When Arthur Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons, first began conceptualizing Mercedes-Benz Stadium, he had two goals in mind.
One, he wanted to make it the most fan-friendly sports and entertainment venue on the planet.
Two, he wanted it to become an iconic landmark for Atlanta.
After touring the stadium days before its official opening, I’m inclined to say he’s succeeded on both fronts.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a glittering goliath located just minutes from the heart of downtown Atlanta, is unlike anything the world has ever seen. Its uniqueness is apparent as soon as you walk toward the main entrance and a 73,000-pound falcon statue—the largest bird sculpture on earth—greets you.
A photo of the statue from earlier this year (via Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
As you make your way inside, the first thing you notice is the magnificent “Halo Board,” a 360-degree video board that surrounds the building’s retractable roof. The Halo Board is 58 feet high and 1,075 feet long—longer than the Eiffel Tower. The circular display allows any fan inside the venue to have an unprecedented amount of video board in their eyeline. For example, a fan could comfortably view 7-8 different NFL games from their seat.
The board makes up 37.1 million of the 62.5 million LEDs inside the facility—the most total square footage of LED displays at any stadium ever created. All of this LED real estate allows the production team tons of creative flexibility when it comes to “painting that canvas” with stats, highlights, social feeds, replays, theatrics and advertisements.
But the Halo Board is just one of several engineering marvels inside the stadium. Another is the “Window to the City,” a 10-story, floor-to-ceiling translucent structure that allows fans views of the Atlanta skyline. The window is made out of a material called ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, or ETFE. ETFE is lighter than glass, resistant to high temperatures and allows in a tremendous amount of natural light.
The stadium’s retractable roof also makes use of ETFE. The roof consists of eight independent petals that can open/close in about 11 minutes, mimicking the movement of a camera shutter. The interior of the stadium has also been water-proofed, meaning that the roof can be opened despite a threat of inclement weather. Although there are still some minor kinks to be ironed out, I was told that the Falcons will “100%” be playing games with the roof open this fall.
Photo courtesy of HHRM/Aerial Innovations
Creating these architectural wonders took an unbelievable amount of material, manpower and money. The stadium was built with 28,000 tons of steel and required the use of the world’s largest movable crane. For comparison, U.S. Bank Stadium, the Minnesota Viking’s new home, was built with 18,000 tons of steel. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is estimated to cost $1.6 billion. Dallas’s AT&T Stadium—a.k.a. “Jerry World”—cost $1.2 billion. The translucent nature of much of the stadium coupled with an impressive LED lighting system will allow Mercedes-Benz Stadium to be seen from space.
But what about fan friendly?
In my opinion, the “Fan First Pricing” might be the most attractive aspect of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium experience. With concession prices becoming exorbitantly high at venues across America, stadium officials in Atlanta decided to make their food and beverage prices revolutionarily reasonable.
A hot dog will run you $2. Same for a soft pretzel, a water bottle, a popcorn or a refillable Coca-Cola soda cup (the stadium features numerous “refill” soda stations that allow fans to top off their pop without the hassle of waiting in line or interacting with an employee). Nachos, waffle fries and a slice of pizza are $3. These core menu items are extremely affordable compared to what’s become the status quo around the league (a hot dog cost $6.75 at an Oakland Raiders’ game last season, for example). The stadium also features more gourmet options—such as renowned Atlanta chef Kevin Gillespie’s “Gamechanger” concept—but the prices at these stops are still much more reasonable than what you’d find for comparable food options in other stadiums (try Gamechanger’s “Closed-on-Sunday chicken sandwich” if you get the chance. Just trust me).
Ever find your phone incapable of sending a tweet or text message from inside a packed stadium? I know I have. To combat this problem, Mercedes-Benz Stadium includes 1,800 wireless access points—50% more than what you’ll find inside the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium. Connect to the stadium’s free AT&T wifi (no password needed), and you’re good to go. Officials boast that 71,000 fans inside the stadium can stream video concurrently thanks to this advanced wireless system. Don’t worry about your iPhone running out of juice before halftime, either—a dizzying amount of outlets and USB ports are peppered throughout the complex in case you need a charge.
Falcons fans should also find their seats more comfortable than what they were accustomed to at the Georgia Dome—95-percent of the seats inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium are 21 inches wide, compared to 19 inches wide in the Georgia Dome. Speaking of seats, scalability was also a focus during the construction of the stadium. This is important, as both the Falcons and Atlanta United (an expansion MLS team currently in its first season of play) will call Mercedes-Benz Stadium home. Capacity can quickly change from 43,000 for a soccer match to 73,000 for a football game to 83,000 for the NCAA Final Four (officials also say these numbers can easily come up or down depending on demand).
Hundreds of other small details throughout the stadium look to enhance the fan experience. For example, in the “100 Yard Club”—essentially a 100-yard bar located on the upper concourse—the yard markers painted on the ground exactly mirror the yard markers down on the field. So when you tell your buddy you’re on the 50-Yard line, they’ll know exactly where to meet you.
While we’ll have to wait to see how the stadium responds to the burden of 70,000-plus rowdy fans, on paper, the fan experience looks to be unrivaled.
The kicker behind all of this is the fact that Mercedes-Benz Stadium is incredibly eco-friendly. According to stadium officials, the complex is on track to receive a coveted Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum Certification. That’s the highest certification LEED awards, and should the stadium receive it (they’ll find out officially in October), it would be both the first NFL and the first MLS stadium to do so. The design of Mercedes-Benz Stadium allows it to use 47% less water than a typical build and 29% less energy than a typical build. 4,000 solar PV panels are installed on the stadium site, and the goal is to have them generate roughly 1.6 million kilowatt hours per year of renewable energy. That’d be enough energy to power more than nine Atlanta Falcons home games.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a marvel in every sense of the word. It’s hard to appreciate just how awesome of a complex it is without experiencing it in person. With the stadium slated to host events like the 2018 College Football Championship, the 2019 Super Bowl and the 2020 NCAA Final Four, you’ll have plenty of excuses to stop by.