Blank wants new revenue, not new QB

ATLANTA -- Arthur Blank is looking for new revenue -- and possibly a new stadium -- for the Atlanta Falcons.

Not a new starting quarterback.

February marks the five-year anniversary of Blank's purchase of the team.

"There have been a lot of ups and downs along the way, but we've had a lot of fun," Blank told the Atlanta Press Club.

Blank fired coach Jim Mora after the Falcons failed to make the playoffs for the second straight season and hired Bobby Petrino as the new coach. But the biggest offseason news was quarterback Michael Vick's water bottle encounter with Miami airport security last month.

Vick was cleared of allegations the water bottle he attempted to take through the airport was laced with marijuana. Though Miami police moved quickly in announcing the results of lab tests, several days of public suspicion did not help Vick's public standing.

Vick has not been available for interviews and the Falcons have been mostly quiet on the matter after an initial public reprimand from general manager Rich McKay, who said the quarterback "let a lot of people down."

Blank stood up for Vick on Thursday.

"He is our quarterback," Blank said in an interview session following his speech. "We're proud of Michael. He's obviously a great player and he's a very fine person. The incident in Miami was unfortunate, but as we found out it was a water bottle. It might have been a trick water bottle, but it was a water bottle and it was filled with water and that's what it was filled with."

Blank said Vick is "enthused and excited about operating under new coaching and a new scheme."

Blank said officials have discussed backup quarterback Matt Schaub's future. Schaub is a restricted free agent who could be viewed as a potential starter for another team.

"We'd love to keep him as part of the Falcons," Blank said. "We always have to look at options and we'll certainly consider options as we look toward our roster for 2007."

Meanwhile, Blank's search for new revenue continues as he again discussed the option of replacing the Georgia Dome, now 15 years old.

"The Dome is a fine place to play football but it was built in 1992 and domes tend to age more quickly than other stadiums," Blank said.

Blank said the team's lease with the Georgia Dome continues through 2020 or when bonds are paid.

But he said it's not too early to discuss a new stadium that could be configured for more high-priced seats. The Georgia Dome has ample space for 204 luxury seats but it has only 4,400 club seats -- far fewer than division rivals Tampa Bay (12,000) and Carolina (11,300).

From Blank's perspective, that's lost potential for revenue.

"In order for us to continue to field a competitive team, we will need some short-term revenue opportunities to continue to develop for us and some long-term resolutions," he said.

Blank has said he prefers the Falcons' home remain in a downtown location, but on Thursday he indicated no preference for either an indoor or outdoor facility.

"My view is we would start out by doing what we always do, by talking to the fans ... about the kind of stadium they would like to see us build," he said.