Mercedes-Benz Stadium Opening: The Soccer Angle

mercedes-benz stadium

MLS is a tech-savvy league. But the opening of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium gives the league a clear footprint toward tech development in the future.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened with an Atlanta Falcons game Saturday, and the results were pretty good: the stadium technology (free non-password WiFi, displays) worked well, and fans went home happy, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

The stadium’s debut showed off how much can be bought with $1.5 billion and how much can be fitted into 2 million square feet of space.

The massive 360-degree halo-shaped video board dazzled, even though the programming of it was intentionally restrained for the first night. The 16-story-tall “window to the city” drew throngs of people throughout the game to the two sky-bridges that overlook both the skyline and the field. The use of lighting to cast the exterior of the building in red after dark made a statement.

The thing to note here: intentionally restrained. The real tests of the stadium will come when the results count: an NFL preseason game is nice, but there are regular-season Atlanta United matches scheduled for Sept. 10, Sept. 13 and Sept. 16.

Right now a shared MLS/NFL stadium is not the preferred business structure for MLS, but here at least the two teams have a shared owner. (In Minnesota, the Vikings proposed putting an MLS team in U.S. Bank Stadium, but the league had the luxury of passing because the current ownership group proposed its own stadium.)

So, interestingly, there are basically two kinds of stadiums in MLS these days: joint NFL/MLS facilities and soccer-only facilities. Which is better? Well, when it comes to cramming fannies into the seats, it would appear the NFL/MLS model is king: Atlanta and Seattle should end up the year 1-2 in league attendance, even though Atlanta spent the first half of the season in a college stadium.

It will be fascinating to see how fans respond to Atlanta United and Mercedes-Benz Stadium. On the one hand, many of the things associated with the Mercedes-Benz experience — the architecture, the roof, the tech, the cheap concessions — are not unique to the NFL and should play well with the MLS crowd. But there was such a sense of community created at Bobby Dodd Stadium, and re-creating that community in the much larger and much slicker Mercedes-Benz Stadium may be a challenge.

Image courtesy Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

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August Publications