Falcons hit with fake-noise penalties

Who knew fake noise could cost so much?

Money, a player and two professional reputations took a hit in the aftermath of the Atlanta Falcons’ fake crowd noise scandal.

The Falcons found out the cost on Monday as they were fined $350,000, will forfeit a fifth-round pick in the 2016 draft and team president Rich McKay was suspended from the powerful competition committee by the NFL for violating the league’s crowd noise rules.

Also, longtime director of event marketing, Roddy White, was terminated by the team.

“The Atlanta Falcons have acknowledged the use of pre-recorded crowd noise in violation of NFL rules during home games throughout the 2013 season and into the 2014 season until the club was notified last November that the violation had been identified,” said Troy Vincent, the NFL’s senior vice president of football operations in a statement. “The rule states that ‘at no point during the game can artificial crowd noise or amplified crowd noise be played in the stadium.’ ”

The Falcons cooperated fully and admitted to the violations. White, who’d been with the team since 2002, was directly responsible for the violation, according to the NFL.

The timing of the penalty comes at a bad time for the franchise, which is seeking to raise funds for the new stadium through a premium seat license program.

The Falcons began selling PSLs on Jan. 12 for about 7,700 club seats, at prices ranging from $10,000 to $45,000 apiece. As of Thursday, the team had deposited down payments totaling $7,501,000 into a bank account managed by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, according to figures obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from the GWCCA, the state agency that will own the stadium.

“What took place was wrong and nowhere near the standards by which we run our business,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said in a statement. “Anytime there are actions that compromise the integrity of the NFL or threaten the culture of our franchise, as this issue did, they will be dealt with swiftly and strongly.”

If the Falcons have multiple picks in the fifth round next season, the highest selection will be forfeited.

The New Orleans Saints were the last team to forfeit picks. The Saints forfeited their second-round picks in 2012 and 2013 after the Bounty Gate scandal. They were also fined $500,000.

The league was set to suspend White, a native of Marietta who went to Wheeler High and the University of Georgia, without pay for the first eight weeks of the 2015 regular season. If White is employed by another NFL team during the 2015 season, the league may require him to serve some or all of this suspension.

White did not immediately return a phone call from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The NFL determined that Blank and McKay were unaware of the use of the audio file with “artificial crowd noise.”

“However, McKay, as the senior club executive overseeing game operations, bears some responsibility for ensuring that team employees comply with league rules,” Vincent said. “As a result, McKay will be suspended from the competition committee beginning April 1.”

McKay’s suspension could be just three-months. He can apply to commissioner Roger Goodell for reinstatement after June 30.

White was still employed by the Falcons earlier this month. On March 5, he declined comment on the investigation and referred all questions to the team’s communications department.

“The league conducted a thorough investigation of this matter, and we cooperated fully,” Blank said. “We understand the penalties imposed and their impact on our team, and we will not appeal the league’s decisions. Further, we have addressed the matter internally and taken actions to ensure that something like this does not happen again.”

The violations turned up in the regular league audit of sound levels. The Falcons were 3-5 in 2013 and 3-4 in 2014 at home while attempting to get a competitive advantage from the fake noise.

“The Falcons and all of our other businesses are built upon a foundation of values that drive our decision making,” Blank said. “This issue was a clear failure in that regard. I apologize for any embarrassment this situation has caused the NFL, our fans, and our Falcons players and associates.”