The hope for another Atlanta Super Bowl overshadowed Monday night's groundbreaking ceremony for the Falcons' new stadium.
There were Super Bowl reminders everywhere, and none were subtle. The new stadium is scheduled to open in 2017. Atlanta officials hope the Super Bowl is played in the stadium as soon as 2019.
A plane pulled a banner which read "Break Ground on Super Bowl Too."
Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would be warmly received anytime, "especially if he wants to announce that we're going to win the Super Bowl."
Goodell is in town for Tuesday's meeting of NFL owners, who are expected to vote on the site of the 2018 Super Bowl. Atlanta could be considered for next year's vote on the 2019 game.
"Yes, we would like to be a participant in that," Falcons president Rich McKay said of next year's Super Bowl vote. "The league has a process and you have to get on a short list and we'll try to do that at the right time."
Goodell made no reference to Atlanta's aspirations to host its third Super Bowl. He applauded Falcons owner Arthur Blank and said the new stadium is important for the Falcons and the city.
"All of us at one point or another in the NFL have been through the stadium issue and they're never easy," Goodell said. "They take determination and commitment and that's what Arthur showed. Probably with an awful lot of patience, too, but it is something that is worth it, not only for the long-term stability of the franchise but for this community."
Goodell also said it was no surprise that Blank oversaw a big show for the groundbreaking ceremony. Visitors were given 3-D glasses for a video show of the stadium, accompanied by fireworks.
"Leave it up to Arthur Blank to have the first groundbreaking ceremony in prime time," Goodell said with a smile.
"I'm sure, knowing Arthur and knowing this community, this stadium will be something all of you will be proud of. It will attract great events and will be a great economic driver for this community and all of us will look back and say this was a great thing for this community."
The new $1.2 billion retractable-roof stadium will replace the Georgia Dome, which opened in 1992 and hosted Super Bowls in 1994 and 2000.
An ice storm marred Atlanta's last Super Bowl. Monday night's ceremony was held with temperatures in the mid-60s.
The ideal weather gave Blank an opportunity for his own Super Bowl pitch.
"Welcome to a typical evening in Atlanta," Blank said. "So to my NFL partners who will one day vote for a Super Bowl, this is normal weather in Atlanta, even in February."
New Orleans, Minneapolis and Indianapolis are the leading contenders for the 2018 game. A stadium has to be open for two years before it is eligible to host a Super Bowl, so Atlanta's first year of eligibility in the new stadium will be 2019.
McKay said Atlanta's public-private partnership makes it an ideal candidate to win the game.
"I've always thought that the league has done a great job of going back to those communities and rewarding them for being partners, whether it's Minneapolis, whether it's Indianapolis or whether it's Tampa," McKay said. "I think it's the right thing to do. It doesn't mean it has to be this next year. But it's the right thing to do and hopefully it'll happen."
Monday night's groundbreaking was purely ceremonial; work on the new site near the Georgia Dome began months ago.
The new stadium also will be home to Atlanta's new Major League Soccer team, also owned by Blank. The new team, which was announced in April, will begin play in 2017. MLS Commissioner Don Garber attended Monday night's ceremony.
Garber said the normal seating configuration for soccer games will be about 29,000. He said there will be an exception for the first game in 2017, when the goal will be to set a MLS attendance record of 71,000.
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