Falcons being investigated for fake crowd noise; could lose draft pick

PHOENIX – The Atlanta Falcons are being investigated for piping in fake crowd noise through the Georgia Dome’s sound system for the past two seasons.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank at the Phoenix Convention Center discussing the team. (By D. Orlando Ledbetter/DLedbetter@ajc.com)

If the allegations, which were first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter, are true the Falcons could be fined and possibly lose a draft choice.

(AJC columnist Jeff Schultz on this latest development -- Another possible embarrassment for the Falcons: Fake crowd noise)

“We were informed during the season that the league office is looking into crowd noise during our games,”  Falcons spokesman Reggie Roberts told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday. “We have cooperated fully with them, and we’re awaiting the outcome."

Atlanta is accused of piping in the noise while the opposing team was huddling, trying to call its play. The tactics originated from the Falcons' game operations department.

Stadium officials are allowed to use stadium audio until 20 seconds remain on the play clock, 10 seconds longer than previous years. Video boards can incite crowds to make noise throughout a visiting team's play when previously it had to be discontinued with 30 seconds left on the play clock.

The Dome has not been rocking much since the Falcons defeated Seattle in the division round of the playoffs in 2013. After losing in the NFC championship game to the San Francisco 49ers, the Falcons have posted a 10-22 record and have lost their "Dome" field advantage.

Ironically, during last season the Falcons had to use silent counts because of crowd noise from the visiting teams' fans who overtook the Georgia Dome.

Thousands of Falcons fans fled the Dome once the Bears took a two-touchdown lead on Oct. 12, 2014. The large contingent of Bears fans stayed and were so noisy it was difficult for the Falcons’ offensive players to communicate before the snap.

“Believe it or not for a home game, we had to go to a silent count because there was enough noise in the dome,” former Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “Noise always echoes both for us and against us. That’s only the second time since I’ve been here that we had to go to a silent count at home.”

Koetter, who was in his third season with the Falcons, said he couldn’t recall the other time that happened at the Dome. He said it might have been during their 33-10 loss to the Seahawks last season. He has since left to join the staff of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In that Chicago game, quarterback Matt Ryan had to call a timeout in the fourth quarter because Falcons players couldn’t hear once they lined up and the play clock was close to expiring. He said he can’t recall ever having to use a silent count in the Dome.

“But it’s one of those things where when you don’t play particularly well … ” Ryan said, trailing off. “We’ve been good at home in the past and that gets our fans going. Our fans have been great since I’ve been here. But it was a tough one.”

Back in 2007 at the old RCA Dome, the Patriots accused the Indianapolis Colts of pumping in artificial crowd when Tom Brady was trying to call signals.

CBS-TV and the NFL said the mistake was not the Colts, but network’s error. It said that an unusual audio moment from the production truck was the cause of the noise.

Over the years, there have been suspicions of noise being piped into the now demolished Minneapolis Metrodome. Where the sound unofficially registered 118-decibel levels during the Vikings' divisional playoff victory over Dallas in January 2010.

Seattle set the standard when their crowd of 68,331 at outdoor CenturyLink Field registered a noise level of 131.9 decibels during their victory over the 49ers in 2013.

The Seahawks claimed that they broke the previous Guinness World Record of 131.7 decibels, set two years ago during a soccer match in Turkey.

Generally, 130 decibels are considered dangerous enough to cause hearing damage, much like standing next to a jet engine.

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.