For each of the Falcons’ final two home games of a disappointing 2018 season, the team announced attendance of more than 72,000 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But the actual attendance for those games was considerably less: an average of about 58,500.
The discrepancy came to light through attendance figures provided to the Georgia World Congress Center Authority for December events at the stadium.
For events ranging from Falcons games to college football games to the MLS Cup championship match, the figures provided to the GWCCA, which has an oversight role over the stadium, were lower than the attendance announced at the events.
The figures were submitted after a Congress Center staff member e-mailed a stadium revenue manager on Jan. 9 with this request: “Can you please provide us with the actual attendance numbers for events and tours in December 2018?”
Pro and college sports organizations, including the Falcons organization, which operates Mercedes-Benz Stadium, typically don’t reveal “actual attendance numbers,” instead announcing a higher number based on tickets distributed for an event. That generally is a misleading measure because it includes all tickets sold or given away, whether used or not.
But for the December events, the numbers provided to the GWCCA were the turnstile counts, a spokeswoman for the stadium and Falcons parent company AMB Group said last week.
Turnstile counts, which are recorded as fans scan their tickets and enter the stadium, are the most accurate measure of the number of people actually in attendance.
These are the figures provided to the GWCCA -- and obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday through an open-records request -- and how they compare to the announced attendance:
> Falcons game vs. the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 2: 60,626, compared to an announced 72,262.
> Falcons game vs. the Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 16: 56,470, compared to an announced 72,084.
> SEC Championship Game on Dec. 1: 69,614, versus an announced 77,141.
> MLS Cup on Dec. 8: 69,004, versus an announced Atlanta United franchise record of 73,019.
> Georgia high school football state championship games on Dec. 11-12: 45,605, consistent with the announced figure.
> Celebration Bowl on Dec. 15: 20,609, versus an announced 31,672.
> Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 29: 68,413, versus an announced 74,006.
Also during December, 5,533 people went on stadium tours and 4,920 attended private events in the stadium, according to the figures provided to the GWCCA.
The Falcons’ actual attendance for their final two home games was a reflection of fan dissatisfaction with a 7-9 season.
The season began with the Falcons hoping to reach Super Bowl LIII in their home stadium but was quickly derailed by injuries and a 1-4 start. Then, after climbing to .500 with a three-game winning streak, the Falcons lost five in a row before winning their home finale and last two road games.
For the Falcons’ home finale, 15,614 tickets went unused -- about 22 percent of all tickets, based on the difference between the turnstile count and the “tickets distributed.” The number of empty seats during the game against Arizona may have appeared even larger than that when factoring in fans who were in attendance but remained in the stadium’s clubs or concourses during the game.
The SEC, meanwhile, said it included several components in addition to “tickets distributed” in arriving at its football championship game’s announced attendance, which exceeded the stadium’s listed seating capacity.
“Our attendance figure includes tickets distributed, credentialed VIPs, participating team bands and credentialed media,” SEC associate commissioner Herb Vincent said by email.
The “actual attendance” for the MLS Cup final, as reported to the GWCCA, was less than 70,000 even though Atlanta United’s announced attendance – or number of tickets distributed – topped 70,000 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium 10 times over the past two seasons.
The takeaway from the December discrepancies is that when you hear attendance announced at pro and college sports events, you can’t take it literally.
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC