Rich McKay Exclusive: From building rosters to building stadiums

“Fort Knox.”

That is the way the Atlanta Falcons’ Morgan Shaw-Parker, the team’s VP of football communications, described the setting at the Falcons’ team hotel on Thursday morning. At the front entrance are multiple Houston police officers, followed by more inside. Through the lobby and behind a pair of double doors is the hotel restaurant, housing some of the Falcons’ highest-ranking executives in their makeshift offices.

This is where you can find Rich McKay, the Falcons’ CEO and president, a title he has held since 2008. The former GM of both the Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers now spends his days doing just about anything but building NFL rosters.

In fact, McKay, alongside Falcons’ owner Arthur M. Blank, has been the main man in the preparation and building of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The brand new dome is set to open in the summer after years of planning and work.

“First, we put the issue [renovation] to bed, and we thought we put together a structure of a really good public and private partnership,” McKay said of the initial plans to build the dome. “I had a full head of hair when I started in this stadium business back in Tampa.”

There is more that goes into the initial steps of a stadium than one would think. McKay helped build the Buccaneers’ Raymond James Stadium, a project that was much tougher. At one point, it was unclear if the team was going to stay in Tampa, and getting the support from the city was nearly impossible.

McKay has not had to focus as much energy on these issues with the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, something that can pay off in the long-run. Less contention with the city meant more freedom for innovation. People in Atlanta love their football, and the idea of a new dome was not harshly criticized.

This opened the gates for the team to change some of the norms of the common stadium. The retractable dome, which will rival AT&T Stadium in Dallas as the best in the NFL, will feature intricate designs and fan-friendly concepts.

“We are not shooting low,” he said. “We are trying to truly change the game when it comes to stadiums. We believe that they have not really innovated enough. What happened is stadiums have inched up, but they have not taken that quantum leap.”

Atlanta will now have one of the most recognizable stadiums in the league, with a retractable roof that opens up in eight different panels, resembling a lotus flower. There will be more than 20,000 square feet of LED display, with one board exceeding the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Jumbotron as the largest in the NFL. One side of the stadium is a glass wall from floor to ceiling, looking at Atlanta’s skyline.

Maybe the best feature of Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be the concessions stands. The Falcons will have the cheapest prices in the NFL. McKay noticed that the league and team surveys indicated that fans were bothered by the entire concession experience.

With the approval from Blank, they put forth a plan to take charge of the prices and menus. Hot dogs and soda products will cost just $2, and a 12 oz. Bud Light will go for just $5, more than $2 under the league average.

Another big part of McKay’s job is to brand and market the team. This means overseeing the way the team is seen from the public’s eye, something he has done a tremendous job with after the Michael Vick controversy.

Fate could not have cooperated any better with the Falcon’s Super Bowl run. Nothing sells tickets to a new stadium like a good football team. Luckily for the Falcons, football seems to be stronger than ever in Atlanta. Their team-made slogan “#InBrotherHood” resonated with the city, and McKay sees no reason to rebrand next season.

“In 2007, we suffered a real hit to our brand,” he said. “In 2009, we launched our #RiseUp campaign, and the fans have taken to it. We truly are a city who rose up from the ashes post-Civil War. It [#InBrotherHood] is so organic and came from our football team, our fans can touch that and it is so authentic to them.”

McKay took what was once a twinkle in someone’s eye, and made it his baby. His big project is almost complete, a project that has taken the better part of nine to ten years. He admits that it will be gratifying when the doors are finally open.

The one-time general manager who drafted players like Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, and won a Super Bowl in Tampa, has made a name for himself in a completely different part of the game. From building teams to building stadiums, McKay is one of the most respected executives in the league.

On Sunday, he will watch his team play in the biggest game on planet Earth. In June, he will watch one of the biggest projects of his life unveil itself. At the end of the day, it is no real surprise that the Falcons have a guy like Rich McKay secured like Fort Knox.

You can follow Pro Player Insiders on Twitter at @playerinsiders. You can follow Matthew Lively on Twitter @livelyasu.

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