Atlanta Falcons fans hear it all the time. The Georgia Dome is empty in the first quarter. The fans don't care enough about the team to show up. The fans are lazy getting to the games.
However, is this really the problem? Why is the Georgia Dome so empty early in games?
Is the issue fan support in Atlanta and the surrounding areas?
Atlanta hasn't always been a great city for sports.
Despite having over six million people in the combined statistical area (h/t Wikipedia), the overall area in Atlanta has more transplants than natives. These people tend to support their hometown teams much more than the local Falcons.
However, that's never really been an issue before. The Falcons currently sell out every game and have had attendance above 98 percent all season (h/t ESPN). So this definitely isn't the issue.
The dome has been filled with red and black all year and even on Monday Night Football versus the Broncos, it was obvious the fans were there for the home town Falcons.
Are Falcons tickets too expensive?
Could it be that the cost of the game is too high?
To be perfectly honest, Falcons tickets are relatively average.
To get to the stadium, it's not that expensive either.
It's $5 for a round trip ticket on the M.A.R.T.A. train to and from the game or an average of $20 for a parking spot. Compared to any other NFL team, the overall cost is not a prohibitive thing when it comes to going to the games , so that isn't it either.
Atlanta residents love the team, but the transit system is grossly mismanaged.
For this, I had to do some first hand research. This past weekend, for the Falcons game versus the Oakland Raiders, I had won five tickets in a contest that Ray Edwards had on twitter. So I drove in from Charleston and went to the game.
The seats were great (sec 107, row 34) and getting to the seats around 12:30, most of the fans were crowded towards the bottom of the section watching the team. However, the dome itself was pretty empty, it made me question what was going on.
To get to the game on time, I decided to wake up around 10:30 AM. Hop on the M.A.R.T.A. train and see when I would get there. The fact that it took me an hour and a half to get to the dome isn't great, but it's understandable.
The part that isn't understandable is that while we were sitting at the Sandy Springs train station—which was a packed station at the furthest end of the north M.A.R.T.A. line—we waited almost 45 minutes for the first train to even show up. And it was heading northbound, not southbound.
For the Falcons game days, this is completely unacceptable. Had the trains been running every 10 minutes like they have done on Saturdays, the trip to the dome would have been a total of an hour.
I would have been there at 11:30, to Will Call at 11:45 and in my seats by noon.
And that would have been because I like to get to the games early. To those who wanted to be on time, they could have left their houses around 11:30 and been able to make it by kickoff if the transit system had any semblance of organization or situational awareness.
M.A.R.T.A. stands for Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. However, there was nothing rapid about the transit system. It should stand for Maneuvering Atlantans Reluctantly Throughout Atlanta for how inept the system and service is.
Next time you hear about how the Falcons fans don't care enough to get to the dome on time, just remember that a transit system that is supposed to help get the fans to the stadium quickly and efficiently does nothing but waste time at the station, while waiting for the next ride down to the dome.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.