The first game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium kicked off Saturday night without much grand-opening pomp and pageantry, without speeches from dignitaries.
That was a reflection of how the Falcons organization approached the night – a dress rehearsal for bigger shows ahead.
“We wanted to try everything and have people give us feedback,” Falcons President and CEO Rich McKay said, “but we’ve got a lot of other things from an entertainment factor you did not see tonight and you won’t see until Sept. 17th.”
The Falcons will wait until then — their first regular-season home game — for the customary stadium-opening ceremonies and tributes, McKay said.
“If you’re looking for something along those lines, look for the 17th,” he said.
After all, a nationally televised game against the Green Bay Packers, a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship game in the Georgia Dome, will make a much bigger stage than an August exhibition game.
The stadium will host six more events before then: a Falcons-Jacksonville Jaguars exhibition game Thursday, two Chick-fil-A Kickoff college football games (Alabama vs. Florida State and Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee) on Labor Day weekend and Atlanta United matches on Sept. 10, Sept. 13 and Sept. 16.
For starters, the stadium performed well and drew overwhelmingly positive reviews from fans Saturday night. In fact, it clearly outperformed the Falcons, who lost 24-14 to the Arizona Cardinals.
The stadium’s debut showed off how much can be bought with $1.5 billion and how much can be fitted into 2 million square feet of space.
The massive 360-degree halo-shaped video board dazzled, even though the programming of it was intentionally restrained for the first night. The 16-story-tall “window to the city” drew throngs of people throughout the game to the two sky-bridges that overlook both the skyline and the field. The use of lighting to cast the exterior of the building in red after dark made a statement.
But, predictably, there also were a few snags.
“Most buildings open with a couple of glitches here and there,” McKay said.
Some concession stands had long waits and others ran low on food. One fan reported that a barbecue stand ran out of buns and a pizza place ran out of pizza.
“I think we got a little overrun on the food side,” McKay said.
The positive in that, he added, was strong food-and-beverage sales.
Some fans questioned why the full stadium wasn’t accessible as soon as the large gathering space behind the east zone opened at 4 p.m. That space quickly filled, prompting officials to open the rest of the stadium slightly ahead of the scheduled 5 p.m.
Another issue was with the sound in the AT&T Perch, a high-tech space above the west end zone.
“I think we’ve got some things in the Perch we need to work on,” McKay said. “I think sound doesn’t come all the way back into the Perch. OK, we hadn’t thought of that. We had thought about the fact the sound is supposed to come to the edge. We’ll figure that out.”
One fan expressed surprise that there is no direct access from the concourse to several prime lower-level seating sections. According to the Falcons, that setup is due to the location of lower-level suites behind those seats and the expectation the sections typically will be accessed from the premium club below.
And then there was one complaint the Falcons didn’t see coming.
“We’ve probably got to add some drink rails in the men’s bathrooms,” McKay said. “I had a guy walk up to me and say, ‘It’s the greatest place I’ve ever been, but I just didn’t have a place to put my beer.’ I said, ‘I got it. We’re on it.’”
Overall, there were no evident technological glitches other than with the retractable roof, which was closed for the game because it is not yet fully mechanized, and with the officiating crew’s microphone.
Work resumed on the roof Sunday, when it was opened as part of the continuing process of adjusting and measuring its mechanization. The plan is to re-close the roof Monday. It had been moved four times previously.
“The building functioned well (Saturday),” McKay said. “The video boards functioned well. We had zero WiFi issues that I know of. The points-of-sale (equipment) held up well. … Ingress was very good.”
But he said he expects some adjustments to be made based on fans’ opening-night feedback.
The announced attendance was 70,237, which overstated the crowd in the building because it included all tickets distributed, including season tickets. McKay said he didn’t have the actual attendance count yet, although it was larger than a typical exhibition game until a second-half exodus.
It was a night for first impressions, for gawking and absorbing and, in many cases, marveling. To some extent, that even applied to the Falcons’ quarterback.
“I caught myself, especially during warm-ups,” Matt Ryan said after the game. “I was making sure I was taking everything in and getting used to … the surroundings. It’s a pretty impressive (video) board, for sure.”
Falcons coach Dan Quinn began his postgame news conference by acknowledging “the thousands of men and women that have really poured a lot of their energy, time and heart into this stadium.”
“It’s unbelievable,” Quinn said of the stadium.
Late in the night, a stadium worker stepped onto an elevator with maybe a half-dozen people on board.
“Everybody enjoy themselves?” he asked. “For $1.5 billion, I would hope so.”
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