Stadium Review - Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA

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There are few things that pop in the Atlanta night. There’s the Westin, the Bank of America building that looks like a pencil, and now there is the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which absolutely glistens. The new home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United FC is the city’s $1.6 billion diamond ring they hope keeps the NFL, MLS and a number of major events in town for a lifetime, or at least 25 years.  It is the most expensive stadium in the world currently open, eventually to be surpassed by the Los Angeles and Las Vegas football stadiums.  Money aside, it is beautiful, as it should be.  It looks big, and definitely feels bigger inside than its 71,000 seat capacity, but without swallowing up the crowd. We were fortunate enough to be at one of the first events held here, the Tennessee - Georgia Tech Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game.

Getting to the stadium can be easy, depending on Atlanta traffic, but we’re based here and familiarity plays a huge role in that variable.  There are roughly 23,000 parking spots within a mile or so of the stadium, so parking could be limited if everybody drove.  Fortunately, there is a Marta stop right there (same stop as the old Georgia Dome), and we highly recommend using the public transit or at least a car service, since odds are you’ll be drinking.  The Falcons have an arrangement with Lyft to provide 150 cars for after games at two designated areas outside the stadium to cut down on wait times.

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The entry points for the stadium are set away from the building as an obvious security measure but serves a dual purpose by creating outdoor plaza space where food trucks and beer stands are set up and ticket holders can step out for “fresh air” without having to leave the premises.  It’s reminiscent of the sectional gate entry points you find at European soccer stadiums. Outside, one can’t help but take note of the massive Falcon on a football sculpture that greets the fans.  It is one of over 100 commissioned original works of art at the stadium, but it is the only one impressive enough to make us stop and ask “How?” and “Why?”.

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Through the doors, the concourse is spacious. The entire stadium has an airy and open quality to it, even with the roof closed.  Another general observation of the concourse is that if you threw carpet down it would be nicer than most club levels from 20 years ago.  There are 15 permanent bars outside of club level, all with a pretty good view of the field, depending on how crowded they are, and there are food and drink options out the wazoo between the many restaurants, bars and carts.  As locals, we would literally try something different every time we come here.

The concessions have been much talked about for their prices, quality, and options.  The prices are great as far as your traditional stadium fare goes. Domestic beer  (12oz.) is $5, peanuts, pizza, nachos and fries are $3, bottled water, hot dogs and popcorn are $2, non-alcoholic beverages are $2 with unlimited refills.  Where they get you is with the quality and options, because once you see that you can get a 12 oz. Terrapin Hopsecutioner for $7 and a bowl of Mongolian Beef stir-fry for $12 it’s a little harder to talk yourself back into that Budweiser and hot dog. Yes, $12 Mongolian beef seems outrageous until you find the quality is comparable to a local restaurant, Doc Chey’s, where the same dish goes for $11.

There were complaints of lines at concessions during the FSU-Alabama game, but we never saw a line in the double digits, and never waited behind more than three people for a drink or bite to eat. That doesn’t mean lines weren’t an issue somewhere, after all we were there to watch a football game, not inspect their line management.  They may have staffed up for this game, or the people complaining are drawn to long lines because they think they’re getting something better.  Having said that, the longest lines we saw were at the bathrooms.

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Inside the bowl, your eyes gravitate to three things, the glass façade at the northeast end of the stadium, the halo screen and the roof.  The roof and it’s far-fetched concept (I’m sure it worked brilliantly as a balsa wood model when first pitched) are supposed to be the crown jewel of the building, but it is the halo screen that truly is the showstopper.  It’s way cooler and more ingenious in person than we anticipated.  It didn’t fully make sense to us before, and we thought it was purely a design element. The functionality of the 63,000 square foot LED board, tells you how thoroughly this building was thought through.  It’s large enough that the curvature creates little distortion, it’s high enough that it’s not distracting like the screens in Dallas.  It isn’t even in your line of sight while you watch the play, but it’s a simple lift of the head away for the replay without a strain on the neck.

The roof is still cool, but nobody will ever actually see that thing open in 12 minutes, and if it were up to us, it would always be open for games.  It is scheduled to open for the first time during a game Sunday night when the Green Bay Packers visit the Atlanta Falcons. With the roof closed, it definitely gets loud and this was for a 50/50 crowd, although the balance was in favor of Tennessee.  We’d be interested to hear it when the Falcons are playing, or when the crowd is more one-sided like when Alabama plays their 9th home game of the season here, aka the SEC Championship.

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As big and beautiful as the Benz is, and for all the fancy bells and whistles it has to offer, if watching a game here wasn’t enjoyable, it wouldn’t be worth it.  Since it does feel open and airy, even with the roof closed, and because the lighting of the field is brighter and cleaner and the acoustics properly reverberate the crowd’s energy, it is enjoyable.  The energy is felt throughout the building.  Watching football at the Georgia Dome was simply dull, whereas Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a Pantheon of a building, one that fans should enjoy for a long time, because if they don’t it’s just a giant waste of money.