A packed house at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for a Falcons game was very common
Let me say before I get into any of the specifics about the topic of a potential new home for the Falcons, that I strongly believe that financially this is not the right time for building a new stadium in Atlanta, or anywhere else in Georgia for that matter. I think it would show a huge lack of fiduciary responsibility on the part of our lawmakers and leaders to move forward with this project. That being said, I am going to remove the financial concern from this article, and focus solely on the positives and negatives involved with an open-air stadium as opposed to a domed field.
Now when it comes to the topic of a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons, I share a perspective that only a small number of fans in Atlanta have. I attended games in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium from 1972-1991, and I have been attending games in the Georgia Dome since then. So I've seen the good and the bad in both situations. I was never a fan of having a dome here in Atlanta in the first place, so the idea of a new open-air stadium is quite an appealing thought to me. However, there are drawbacks to that as well. So we'll just score this like a boxing match, and see who gets the decision. 20 possible points in each category.
Atmosphere: Stadium - 14 Dome - 6
When it comes to football, you can't beat the atmosphere of an outdoor stadium. Football is a game designed to be played on grass, dirt and mud, and there's a lot to be said for seeing your players get up to remove a huge divot from their face-masks. Eating food outdoors while watching a game also gives a stadium the definite edge over a dome. Let's face it, it just plain tastes better. Think about it, would you rather eat a hot dog at some food court in the mall, or sitting outside watching a ballgame? If you've never enjoyed a pro football game in an outdoor venue, I highly recommend you getting a ticket to the nearest team to you that plays in one, and really soak it all in.
Weather: Dome - 12 Stadium - 8
No question, having a climate controlled atmosphere is a nice thing sometimes. Not getting wet in the rain, or having worry about thunder and lightning (or tornadoes) can make the game day experience more predictable, which for the casual fan is a good thing. I will say that many football fans do enjoy battling the elements, and relish the idea of seeing their own breath while cheering in the stands, hence the score not being quite as lopsided as you might expect.
Fan Engagement: Stadium - 13 Dome - 7
Watch a game at Lambeau Field, or Raymond James Stadium, and see how the fans are truly a part of the game. Fans act and feel as though they are a part of the action, rather than just being a spectator. Games at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium were like this as well. There was a feeling of just being involved...not just watching. The environment at a dome is just very cleansed and sterile...your senses just aren't tantalized the way they are in a stadium. There are a few things you can do in a dome that you can't outdoors (mini-blimps, people repelling from the rafters, etc), but overall being in a stadium is a much more engaging experience, and that's something the NFL has high on their agenda right now.
The Twelfth Man: Dome 15 - Stadium - 5
Domes are loud -- period. Yes, there are some very raucous outdoor venues in the NFL, but overall you can't match the type of crowd noise and distraction to the opposing team that you get with a dome. Decibel levels approaching a fleet of jet engines are not uncommon, and most outdoor stadiums can't even hope to match that.
Aesthetics: Stadium - 14 Dome - 6
Domes are ugly -- period. Sorry but that's just the truth of it. I have yet to see a view of a domed stadium that made me go "oooo" and "aaaahh". Most of them look like a giant pimple dotting the landscape. They have no soul to them, just another tall building that got squashed down. Not to say there aren't some outdoor stadiums that were (or are) eye sores, but the majority of them have a personality, and a feel all their own. Players love going to the classic stadiums like Lambeau, and Soldier - as well as some of the modern fields like the ones in Baltimore and New England.
FINAL SCORE: Stadium - 54 Dome - 46
So it's clear in my score-book, an outdoor stadium is the better place for football. Now here in Atlanta, it's even more of a pressing matter in my opinion. Why did we even need a dome in the first place? This is the deep south, folks. It's just not that cold most of the fall and early winter when the Falcons are playing football. (and I'm sure we'd ALL be willing to suffer some bitter cold if the Falcons lasted that long in the playoffs). Yes, the chance of rain or other foul weather exists, but I think that is a minimal consideration. And why did we build this dome right in the middle of downtown Atlanta? OK yes, it's convenient to some other venues and attractions. But honestly, are you really looking at visiting the World of Coke or checking out DragonCon when you are headed to a Falcons game? The stadium needs to be located similar to way they placed Turner Field, just on the outskirts of downtown. It's still privy to a skyline view for those sitting in the nosebleed seats, but not landlocked in by the skyscrapers and parking decks. Did I just say parking decks? Yeah...really guys. Can we please have an open, flat parking lot that is conducive to tailgating? Not many of us want to fire up the hibachi or big green egg while standing in an underground parking garage.
So, I say, in 5 years or so, when the economy has recovered -- and Atlanta isn't forcing police, fire, and other employees to take furlough days -- we can open up this discussion again. And I'll still want to ditch the dome.