For many months, NFL officials have said they hoped to play Super Bowl LIII with Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s famous retractable roof open.
They’re still clinging to those hopes, albeit tenuously.
“We have not yet officially (made the open-or-closed decision),” the NFL’s top Super Bowl executive, Peter O’Reilly, said. “We are still watching the weather forecast for Sunday, and that’ll be the decision point -- temperature and precipitation.”
But O’Reilly, NFL senior vice president of events, conceded which way the decision may be leaning for Sunday’s 6:30 p.m. game: “I think it’s more likely that we’re closed,” he said, “given that the reality is even if the temperature is (high enough to open the roof during the day) you’re going into the night in that game, so the temperature will dip down. You could end up with a pretty different condition from pregame to end-of-game. But we’re watching it closely.”
Even if the roof is closed for the game -- and NFL executives stressed that remains an open question -- league and stadium officials said it could be open for part of the pregame festivities, providing an opportunity to showcase its operation on the big stage of the Super Bowl.
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“I think you’ll see the roof in some form be operable,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said. “The NFL would like to see it operable. We’d like to see it operable. I think that’s what the plans are. How much and long it will be open, I’m not sure. But I think you’ll have a chance to see that.
“We want the world to see it,” Blank said. “CBS (which will televise the game and seven hours of pregame programming) wants us to show it as well.”
Showing it off is important to the Falcons because the one-of-a-kind roof is a signature -- and hard-earned -- feature of the $1.5 billion stadium. The roof’s complexity caused months of construction delays and hundreds of millions of dollars in costs. The roof was still not fully operable when the stadium opened in 2017, drawing derision.
But after much additional work on it, the roof was declared fully functional by stadium officials last summer. Since then, they have been able to open or close it in about eight minutes, as designed. So they want the massive Super Bowl television audience to see it in action.
But unlike at Falcons games, where team officials make the decision on whether to play with the roof open or closed, the NFL will make the call for Super Bowl Sunday.
League officials are keeping abreast of hour-to-hour changes in the weather forecast, which as of Tuesday called for a low temperature of 48 degrees Sunday night, after a high of 62 earlier in the day, and a chance of occasional rain showers.
“Precipitation, which there is a chance of, obviously would keep us from opening it,” NFL senior director of event operations Eric Finkelstein said.
Barring precipitation, the Falcons generally will consider having the roof open for their games if the temperature is forecast to stay above 52 or 53 degrees, maybe a bit higher for night games, team president and CEO Rich McKay said.
Standing on the field of Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, Finkelstein glanced toward the roof and said: “If all things cooperate, we would love nothing more than to be able to feature that as part of game day.”
The stadium gates will open 4-1/2 hours before kickoff, stretching game day far beyond the game itself. That has raised the possibility of incorporating a roof opening/closing into the pregame festivities.
“We are considering a few different options,” Finkelstein said. Not an option for competitive reasons is opening the roof for part of the game and then closing it. “We want the game to be played in like conditions throughout,” Finkelstein said.
The NFL hasn’t set a deadline for a decision. It could come as late as Sunday afternoon, or it could come days earlier, depending on how the weather forecast evolves.
“If we had certainty on the weather, we’d probably make a decision sooner than later,” Finkelstein said. “But with the weather patterns still not really known at this point, we’ll just wait and see how things play out to make the final decision. And even if we think we’re going one direction, if the weather takes a turn, that could change things anyway.”
The roof was open for five of the Falcons’ 10 home games this season (four of eight during the regular season and one of two in the preseason). That was not quite as often as team officials had hoped, but it was more than typical for retractable-roof stadiums in the NFL.
“For me, that’s a game or two less than we would like,” McKay, the Falcons’ CEO, said. “We’re going to try to get to a rhythm of six or seven out of 10, but it’s just 100 percent weather-driven. We like the roof being open. It works really well for us. We like the atmosphere it creates.”
Scott Jenkins, general manager of the stadium, was asked if he is lobbying the NFL to open the roof on Super Bowl Sunday.
“I wouldn’t say I’m lobbying, but I’m making sure they know we’re ready,” Jenkins said.