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Fans get rare chance to 'Roam the Dome'
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ATLANTA — As a Bon Jovi hit from the 1980s played over the public address system at the Georgia Dome, Atlanta Falcons fans got access to the players that doesn’t come too often.

It’s the Falcons way of re-branding a franchise and a 16-year-old facility to make it more appealing to their fan base. It’s also a public relations move attempt to turn the page after a disastrous 2007 season.

As part of the All-Access Weekend, fans got the opportunity to seek autographs and mingle with players after Saturday’s team scrimmage at the Dome, and even catch a pass from their favorite player.

Saturday’s 90-minute scrimmage and Roam the Dome event brought an estimated crowd of 3,500, well short of the 10,000 that witnessed the Falcons’ Friday night scrimmage at Mill Creek High in Hoschton.

The All-Access Weekend was a spin-off of the previous Midtown Touchdown festivities held the past two seasons at Piedmont Park that followed a team scrimmage at Grady High. The organization was prompted to move the festivities this year due to drought conditions in the park. Falcons communications manager LaRhonda Jackson said that the team plans to continue to hold a Friday scrimmage next season at a Class AAAAA school with a stadium large enough to handle crowds in excess of 10,000.

“The idea is to give fans a meaningful experience to interact with the team,” Jackson said. “We feel like this is a great way to kick off the upcoming season.”

What stood out most for those that showed up to the Georgia Dome was the new look. As part of a two-year, $60 million renovation project, the stadium was overhauled with new seating, club level suites, more than 200 new flat screen televisions around the stadium, and new lighting.

The Georgia Dome renovation, done in conjunction with the Georgia World Congress Center, was planned to give fans an entirely new experience.

“The Georgia Dome needed to be upgraded,” Falcons vice president of marketing Jim Smith said. “And we have an owner that is committed to giving the fans the best experience possible when they come to a Falcons game.”

The new-look dome clearly had an effect on the players when they stepped on the field for the first time since the 2007 season.

“This looks like the home of the Atlanta Falcons,” veteran Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking said. “They did a first-class job making the stadium look as good as it does.”

“I think it looks great,” rookie quarterback Matt Ryan said. “Mr. Blank did an excellent job renovating the building.

“It was a good day and a good fan turnout today.”

The scrimmage itself looked more like a practice fans could observe in Flowery Branch with players dressed out in shorts, jerseys and helmets. No tackling, no pads and no timeouts made for a scrimmage sped up for fans to be able to enjoy the interactive atmosphere afterward.

“I think everything exceeded all of our expectations,” Smith added.

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