There are changes aplenty at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this year. Some are readily apparent, others hardly discernible. But all promise to have far-reaching influence well beyond this season.
Perhaps the most notable development to the six-year-old stadium is the new premium seating option, namely the AT&T Lofts that opened last month. Situated on the 200 level in the west end zone, the AT&T Lofts, consisting of five private or communal spaces accommodating between 18-40 people and replete with lounge seating, offer fans great flexibility and adequate breathing room – just like the visually stunning Maybach and Delta Sky360 on-field terraces that debuted last season.
“One of the things that we have learned after the first few years of Mercedes-Benz Stadium is looking for opportunities to give fans more space,” explained Don Rovak, senior vice president, ticket sales, service, and operations, for AMB Sports and Entertainment. “I think what we’ve seen as both an industry trend and a trend a little bit from the pandemic is that people do desire space in a little bit of a different way than they did 10, 15 years ago.
He continued, “I think there’s more desire now for just more flexibility and not something quite as structured as a suite or not a suite.”
Whereas the Maybach and Delta Sky360 on-field terraces were so close to the action that fans could literally snag an overthrown pass to the sidelines, the AT&T Lofts offer more of a bird’s eye view of the game on the mezzanine level while also providing guests with a beautiful view of downtown Atlanta. Still, they aren’t surrounded by four walls – like a traditional suite or club seating section – and thus ensure guests feel more immersed in the vibrancy of the gameday atmosphere.
Not only are the AT&T Lofts noteworthy for their variegated appearance – all five lofts are different in terms of design and furniture – but they were also designed specifically to be adapted to fans’ evolving needs and desires as the years go on. For the balance of the 2023 calendar year, they will be sold on an event-by-event basis at a price comparable to suites on a per ticket basis and will vary based on set up and the event.
“The space offers a lot of flexibility for us to continue to make changes to accommodate the fans,” added Rovak. “We’re always continuing to challenge ourselves in terms of how can this place continue to change. I think Arthur [Blank] has taught me a ton in my decade-and-a-half here that as long as you’re listening to the fans and innovating continuously, those things are your culture and who you are.”
Meanwhile, ticketholders streaming into MBS this fall, whether headed to premium seating or elsewhere, will have options for expediting the means by which they grab refreshments. There is now a third frictionless market, located in the AT&T Perch, enabling fans to simply tap/insert/swipe their credit card upon entry, pick up their snack or drink, and exit. With no check-out lines, fans can be back in their seats before the next whistle.
“When you know what you’re doing, you’re in and out of those markets in 10, 15 seconds. It’s pretty remarkable,” said Karl Pierburg, senior vice president, chief technology officer, strategy and innovation. “As people discovered them [frictionless markets], our repeat traffic was really good, and we’ve just seen that usage go up.”
Another cutting-edge feature incorporating frictionless technology facilitating enhanced efficiency is the Delta Fly-Through Lanes, which are grounded in biometric facial recognition. Per its name, fans can literally glide through these select entry lanes as their face is the ticket. With there being no need to stop and pull out your phone to swipe your barcode, stadium entry is no longer a 10- to 15-minute exercise…but rather one that can be accomplished in 10-15 seconds. After nearly 3,500 fans enrolled in the program last year – a ticketholder can add several friends or relatives to their account – the hope is that more people see how the next-generation process can be a savior during late arrivals and safeguard against counterfeit tickets. By all estimations, the biometric entry is four times as fast as the “traditional” smartphone scan.
“I think as more and more people see it, they’re going to see what a great advantage it is,” predicted Greg Overstreet, senior director, security, Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Most importantly, Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United fans have never been safer and more secure upon entering their home stadium. Thanks to the Greater Boston-based Evolv Technology, which leverages artificial intelligence and algorithms toward teaching a machine how to detect weapons while ignoring items such as a belt or keys that would typically trigger a nuisance alarm in traditional metal detectors. Consequently, security officers can focus their attention on exactly where a true threat may be attached to a person. In turn, the incorporation of Evolv Technology, which began last season but is being fine-tuned this autumn, means that fans undergo another frictionless, time-efficient experience as they don’t have to be patted down nearly as much – if there is an alert for a potential threat, the guest will step over to a secondary table where security will be able to pinpoint the critical pocket of clothing – or empty their pockets upon ingress.
By any measure, it’s a rather impressive mechanism as MBS officials have an easier way of ushering in more than 70,000 spectators in a 90-minute period while greatly reducing the likelihood of a throng developing outside the stadium entrance, a serious security risk in and of itself.
“This technology is really the most innovative thing I’ve seen in my 20-plus years in the industry,” added Overstreet, a true industry veteran who has overseen security initiatives at the now-defunct Georgia Dome and RCA Dome, among other venues. “It does it in such a frictionless manner that the guests oftentimes don’t even realize they’re having to go through screening, but yet, it’s actually much more efficient than what we’re used to. It’s been a tremendous tool for us.”
Of course, none of these developments would have come to fruition without the blessing of Falcons principal owner Arthur Blank, whose dedication to innovating on behalf of the fans remains one of the hallmarks of his stewardship of the franchise.
“He [Arthur Blank] entices you to be on the cutting-edge of everything because he gives you the financial resources to do it,” added Overstreet.