Members of a state board expressed concerns at a meeting Tuesday about several aspects of the operation of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Georgia World Congress Center Authority board peppered Falcons officials with questions and comments about the long delays to enter the stadium for college football’s national championship game early this month, as well as about ongoing problems with exiting the stadium after large events and with the sound system.
“In my 15 years, I’ve not heard this much comment from the board of directors,” said David Allman, the board’s chairman.
Board member Phil Gingrey sharply criticized the sound system, which he said was inaudible from his seat during pregame ceremonies at the national championship game.
“You absolutely need to do a better job,” he told the Falcons officials present, “because your reputation at a national level gets tainted. And it’s pretty hard to back that out as we go forward trying to attract these (events) to our great city of Atlanta. That sound system needs to be fixed – and fixed soon.”
The stadium is owned by the state, and the GWCCA has an oversight role. The Falcons organization operates the building.
At Tuesday’s meeting, which was longer than customary, several GWCCA board members zeroed in on problems entering and leaving the stadium. Two board members described the scene before the national title game as “chaos” as fans endured long waits in a cold rain to enter the building.
“I stood out there a couple of hours trying to get in. You didn’t have any definitive lines … just purely a mass of humanity,” board member Bill Jones said. “That really needs looking into.”
Stadium and playoff officials attributed the ingress problems at the national title game to security changes and lengthy gate closings required by the U.S. Secret Service because of President Donald Trump’s attendance.
But Trump left at halftime, and some concourses and exits were clogged as fans departed after the overtime game.
Scott Jenkins, who works for the Falcons organization as the stadium’s general manager, told the board of plans to install three additional sets of double doors and one overhead door as part of efforts to alleviate the congestion and slowness leaving the building.
He said the new doors would be cut into the expanse of glass on the east end of the building and lead to the “front porch,” an outdoor plaza. He said the doors would be installed in the next two weeks.
The additional doors will cost $185,000, which will be paid from a portion of the Atlanta hotel-motel tax dedicated to capital improvements for the stadium.
Egress “is probably our No. 1 issue,” Jenkins said, “and we are committed to getting it right. ... We’ve had lot of games where we had really no issue. When we have a game that (is decided) right at the end and everyone leaves at once, we have a lot of congestion -- more than we want to have. ... You will see noticeable improvements.”
The issues raised by GWCCA board members matched those that have been raised previously by fans attending events. The egress issue first surfaced at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff games on Labor Day weekend, and the sound system drew heavy complaints after the stadium’s first concert in October.
“We have made some adjustments on the sound system,” Jenkins said. “We are five months into the building, so we’re still learning our way around, fine-tuning things. I’m confident we have made some (sound system) improvements, and we’re going to continue working on it.”
Two board members said that from their experience the sound problem persists at football games.
A fan survey conducted by the NFL ranked the Falcons No. 3 in the NFL this season in overall game-day experience, a ranking alluded to by Allman during Tuesday’s meeting.
“I think one of the concerns is we’ve heard a lot about good experience for the Falcons at Falcons games,” he said. “As a big component of economic development for the city of Atlanta and for the state of Georgia, we are in the business of attracting and retaining marquee events well beyond the Falcons. And we expect the same ratings for those events that you expect for your own Falcons events.”
After Falcons executive Mike Egan said the events are treated no differently, Allman replied: “Well, the results were markedly different.”