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Q & A: Blank says team should be better than last year


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By D. Orlando Ledbetter

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Falcons owner Arthur Blank, more than ever, believes the franchise is heading in the right direction.

He sees the team, which is coming off its first back-to-back winning seasons, becoming a perennial playoff contender.

At the outset of the 2010 season, Blank talked to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the Falcons' lofty goals, plans for a new stadium and the continued growth of quarterback Matt Ryan.

Q: What are your thoughts on the possibility of an 18-game season?

A: The enhanced season is in response to really listening to our fans. They don't put the kind of value on the preseason games as obviously they would a regular season game. They think four is too many. The commissioner, I think more than any other complaint, he probably hears that. So we are trying to be responsive to our fans. But by the same token, we have to be sensitive to player issues and player safety and health and getting teams prepared for a longer season. We need to be sensitive to our media partners as well.

Q: The NFL has projected that ticket sales will be down slightly this year. How are the Falcons doing with ticket sales?

A: We had fairly good renewals this year. They were not as high as in the past, but they were fairly good. What we are excited about is that we had about 10,000 fans step up and buy new season packages from us. In this situation, we try to be very thoughtful about our ticket prices. About 27 percent of our tickets were held flat. About 50 percent went down. We offered a variety of packages, as many as 10 different packages, that fans could select from. We had different areas and price points that made sense for them and their families.

Q: How excited are you for the season?

A: I am. I think this team is better than it was a year ago. There is no question about that. I think that starting with the fact that this was our third draft with [general manager] Thomas Dimitroff and Smitty [coach Mike Smith] at helm. From a football prospective, they've done an excellent job again. ... I feel good about where we are. ... There is no reason why this team shouldn't be better than it was a year ago. How that will translate into a record, I really don't know.

Q: Do you sense that Matt Ryan is headed for superstardom in year three?

A: I think we'll have another year of growth from Matt. He had an outstanding rookie year obviously. He matured again this last year. He had some ups. He had some downs, in terms of his [turf toe] injury. I think he's worked very hard this offseason, both athletically in the conditioning room and in terms of film study and things of that nature. I think he's prepared to step forward and provide leadership both on and off the field. I think that Matt will be disappointed at the end of the year if it was not better than last year. His owner would be as well.

Q: What's the latest on the stadium situation?

A: We continue to work with the Georgia World Congress Center. Since the Dome opened up in 1992, there have been 21 new stadiums and four have been substantially re-done in the last number of years. We've made substantial improvements to the Dome over the last three or four years, totaling $54 million, of which two-thirds came from us, the franchise. ... We continue to work with the Congress Center about some options that are on their campus. We've got an excellent working relationship with them. I think they are open to the idea [of further improvements]. The passage of the tax [extension through 2050 to cover expansion] was important in that regard and we'll see where that takes us. Certainly, we look forward to having a new stadium at the right time.

Q: Do you have a message for your fans?

A: We'd love for them to come out and watch us. When we are not playing at home they can watch us and support us on TV. We can feel those vibes through the TV tube when we are not at home. When we are home we'd like to see them wearing their Falcons gear and making their way to the Dome. ... I deeply appreciate the support that they have given us these last three or four years during some difficult times. I try to do whatever I can to recognize their support.

Q: Lastly, will we see the Falcons on HBO's Hard Knocks in the future?

A: We've been asked two or three times and we've declined. I don't want to use the word never. It doesn't have so many letters in it, but it means a lot. At this point, we have no plans.

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A: We've been asked two or three times and we've declined. I don't want to use the word never. It doesn't have so many letters in it, but it means a lot. At this point, we have no plans.

What is Blank talking about ... letters? "It doesn't have so many letters in it, but it means a lot". Can someone explain what he means by that sentence?

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>>Q: Lastly, will we see the Falcons on HBO's Hard Knocks in the future?

A: We've been asked two or three times and we've declined. I don't want to use the word never. It doesn't have so many letters in it, but it means a lot. At this point, we have no plans. <<

That is interesting. I would have ordered HBO just to watch that.

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