CHARLOTTE -- Days before Atlanta earned the bid to host Super Bowl LIII at the $1.4 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2019, Falcons owner Arthur Blank admitted that another owner raised concerns about how the city would handle an improbable ice storm, such as the one that hit the last time Atlanta hosted the Super Bowl (2000).
Blank's immediate response was, "I reminded him that was 16 years ago and the weather in Atlanta, due to climate changes, it's changed. So, it's beautiful now. ... We don't think that will be an issue. I understand that was 1-in-100-years kind of freak stuff."
Blank maintained his stance at Tuesday's NFL spring league meetings, during which Atlanta beat out New Orleans on the fourth ballot for the 2019 game. South Florida and Los Angeles also were awarded Super Bowls in 2020 and 2021, respectively, while Tampa and New Orleans were shut out.
"Of the five cities competing, we had, traditionally, the coldest weather that time of the year," Blank noted. "So it took the owners to look past that and to look to other factors that were important. And I think the walkability of downtown, even if you have the cold weather, is a big factor -- potentially colder weather than you might find in L.A., you might find in South Florida or Tampa or whatever. But the fact that everything is walkable is a huge factor.
"I spoke to every owner short of one -- myself. They all thought [the walkability] was a major plus for Atlanta. Everything was within a quarter-, half-mile: hotel rooms, all the amenities. So if the weather is not perfect, [fans] can move around and move around efficiently."
Falcons president Rich McKay said the possibility of an ice storm wasn't even something addressed in the 15-minute presentation Atlanta put together, led by bid committee spokesmen Doug Hertz and Rick Smith, the CEOs of Atlanta-based United Distributors and Equifax, respectively.
"That was a long time ago," McKay said of the game in 2000. "I think when you look at our average temperatures and when you look at the weather response that the city and the state have put together not just for the Super Bowl but for all of us that live in Atlanta, I just don't see it as a big issue. That was a once-in-50-years storm.''
But Atlanta also had a significant storm in January 2014 that led to the city being shut down. Gov. Nathan Deal said he was not satisfied with how that situation was handled.
"I think what that did was it drove us to a lot better solutions," McKay said. "We're better prepared, whether it's at the airport or whether it's on our streets. So, I don't see the weather being a factor.
"We have a retractable-roof stadium that is built to host these type of events and to deal with weather. Sometimes, the weather is going to impact the way we move around the city. In our case, it doesn't happen very often. So if it happens two times in the last so many years, I don't think it's a deciding factor."
What does it mean to McKay to have the Super Bowl back in Atlanta?
"It's the biggest single event probably the state of Georgia would have over a 10-year period," McKay said. "So, it's very impactful. It's impactful from a name recognition worldwide to an economic impact to everything else. It's something that, when you build a stadium, it's clearly something you want to have.''