat. For a couple, it’s more than $2,000, and keep adding on for family members. And that, by the way, is for the cheap seats in the nosebleed sections, up near the not-yet-functioning roof. And it doesn’t include transportation or parking.

Those who want to attend just one game at a price something beneath that of a large appliance may be able to find tickets through online resale brokerage sites, including one managed by the NFL. But the choices aren’t always abundant there, and the prices not always much cheaper.

Those who want to attend just one game at a price something beneath that of a large appliance may be able to find tickets through online resale sites (aka, legalized scalping), including one managed by the NFL. But the choices aren’t always abundant there, and the prices not always much cheaper.

Let’s remind all that this colossus is being built with a huge amount of public money, more than $600 million mostly gleaned from the hotel hospitality tax. And while much of that is paid by visitors (welcome to Georgia; thanks for the stadium), it’s still public money that could be used for any number of other needs Georgians must fund in other ways, all to help a billionaire earn more billions.

Teams often claim the cities themselves profit from visitors buying rooms, food and the like, but there’s little hard evidence to show that’s the case. Some studies have shown such claims to be overstated, at best.

Residents of Cobb County went through such in helping the Atlanta Braves pay for their new suburban ballpark, and without a say in the matter. But at least a family can attend a single Braves game now and then without having to hock grandma’s jewelry.

Sure, teams have a right to charge a small fortune for tickets based on what the market will bear; no one is obligated to buy them. The NFL is welcome to become a sport merely for the elite if it so chooses.

But when public money is used to build its stadiums, much of it from those who will never warm a seat, there should be some gratitude shown to those who foot the bill and want to fill them with noise.

We greatly admire Arthur Blank, a fine man and philanthropist who has led the Falcons through their greatest era, but he’s not missing any meals. Would it kill the team to set aside a few thousand seats for those bedraggled souls who can’t afford a PSL or season tickets? It’s not asking much and won’t kill the team’s bottom line. Rest assured, Matt Ryan’s salary will still be covered without that extra cash.

Regardless, we’ll all root for the Falcons this year and take pride in the attention they bring to Hall County. We just wish they could return a bit of that affection to the fans who have stayed loyal to the team throughout decades of lean seasons and now have helped pay the tab for three stadiums in 50 years.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a a letter to the editor; you can use this form or email to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.

 

 

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