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McKay focused on the fans
Jay Kelly, owner of Signs By Tomorrow, talks with Sandy King, outreach coordinator for the occupational department at Northeast Georgia Health System, during a South Hall Business Coalition meeting at the Falcons headquarters in Flowery Branch on Tuesday.

FLOWERY BRANCH — Change for the better is essential for any business, especially an NFL franchise.

Whether it’s a different roster, a new training facility or a new stadium, successful professional football teams are analyzing the numbers everyday to see how they can improve not only the product on the field, but the experience for the fans who sacrifice a lot of time and money to attend games.

The Atlanta Falcons are one of those teams, and according to team president Rich McKay, home games this season will be unlike any other in the past.

“The in-game experience has to be ramped up dramatically,” McKay said Tuesday during the South Hall Business Coalition meeting at the Falcons complex in Flowery Branch. “We focus on the experience from driveway to driveway and what value can we bring to you?”

The main concerns with attendance deal with the rising popularity — and convenience — of buying a nice television and the NFL game package and watching the games from home.

“The in-home experience has changed,” McKay said. “When you can by a 100-inch TV for $4,000, that’s a lot different than when they all cost $100,000.”

Aside from people watching in the comfort of their own home, the Falcons also must focus on getting fans to attend in a downtown location filled with congestion and parking issues. While they have a few plans in place to alleviate those concerns in the next couple of years, the Falcons are thinking long-term and realize building a new stadium is inevitable. Atlanta has played its home games for 18 years at the Georgia Dome and owner Arthur Blank has spent an estimated $34 million in renovations and upgrades.

“We’re approaching a next generational stadium opportunity,” McKay said. “The focus on the new stadium has been downtown, and that will remain our focus.”

McKay divulged the location, but he wouldn’t give a definitive answer on whether or not the facility will be indoors, outdoors, or have a retractable roof.

“We have a preference, but we’re going to have to wait,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of work on it, but we’re going to have to think about it.”

The Falcons have also done plenty of work on building a team fans want to pay to see, especially when the offense and quarterback Matt Ryan are on the field. Ryan, who was hampered by a foot injury last year, has won 20 games and passed for more than 6,000 yards in his first two years with the Falcons. His success is due to the wealth of playmakers at his disposal — running back Michael Turner, tight end Tony Gonzalez and wide receiver Roddy White to name a few — and a coach, general manager and owner willing to do what it takes to build a winner.

That’s been evident in the first two years under general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith, as the team surprised everyone by reaching the playoffs in 2008 and had its first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history last year.

With the offense in place, the recent history of winning, and a defense constantly adding pieces, the Falcons enter the 2010 season with confidence.

“This is the third year of our system and you should see some good come out of it,” McKay said. “Having the quarterback in place we have, is a positive, but you don’t win because of one player.

“You put yourself in a position to win consistently,” he added. “When the opportunities come, you have to try and win a championship.”

The Falcons haven’t come close to a Super Bowl since 2004 when they lost in the NFC Championship game to the Philadelphia Eagles. But that was a different era of Falcons football

“We have a pretty good foundation for winning,” McKay said. “Our owner has a big impact and the owners who are committed to winning, and wake up focused on winning usually win.”

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