Mercedes-Benz Stadium to open with Falcons in August, not MLS in July

Construction delays will prevent MLS expansion club Atlanta United from opening Mercedes-Benz Stadium in July as planned, the team announced on Tuesday.

United had been scheduled to open the sparkling $1.6 billion, 71,000-seat venue it will share with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons on July 30 against Orlando City. That match will now be played a day earlier at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium, where United has hosted its first two MLS games.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium will instead now open with an NFL preseason game between the Falcons and Arizona Cardinals on Aug. 26, before a second game against the Jacksonville Jaguars five days later.

Two other MLS games slated for the new stadium were also moved: an Aug. 13 tilt against fellow league newcomer Minnesota United, as well as a visit from the LA Galaxy on Aug. 19. Those games have yet to be rescheduled. However, they cannot be played at Bobby Dodd, as Georgia Tech will be preparing for its football season.

As it stands, United will debut in its new digs Sept. 9 against FC Dallas, though it's possible that either the Minnesota or LA game could take place at the stadium earlier that month.

College football will also begin at the stadium before MLS, as Alabama plays Florida State and Georgia Tech faces Tennessee in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Games as scheduled on Sept. 2 and 4.

"We've worked very hard over the last few weeks to find any possible avenue to meet the July 30 timeline but have not been able to do so," said Steve Cannon, CEO of the Arthur Blank Family of Businesses, which owns the new stadium and both teams.

"Our construction partners have now worked through resequencing the remaining work and are very confident that we'll be ready for live events beginning with the Falcons game on Aug. 26."

Cannon also dismissed rumors that problems with the stadium's retractable roof were responsible for the change in plans.

"No concerns about the operability of the roof have ever been expressed to us by the design or construction teams," he said. "Normal surveying and analysis of the roof structure, as well as steelwork in the roof, have both taken longer than planned. Those two things have had a cascading effect on overall workflows related to the roof, and that is the reason for the new timeline."

As recently as last week, United president Darren Eales said that July 30 was still the targeted opening.

"We wanted to hold onto that to the last possible moment because we were thinking about our fans," Cannon said on a conference call with reporters. "We can't wait to get our fans into Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It's been a great experience at Bobby Dodd. It's going to be even better there."

He added that any ticket holders requesting refunds for the original July 30 date would be dealt with on a per-customer basis.

Cannon also said there were discussions with the NFL regarding the delays, which led to a request for the Falcons to host the final two preseason games rather than opening the preseason at home.

"We asked for [preseason games] three and four," Cannon told ESPN. "We just knew that gave us a little bit of extra time to make sure that we run into any issues with the NFL. ... We were very happy that they accommodated that request for us to have preseason three and four."

Cannon said there were no discussions with the NFL regarding the regular season as related to the new stadium.

"We'll be ready for the regular season because we'll be ready for the preseason," Cannon said. "It was just about the preseason and just making sure. We want to have not only the building ready, but we want to have our team and our processes ready.

"That little bit of extra time that the NFL gave us will allow us to shake down the stadium, to have the team trained up for us to accommodate an NFL crowd of what we expect to be in excess of 50,000-60,000 people for those early preseason games, knowing there is a lot of pent-up interest in the market to get into the stadium.''

ESPN's Vaughn McClure contributed to this report.