Home to the SEC Championship since 1994, Atlanta’s Georgia Dome is the largest cable-supported dome in the world and biggest indoor facility in the United States. Despite being only 23 years old entering the 2014 season, over time the Georgia Dome’s proven to be a short-lived football juggernaut, a premium indoor venue well ahead of its time that hasn’t been cost efficient.
The Atlanta Falcons played inside the downtown arena three seasons after completion before major renovations were needed with a $300 million price tag — nearly $100 million more than the Georgia Dome’s initial construction budget. Premium seating areas were added to enrich the high-roller experience along with the addition of two high-definition video screens in both end zones. The dome’s color scheme was altered to match its professional football franchise.
The Georgia Dome switched playing surfaces from AstroTurf to the rubberized FieldTurf in 2003 thanks to a personally-funded makeover from Falcons owner Arthur Blank. Several million in repairs has been spent to the dome’s roof over the last two decades thanks to weather-related problems. Severe rain in the mid 1990s ripped the roof’s fabric away at the seams while a tornado tore holes in the dome during the 2008 SEC Basketball Tournament.
Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators beat Alabama in the first non-Birmingham SEC Championship Game in 1994. Since, Alabama and Florida have met seven times inside the Georgia Dome — the most any two teams have battled for the conference title. Since 2009, the SEC Championship Game has four times pitted a pair of Top 5 teams, making it college football’s most talked about league title contest with annual BCS championship — and now College Football Playoff — implications.
In recent years, the Georgia Dome has been the site of several nationally-televised opening weekend games pitting SEC teams against other power conferences, drawing near capacity crowds reaching 80,000.
The Georgia Dome’s shining moment perhaps came in January 2006 when the venue hosted three football games in a four-day span thanks to the relocation of the New Orleans Sugar Bowl following Hurricane Katrina’s extensive wrath on the Superdome. West Virginia’s matchup with Georgia capped a grueling stretch for dome workers that started on Dec. 30, 2005 when LSU met Miami in the Peach Bowl. The Falcons played the Carolina Panthers the following afternoon before the stadium crew had a 24-hour break in prep for the Sugar Bowl.
Besides being one the top neutral site college football venues in the south, a two-time Super Bowl host and the annual home to the New Year’s Eve Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, the Georgia Dome’s also hosted several major sporting events other than football during its lifespan. USA basketball captured gold on the hardwood during 1996 Summer Olympics — the last time the Games were held stateside — and three Final Fours have called Atlanta home since 2002. In 2009, the Georgia Dome hosted the first of many international friendly soccer matches with capacity crowds.
The Georgia Dome welcomed the SEC Basketball Tournament back for a 10th time in 2014.
DAYS ARE NUMBERED
With the Atlanta Falcons’ new futuristic stadium expected to open in 2017 south of downtown on the Georgia World Congress Center campus, the Georgia Dome’s future is uncertain. Instead of renovating the nearly 25-year old facility to meet current NFL standards at a cost of $900 million, the Atlanta Falcons and Georgia World Congress Center Authority agreed that breaking ground on a new home with a state-of-the-art fan experience and retractable roof was more appropriate.
If no deal is reached locally for a team to occupy the Falcons’ old nest, the Georgia Dome will be demolished.
Mizzou is back in Atlanta for a second straight December after winning the East again in only its third season in the SEC. Alabama’s making its fourth appearance under Nick Saban, its first as a double-digit favorite.
A spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff’s on the line for the Crimson Tide who are currently ranked No. 1 in the selection committee’s all-important poll. Should the Tigers prevail, the SEC will likely be left out of national championship contention for the first time since 2005.