When the Falcons play their home opener Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, fans will notice some changes at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The changes since last season include the stadium’s new cashless policy and a new on-field pregame show the Falcons are launching in hopes of getting more fans in their seats before kickoff.
“We have reimagined that whole lead-up to kickoff,” said Harry Hynekamp, the Falcons’ vice president of fan experience. “We are trying to create this visceral emotional moment where you will want to be in your seat because it will charge you up.”
Other changes include a new artificial turf playing surface, new concession-stand offerings and a larger role for Falcons supporters organization ATL CAST.
Here’s a closer look at what’s new at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the Falcons’ third season there:
The cashless policy
You no longer can use cash to buy a hot dog, a beer or anything else inside the stadium. The cashless policy, which requires payment with credit cards, debit cards or mobile services (such as Apple Pay), will make its Falcons regular-season debut after being in place throughout the Atlanta United season.
The Falcons will be the only NFL team with a cashless stadium this season, although that likely will change in the future. Greg Beadles, the Falcons’ executive vice president and chief financial and administrative officer, said teams in every major U.S. sports league have expressed interest in the concept.
For fans without credit or debit cards, Mercedes-Benz Stadium has 10 kiosks at which cash can be loaded onto prepaid debit cards with no transaction fee. Those cards then can be used for purchases inside the stadium or anywhere else Visa cards are accepted.
“It has gone better than we expected from a number of different metrics,” Beadles said of the stadium’s transition to cashless. “Since March 10 (when the policy was implemented), we have had over 1 million people come through the building, and right now we are at only 1.2% of them using the cash-to-card kiosks.”
The change could be an adjustment for many Falcons fans, though. Fifty-one percent of them used cash for purchases at the stadium in 2017, and more than 30% still did so at the end of last season, even though some concession stands had stopped accepting cash by then. But Beadles said the Falcons’ two home exhibition games last month “give us some comfort” because only about 2% of attendees used the cash-to-card kiosks.
The fan experience
The Falcons have developed a new plan for pregame festivities -- a high-energy show for which they’re asking fans to be in their seats about a half-hour before kickoff. The show will begin on the halo-shaped video board and extend to performances on the field.
“I would describe it as … revving up the engines for all fans to a peak and fever pitch by the time kickoff happens, more so than ever before,” Hynekamp said. The goal, he said, is to create “maximum energy to have an impact on game day.”
It’s an acknowledgement there is much work to be done in that area. The Falcons are 9-7 in regular-season home games since the stadium opened.
The Falcons also plan to increasingly involve ATL CAST, the supporters club with more than 1,000 members, in trying to amplify and energize the game-day atmosphere. The group will hold a pregame “Bird walk” from their tailgate area into the stadium, and pockets of seats in lower-level corners and elsewhere were made available for purchase by members of the organization.
“We are really trying to create home-field advantage, both in the stadium and across the entire city of Atlanta and metro area,” Falcons vice president and chief marketing officer Morgan Shaw Parker said. “We’re trying to bring the team, the fans and the city closer together.”
Efforts around the city will include expanded programs in elementary schools, at high school football games and at other community events, she said. The Falcons also intend to encourage the revival of the Dirty Bird celebration dance created during the team’s Super Bowl run in 1998.
Fans at the home opener will receive a red cellphone light cover to use in “turning the stadium red” just before kickoff on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
Other stadium changes
- New concession offerings include, among others, Fred’s Meat & Bread cheesesteak sandwich at a cart near section 116, a Garden Grill vegan stand at section 107, a Hot Pressed grilled cheese stand in the 100-Yard Club on the 300 level and H&F burgers in the Mercedes-Benz and Delta Sky360 clubs.
- Hot dogs, which famously cost $2 the past two Falcons seasons, were reduced to $1.50 this year. Prices of several other food items also were trimmed by 50 cents. However, sales tax of 8.9% is now added to each purchase, whereas tax was included in the posted prices the past two years. That effectively means an 8.9% increase in the total cost of items that have the same posted price as before.
- The Falcons will play on a new artificial turf surface, which was installed in April. The stadium’s previous turf, FieldTurf’s “Revolution 360” system, was replaced with a newer FieldTurf system called “CORE,” which the company said is “designed to deliver a more realistic, textured, grass-like shape with optimal durability and resiliency.”
- The player columns in the 100-Yard Club, which have become popular spots for selfie photos, have been redesigned to make them more Instagram-friendly. They feature updated images of Falcons players on and off the field, along with a collection of sayings and slogans.