Copyright 2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Braves and Falcons executives gathered Thursday morning at the Commerce Club in downtown Atlanta to discuss something they have in common: new stadium projects.
The executives — Braves chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk, Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay, Falcons executive vice president Jim Smith and Braves executive vice presidents Mike Plant and Derek Schiller — covered a wide range of stadium-related issues in a panel discussion hosted by Bloomberg News and attended by more than 100 people.
Here are some highlights from the discussion, with comments edited for length and clarity:
The Falcons last year released architectural renderings of their new downtown stadium, which has a cutting-edge, octagonal design with a massive video board incorporated into the opening of the retractable roof. The Braves' Cobb County stadium is still in the design phase.
McGuirk on whether the Braves' stadium will be as cutting edge as the Falcons': I don't think you'll see us do anything that will look outside of the norm in baseball stadiums. Not to say that we're not going to be incredibly innovative, but we have a bunch of traditional baseball people in our organization --- John Schuerholz, Frank Wren, Bobby Cox --- and we talk a lot about design. It is going to look like a baseball stadium, no question about that. From there, though, we will try to provide everything that possibly hasn't been provided in the past.
McGuirk on the plan for a cozier ballpark: We have almost 50,000 seats today (at Turner Field). We're going to have a design of 41,500. Not only will the number be smaller, but because of modern design and cantilevers, this is going to be a very intimate stadium. Everyone who sits in the stadium is going to feel closer and more on top of the game than they have ever felt before. We're moving major sections 10 to 15 feet closer than was the state of the art 10 years ago of what you could cantilever.
McKay on the Falcons stadium's oval video board: If you look at (Cowboys owner Jerry Jones') building in (Texas), that big center-hung scoreboard ... is about 32,000 square feet of LED. Ours is 63,000-65,000 square feet of LED. Look at it as an oval that is basically flat from 10-yard line to 10-yard line, then begins to curve, then goes flat again on the other side. We think that's kind of a game-changer when it comes to the way people will view the game and the way we can interact with them from a technology standpoint.
Officials from both teams were asked to assess their level of confidence that their new stadium will be built on time and open as scheduled in 2017.
McKay: Based on my boss (Falcons owner Arthur Blank), I'm going to say 105 percent. Everything we do is to open in March of 2017 --- not June 2017 or August 2017, because we are launching a new franchise in March 2017, an MLS franchise. We feel very confident.
Schiller: We're 105 percent as well.
Plant: We have more than 100 people working on this project. We are where we need to be.
The Braves continue to work on assembling a team of developers to partner with the team on its planned complex of shops, restaurants, bars, hotel, residences and offices adjacent to the stadium. One of two finalist groups pulled out of the process three weeks ago.
Plant on the goal, status of the Braves' plan for the complex: This is not just about the ballpark, but about getting people to come to a sense of place (year-round). You look to L.A. Live (in downtown Los Angeles) as a great example of that. It's always programmed, regardless of whether the Lakers are playing there or not. ... We are going to announce a development partner very soon. ... There are some (developers) in one of the former groups that are interested.
Both teams plan to sell the names of their new stadiums. And both expect to get big bucks, perhaps similar to deals in which the NFL's 49ers reportedly fetched $220 million over 20 years from Levi Strauss and baseball's Mets got $400 million over 20 years from Citigroup.
Smith on the Falcons' expectations: We look at this stadium as really having three primary tenants --- NFL, MLS and marquee college football games. That fills out our portfolio for about an 11-month use of the stadium. From a naming-rights perspective, when you combine those three properties, it puts you in a whole other level. ... We should well be in the top tier of naming-rights opportunities. We're doing the due diligence now. We've hired companies to help us do the evaluation to make sure we are setting the market correctly. These are long-term deals, 20- to 30-year deals, and that is what we would be interested in.
Schiller on the Braves' expectations: We also have a great deal of optimism about the marketplace. ... We are going to have a naming-rights partner, and I think (the Falcons' Smith) is going to set the stage for that. We should get about a dollar under him or a dollar over him, but I'm going to be fine with either. ... We're not competing with each other. I don't see that at all. But I do believe that with our new ballpark environment, as well as the (planned adjacent) mixed-use development, there are very unique sponsorship opportunities that won't exist anywhere else in the world.
Fans of both teams have expressed concern about what will happen to ticket prices, given a history of sharp increases in new stadiums. In addition, the Falcons plan to require the purchase of personal seat licenses (PSLs) as a prerequisite to buying season tickets. The Braves have said they won't have PSLs.
McKay on the Falcons' prices: You're not going to see the ticket price move that substantially. I mean, we'll move up, no question. But the ticket price isn't what moves (most); it's the front end, the PSL cost, that is an added cost to the customer, a one-time (cost) that you can finance over time. In the NFL today, we are not in the business of trying to ramp up ticket pricing because we have done that. It doesn't mean you're not going to have a 10-percent uptick, but you're not going to have what I went through in Tampa when we moved into the new stadium ... and had a 100 percent or 80 percent increase because we were going from a stadium with basically no suites, no club seats.
McKay on the Falcons' PSL plan: We have not announced our PSL pricing. We expect to maybe in the fourth quarter this year or right at the start of next year. ... Ours will be a much more modest program than New York, Dallas, San Francisco. When you go into the upper deck ... don't think those numbers are $20,000 a seat or $10,000. They're not. Whether it's $2,000 a seat or $3,000 or $4,000 (for upper-deck PSLs), I don't know that we've finalized that number.
Schiller on the Braves' ticket prices: (MLB) is still the most affordable ticket in all of major league sports, and it's going to stay that way. We have, generally speaking, 400 premium seats at Turner Field, excluding the suites. We're going to talk about putting as many as 4,000 (in the new stadium). That doesn't mean all will be high-priced premium seats (defined as seats that include an amenity, such as access to a club area). There's going to be all sorts of different segments of offerings.