I had the pleasure of visiting the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 4, 2017 for the Chick-fil-a Kickoff game between Tennessee and Georgia Tech. My seats were on the main level, in section 103 as part of my Georgia Tech season ticket holder package. At the Atlanta Mobile Marketing Organization meeting last week, Dave Beck, Foundry45, called Mercedes-Benz Stadium possibly the “last great American stadium,” as more and more fans are opting to spend their money on 4K TVs instead of tickets to sporting events. I’d like to think of Mercedes-Benz Stadium as the next-generation of technologically advanced sporting venues. Here’s my review of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium (MB Stadium) from the Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee Chick-fil-a Kickoff game on Monday, September 4, 2017.
MB Stadium is in a great location next to the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC)/CNN/Phillips Arena and perfectly positioned between 2 Marta stations (GWCC and Vine City). I had no problems riding Marta to and from the game. Once you exit either GWCC and Vine City, you’re treated to a gorgeous view of the MB Stadium. Taking Marta was really the best option for me as parking ranged from $50 to $75 at the stadium. Marta was prepared for large crowds late at night (game went into double overtime), and made the fan experience even that much better.
MB Stadium has the most strict bag policy I’ve ever encountered. Women’s purses must be the size of what I would consider a wristlet, everything else must be stored in a clear stadium bag or 1-gallon plastic storage bag. Full policy here.
I personally have no problem with the bag policy. Mercedes Benz Stadium, Georgia Tech Athletics, Chick-fil-A Kickoff, all event management, did a great job communicating this policy prior game day and set my expectations accordingly.
I entered the stadium about 45 minutes before kick-off. Some areas of the concourse were highly congested, slowing down the journey to my seat. Perhaps a few areas of the concourse are a bit too narrow for proper people traffic flow? Not sure what exactly the problem was. Tip: Arrive early for the games, 45 minutes before kick-off just won’t cut it.
The outside view of MB stadium was breathtaking, how about inside?
I would describe the inside of MB Stadium, like I do when shopping for a house, “I like the open floor plan.” Other than the wall-to-wall crowd when I was trying to get to my seat, the floor plan of MB Stadium felt very open to me. My seats in section 103 provided an unobstructed view of the game. I would venture to guess that this “open floor plan” provides great views of the event from any seat in the stadium. The slight downside of the open floor plan were the acoustics; I had a hard time hearing the band and even some of the announcements. The poor acoustics could be due to the unique shape of the stadium, or perhaps I was just in bad sound wave area.
MB Stadium boasts “the most affordable food in professional sports.” I was a bit apprehensive as to exactly how affordable the pricing would be, but I was pleasantly surprised. I paid $4 for a souvenir cup of soda with unlimited self-service refills. First ever unlimited refill experience at any sporting event for me. A hamburger was $5, bag of popcorn, $2, and $2 hot dogs.
For my friends in mobile commerce, POS terminals, payment processing, I was surprised that chip card payment was not yet enabled on the concession registers, especially with NCR as the sponsor. The US payments industry shifted to chip cards around the time of the October 1, 2015 fraud liability shift. Read more about it in my post here. Two years later, I’m still encountering vendors (including the brand new Mercedes Benz Stadium) that are swiping instead of dipping.
Beer was also reasonably priced and easily accessible (for those over 21); beer was sold at every concession stand, most kiosks, bars along the concourse, and roaming beer vendors. In terms of roaming vendors, I mostly saw beers, and Chick-fil-a sandwiches ($5). I did not see any roaming vendors selling cotton-candy, frozen lemonade, or otherwise sugary snacks appealing to kids. Since this was an evening event, there were few small children in attendance. Another note about roaming vendors, I did not see any roaming vendors enter the seating area with their tubs of beer. I am curious to know if these roaming vendors are not allowed in the seating areas? I mostly saw roaming vendors on the concourse, standing against a pole and hawking their items. In reviewing the website prior to the game, I knew that alcoholic beverages would be sold, and I naturally assumed that alcohol included beer AND wine. Beer was flowing plentifully; wine was either not sold, or just super hard to find. I never found any wine for sale, and my friend, let’s call her “Erica,” went on an all-out scavenger hunt for wine and came up empty. “Erica” is still complaining about the lack of wine 13 hours later.
MB stadium boasts over 1,800 wireless access points, 4,000 miles of fiber, and optimized mobile service. When I arrived at my seat, looked at available Wi-Fi networks on my phone and found AT&Twifi. I selected AT&T Wifi (since my smartphone is on the AT&T network), and seamlessly got on the network and stayed on the network for the duration of the game. I posted images without timeouts or any problems during the game. Read more about the AT&T network partnership here.
In my opinion, the true test of Wi-Fi is video upload. During the beginning of the game, I recorded a 26-second clip of Georgia Tech players running onto the field. I attempted to upload this video to Facebook, but it timed out and did not complete the upload. Tip: Do not attempt to upload a 26-second video.
The bathroom experience can be a negative one for females as we usually have to stand in long lines, seek an adequate amount of toilet paper, and hope for a clean flush. In most stadiums, there is a standard layout of bathrooms with one row of stalls and on the other side, a row of sinks, 50/50 toilet to sink ratio. MB Stadium created a new layout for women’s bathrooms by allocating more space for toilets and less space for sinks. I estimate that the ratio between toilets and sinks is closer to 75% toilets and 25% sinks. Some smart person realized that we spend more time in the stall and less time at the sink and adjusted the bathroom floor plan accordingly. I did not see any “technology” while I was in the ladies’ room. Either because it was well hidden, or because the restroom is a private place. If I were to think about IoT technology in the restroom, I would think about sensors that alert a bathroom attendant once the toilet paper roll was empty, or if the toilet became clogged. I personally did not wait in line to use the restroom, and I was pleased to see a bathroom custodian wiping down the sinks as I entered. Cleanliness is Key!
Technology and Promotions
There’s been quite a lot of buzz around the 360-Degree HD video Halo board, inside MB Stadium. These “halo screens” are almost the inverse of the 4 screens in the middle of Phillips Arena. The designers thought about how to maximize the viewing of the event and the screens from every seat in the stadium.
There are interesting exhibits to look at while in the stadium concourse including helmets from various high schools in Georgia, Mercedes Benz vehicles, and the FedEx golf trophy was also on display the night I was there.
Some exhibits were technologically interactive including this selfie station from American Family Insurance.
Since this was a Chick-fil-a event, a coupon for a free breakfast item at Chick-fil-a (redeemable after the game) was placed in every cup holder. Score! Surprisingly most of the folks around me weren’t as excited about this freebie and a significant number of coupons ended up on the floor by the end of the night.
The fan experience is ever-evolving and ever-improving. Several times on the halo screen, attendees were asked to fill out a fan survey to help make future events better.
Georgia Tech may have lost the football game to Tennessee in double-overtime, but the energy of the crowd will never beat a 4K TV experience. Stadiums are here to stay and I’m looking forward to technology enhancing the fan experience.