Falcons Execs Dish On Fan Delays At CFP Caused By Trump Visit
Plenty went wrong on Monday night at the CFP title game, with wait times to get into Mercedes-Benz Stadium as long as 2 1/2 hours. That was a huge disappointment for Falcons’ management, which sets a goal of moving fans through the line and into the stadium in five minutes. “We pride ourselves on that design; we pride ourselves on understanding how to get people in the building,” Falcons President & CEO Rich McKay said. “Then we have that experience.”
Falcons Senior VP/Fan Experience Mike Gomes said fan ingress was faster for the Falcons this season than any other NFL club. With the SEC Championship game, the time it took to enter was six minutes. But with President Trump visiting, the Falcons and the CFP encountered challenges that they could not overcome.
The primary issue was Gate 1, which is where most of the fans enter the stadium for other events. But with Trump using that gate to enter the CFP title game, only 9,391 fans came through Gate 1, compared to 23,355 for the SEC Championship, the Falcons said. Almost 14,000 fans had to move, McKay said, “and we’re not happy about that.” Gomes added, “There’s a delicate balance between fan experience and security. When Secret Service or TSA takes over your gates, that balance is gone.”
McKay and Gomes were in the SportsBusiness Journal/Daily offices Friday and discussed how they tried to adjust throughout the period from 5:00pm ET, when gates opened and the logjam began, until kickoff. McKay was in the stadium’s control center with CFP officials and Secret Service, but largely the stadium’s leadership was operating in the dark in terms of preparing for Trump’s visit.
The biggest complication arose when Secret Service decided to use Gate 1 for Trump’s entrance. During Mercedes-Benz Stadium events, 35% of the fans enter through Gate 1. The Falcons tried to convince Secret Service that a more discreet entrance, the one used by Falcons Owner Arthur Blank and celebrities attending a game, would be less disruptive, but to no avail. Then Secret Service closed Gate 1 at 5:15pm, 45 minutes earlier than the original plan, leaving thousands of fans unsure of their next move.
Many fans matriculated to Gate 4, which is the stadium’s smallest entrance with just eight metal detectors. By comparison, Gate 2 has much greater capacity to move fans through with 40 metal detectors. “We were in a position where adjusting was really hard,” McKay said. “We sent people out to tell them to move and many did, but many didn’t. They saw the finish line at Gate 4 so they just stayed there. We just couldn’t get people to move around.”