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Falcons owner expects new home by 2016
Originally published in the Atlanta Journal-Consitution, September 6, 2006.

by Maria Saporta

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Wednesday that by 2015 or 2016, "I would suspect we will have a new stadium."

Blank made the comment at a breakfast speech hosted by Atlanta Jewish Life magazine.

The Falcons have played at the Georgia Dome since it opened in 1992, under a deal negotiated by the state and the late Rankin Smith, the team's former owner. The agreement stipulates that the Falcons must play in the Dome until bonds are paid off. The original target date was 2020, but the bonds could be paid off earlier.

"In order for us to compete financially, we need a different financial arrangement," Blank said. "Our structure is not as competitive as it needs to be."

He did not elaborate Wednesday on what kind of new deal he wants, where he thinks a new stadium might be located or how it would be financed.

Blank said the Georgia Dome agreement with the state was probably a good one when it was built, but that it is now less favorable than deals for teams in other cities. Blank said 23 new stadiums have been built since 1992.

The current lease, under which the Falcons pay 10 percent of ticket sales as rent, calls for the team to receive a guaranteed $4 million annually from the Dome in lieu of a percentage of concessions, parking and suite rentals.

In addition to the guaranteed amount, the Falcons share in the Dome's annual profit after operating expenses and debt payments are covered. The Falcons get 70 percent of the first $2.85 million in profit and 50 percent of any additional profit.

Forbes magazine, in a special report last month on NFL team finances, said the Falcons have the second-lowest revenue and current valuation in the league.

The magazine valued the Falcons at $730 million, ahead of only the Minnesota Vikings at $720 million. The Washington Redskins were the highest-valued team, at $1.42 billion.

The magazine's survey put the Falcons' 2005 revenue at $170 million, also just ahead of last-place Minnesota, and its operating profit at $6.6 million.

Forbes said the value was based in part on each team's financial arrangement with the stadium where they play.

Wednesday's comments weren't the first time Blank has mentioned a desire for a new home. In an interview with the AJC's Mark Bradley in July, Blank said he hoped to build his own stadium.

"That's our hope. We're committed to playing in the building through 2020, but I don't think that will happen," he said then.

Blank said at the time that he would prefer to remain downtown.

"No, we're not building at Flowery Branch," Blank told Bradley when asked if he wanted a stadium near the Falcons' training complex in Hall County. "I hope it will be where the Dome is now."

In addition to serving as the Falcons home, the Georgia Dome has hosted two Super Bowls. It is also the site of two post-season college football games, the Southeastern Conference championship and the Chick-fil-A Bowl, as well as a venue for other large sports and entertainment events.

--Staff writer Tim Tucker contributed to this report.

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