Everything about Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium is big. The total cost? $1.5 billion. The amount of steel used in its construction? 28,000 tons. The square footage? 2 million. Even the number of beer taps inspires awe: 1,264, compared to only 30 in the soon-to-be-demolished Georgia Dome.
And then there’s the atmosphere.
Before a special tour given to members of the media, Atlanta United President Darren Eales spoke to MLSsoccer.com about what the team has done to ensure soccer fans feel at home in their new stadium.
“When you come to a game, it’ll feel like a different stadium on a Saturday than it will for a Falcons game on a Sunday,” Eales told MLSsoccer.com.
Here are 10 reasons why fans of Atlanta United, and of soccer generally, should be excited about visiting The Benz.
1. Soccer-specific space: The stadium has a maximum capacity of more than 70,000, but for most Atlanta United matches, the capacity will be lowered to 42,500 using Atlanta-branded curtains that will block off the upper bowl seating. The desired effect is to make the stadium both louder and more intimate although the club will open the entire stadium for select events.
2. Superlative supporters’ section: Mercedes-Benz Stadium has the largest supporters’ section in MLS, with 5,000 supporter seats (3,400 of which are general admission) available to Terminus Legion, Footie Mob, The Faction, and other Atlanta United supporters’ groups.
3. Jerry Jones is jealous: The Benz’s video halo board encircling the roof of the stadium is 58 feet high, and 1,100 feet around. If laid out end to end, it would be longer than the Eiffel Tower is high. It weighs 500 tons, and the steel holding it up adds another 500 tons. As one engineer giving the tour said: “To put it in real technical terms, that’s a bunch.”
4. Super-sized pitch: A section of seating near the field will be retracted for Atlanta United matches, allowing for the field to be widened to 75 yards. “For us, it’s important because of our style of play – that attacking, expansive football,” said Eales. “We want a big pitch.” This has the added bonus of making the stadium eligible to host a World Cup match should the tournament come to the US, Canada and Mexico in 2026.
5. All-weather viewing: After braving inclement weather several times this season, Atlanta United fans will appreciate a retractable roof that will take lightning delays out of the equation. (They’ll have to wait until the fall for the roof to open though, as the stadium engineers work out the final kinks in the roof’s design.) “For soccer, our plan will be to keep it open more often than not,” said Eales. “Our default position will be open because it’s soccer, we want to play it outdoors.”
6. Footie-friendly locker rooms: Atlanta United and their MLS opponents have their own set of locker rooms on the opposite side of the stadium from the NFL teams. The United locker room comes with a large hydrotherapy pool, and an adjacent flex space where players can warm up on stationary bikes or kick the ball around on a turf surface. The locker room itself has a high-end bench for each player that Eales thinks any soccer superstar will appreciate. “[Atlanta technical director Carlos Bocanegra] is my test case – a prima donna, high-maintenance player,” Eales joked. “He’s given it the Bocanegra stamp of approval.”
7. A safe space for the managers: Taking a page from European and South American clubs, Eales pushed for the construction of a separate room where the managers of both teams can meet privately. “It’s a chance for them, after the heat of battle, to share a drink and have a chat about the game,” said Eales. Though he noted that there’s a side entrance to allow the opposing manager to avoid the players “in case there’s been some antagonism during the game.”
8. Player pitch procession: Unlike other stadiums shared by MLS and NFL teams where players enter the field at the corners, the players come out onto The Benz at the halfway line. The two teams line up outside their locker rooms, walk through the high-end Delta Sky Club, and go through an expandable tunnel. “You’ll have that focal point like you have in South America and Europe,” said Eales, “where you have that tight tunnel entrance and teams erupt on the pitch.”
9. Food and beverage: The stadium has 24 bars and restaurants, including Gamechangers, an eatery owned by local celebrity chef Kevin Gillespie. For every match, Gamechangers serves a one-time only “Devour the Competition” menu item based on United’s opponent. (Lobster rolls for a match against New England, for example.) Concession stand food prices will be lower than at most stadiums, with hot dogs, bottled water, and soft drinks priced at only $2.
10. An artistic finish: Works of fine art with a soccer theme are sprinkled throughout the concourses. (Be sure to check out “Observe & Reverse” by Dario Excobar. Hint: It’s the one made of soccer balls.) One piece pays tribute to the team’s inaugural season Founding Members. Outside the stadium, the largest bird statue in the world is spruced up for each game day with an Atlanta United scarf. “It’s big,” Eales said of the gargantuan accessory. “Someone’s knitting furiously to get it ready in time.”