Most teams play the stadium leverage game by threatening (subtly or otherwise) to move to a new city. The Falcons have suggested that, if they don’t get public funding for a new retractable roof stadium in downtown Atlanta, they’ll (drum roll) pay for their own open-air venue in the suburbs.
Team president Rich McKay made the team’s plans clear earlier this week in a meeting with Atlanta City Council. Specifically, McKay said that the team won’t extend its lease at the Georgia Dome, which expires in 2017, and he strongly suggested that without public funding for a stadium with a sliding lid in the downtown area, the team will explore options elsewhere in the metropolitan area.
Now, owner Arthur Blank is backing away from that position, with a Saturday afternoon statement issued by the team.
“We have a very good partnership with the Georgia World Congress Center, and we want that to continue into the future,” Blank said. “As a business, it is our responsibility to consider all of our options, but in this case, we are not making any alternate plans at this time.
“We are focusing all of our time and resources on finalizing an agreement for the new stadium in downtown Atlanta. We appreciate Mayor Reed’s strong support in helping us stay downtown, which is the right place for us to be.”
The statement likely arises from the reality that the threat of a move to the suburbs won’t get fans too worked up about the situation, especially if the Falcons plan to private fund the open-air stadium that would be built somewhere other than downtown Atlanta. So with the citizens and politicians possibly willing to call the team’s bluff, the team apparently has decided to make it clear that there’s no bluff to call.
The reality is that, if the Falcons truly want to shake public money from the peach trees, they’ll need a bigger bluff.