“One night we’re Atlanta United, the next day we’re Atlanta Falcons”

Words by Katie Puckett

Popcorn and sweet treat at the Mercedes Benz stadium putting customer first

The 70,000-seat Mercedes-Benz stadium has multiple identities — but always puts fans first

If there’s one thing sports fans love as much as the game, it’s the stats. Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz stadium doesn’t disappoint. There are 4,000 miles of optic fibre snaking around the building, feeding 3,500ft of LED ribbon displays, the world’s largest scoreboard, 58ft high and 1,100ft wide, and another 100ft-high videoboard wrapped around a giant structural column. At the other end of the scale, hot dogs are just $1.50, you can drink all the Coke you want for $2 and the seats are 2 inches wider than those of its predecessor, Georgia Dome.

The goal of all of this, says general manager Scott Jenkins, is nothing less than to redefine the stadium experience. “It’s a very lofty objective, but it’s a competitive marketplace out there. People have a choice of where they spend their money and they have a choice of being at home. So we’re trying to give you a live venue experience that you can’t get at home or anywhere else.”

The 70,000-seat venue is right in the heart of Atlanta, and it wears its ambition proudly for all the city to see. Designed by HOK, it has a complex multifaceted form and a retractable roof whose camera-aperture-style opening is almost a newsworthy event in itself. The display screens and LED lighting throughout make it completely customisable inside and out — essential given that it’s not only home to the NFL Atlanta Falcons, but also soccer start-up Atlanta United. It hosts the Southeast Conference football championships and the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game that opens the college football season, as well as corporate events and concerts all year round.

“Any venue that’s going to be successful is going to be maniacal about focusing on the fan experience”

Scott Jenkins, Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Taylor Swift concert - neon lighting, customer experience
Photos: AMB Group

“We don’t have fixed signage in the building, everything is digital,” says Jenkins. “One night, we’re Atlanta United and the next day, we’re Atlanta Falcons, so the building has to be able to convert overnight. With the push of a button, we can dramatically change the look and the feel, and light up our facade in colours that complement the event.”

Heavy-hitting technical wizardry is certainly part of what makes a great stadium experience, but the simpler things matter too. To make sure the seats were comfortable enough, billionaire owner Arthur Blank personally sat in every prototype, and the food and beverage offer is competitively priced and served fast. “When we opened, we had whole-dollar pricing on everything so there was no change. We’ve since gone to a cashless stadium, so it’s all card transactions. And we took the soda dispensers off the counter and we put them in the concourse. So now, when fans come up and say ‘I want four Cokes’ we hand them four cups and they can go fill up as much as they want.”

Going cashless was at the request of the fans — one of many tweaks that Jenkins and his team have made in response to post-game surveys since the stadium opened in August 2016. “Any venue that’s going to be successful is going to be maniacal about focusing on the fan experience, getting feedback then taking action to deliver the kind of experience they want.”

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With the boot on the other foot, he has been trying to guide fans’ behaviour to make the stadium’s operations more sustainable. Here, too, there are some impressive stats already. Mercedes-Benz stadium has Platinum LEED certification, scoring 88 points, the highest that any professional sports venue has achieved. Even with all those screens, its energy consumption is 29% lower than its peers, and it uses 40% less water. On-site there is solar power generation, a 680,000-gallon system that reuses rainwater for cooling and irrigation, and capacity to store 2.1 million gallons of stormwater, some of it in landscape features called bioswales. A garden produces healthy food options for the concessions. So far, 50 tons of uneaten food has been donated to the community, providing 150,000 meals.

Jenkins, who is one of the founders of the Green Sports Alliance, would ultimately like the stadium to be zero waste. “As we do that, we have an opportunity to engage our fans and the business community to help drive more innovation and more environmentally preferable habits.”

Aluminium and plastic bottles are collected in clearly branded containers and sorted on-site. The value of the aluminium is donated to Habitat for Humanity, which is currently building a second house from the proceeds. The stadium’s PET plastic bottles, meanwhile, were used to make jackets for 10,000 volunteers when the stadium hosted 2019’s Super Bowl.

“We’re trying to make it tangible for our fans and get them to contribute to the recycling, but we’re also trying to show them the value of the materials to help build the circular economy. Sports has a unique position in all of our communities and I think it can play a role in moving us in the right direction.”

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