September 23, 2018 Atlanta: Atlanta Falcons fans sit dejected in the stands after falling 43-37 to the New Orleans Saints during overtime in an NFL football game on Sunday, Sept 23, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Blank ‘concerned’ about no-shows at Falcons games last season

Falcons owner Arthur Blank is “concerned” about the high number of “no shows” at the team’s games last season. 

“We are always concerned about that, and that’s a factor across the league,” Blank told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution via phone from NFL meetings in Phoenix on Tuesday.  

The Falcons announced average attendance of 72,898 at their eight regular-season home games last season, but actually drew almost 9,000 fewer per game to the stadium — an average of 64,022. Three times during a disappointing season, the Falcons’ real attendance was more than 11,000 below the announced figure. For the home finale, the crowd was 15,614 fewer than announced.

The team announces tickets distributed versus an actual turnstile count of fans in the building.

After entering the season perceived as Super Bowl contenders, the Falcons finished with a 7-9 record amid a rash of injuries that saw players who started the opening game miss 80 games collectively. 

Blank knows that winning would help, but other factors may also explain the high numbers.

“So, we have to make sure that we are doing everything that we can do, and that means making sure that our team is as competitive as it possibly can be,” Blank said. “Make sure it has the leadership to generate the kind of results that are important to all of us.” 

In addition to the team being good or at least contending, the fan experience at the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium is vital.

“Then making sure that we are responding to what we know is important to the fans, whether it be the food and beverage, concession pricing, values and speed of service and the quality and quantity that we’ve put in place,” Blank said. 

The cash-less program is being received well. “You have to continue to find ways that we can listen to our fans and respond to any issues that they have,” Blank said. “But obviously, winning is an important part of that, but it’s not the only part. 

“Most fans come to these games and (Atlanta United) matches … and they have aspirations that we’d win. They understand that there is parity built into all of these leagues and that these games are always competitive. You don’t always get the chance to win 16 games.”

Blank also discussed the sale of about 10 percent of the Falcons for $300 million to limited partners. The deal was approved Monday. 

“It’s really completely about our foundation,” Blank said. “Our family foundation since 1995 has granted something north of $400 million. We want to step that up significantly in the next five or six years. To do that, we sold a relatively small piece of the Falcons to some limited partners. One of which is new and other of which are partners that we’ve had for a while.”

The NFL Finance Committee and full ownership approved the private transaction that transferred a minority percentage of the Falcons’ ownership to one new limited partner, Alan Kestenbaum, and to two existing limited partners: Doug Hertz and Ron Canakaris. 

The other limited partners include Warrick Dunn, Derek Smith, Ed Mendel and Brian Barker.

Kestenbaum, a Canadian Steel company chief executive officer, was a bidder for the Carolina Panthers last season. The Panthers were sold for $2.2 billion to David Tepper. The Falcons are valued at $3 billion. 

Blank remains the team’s principal owner and retains a clear majority of ownership.

“Just a way to fund our foundation,” Blank said. “It’s certainly has nothing to do with long-term. Our intent is to keep the franchise in the family and keep it operating for many, many years to come.”

While working the sale through, Blank said Atlanta was getting a lot of positive feedback for hosting Super Bowl LIII. 

“The league will ask this summer do we have an interest (in hosting a future Super Bowl), and the answer is going to be yes,” Blank said. “I would say this to you, based on the commentary during the last couple of days at the meetings here that other owners and league folks could not have been happier with the way things developed in Atlanta this year.

“Our revenues were up extensively. Our expenses were down.”

It was the third time Atlanta hosted the Super Bowl, but there was a long drought after Super Bowl XXXIV, which was marred by a ice storm. 

“For the Super Bowl itself, the stadium could not have operated better,” Blank said. “Atlanta, as group of 7 million citizens, did a fabulous job in bringing the world to Atlanta.

“So, everybody was excited about that. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get back in line for that. There are a lot of competing cities and a lot of competition, but I think we are in a good place.”

The Blank family also is waiting the delivery of a new $180 million super yacht.

“Yeah, I’m excited about,” Blank said. “It’s coming along well. It’s got one more trip to Holland and then there will be a couple of months of sea trials, and then our family hopes to use it this summer. We are excited about it.”  

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