Minnesota's brand-new U.S. Bank Stadium hosted its first football game on Sunday, and yet it's not the newest stadium in Madden NFL 17. That title belongs to Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which isn't due to open until sometime next year, but is available to gamers now.
Listed as "Falcons (New)" in the pregame options menu, Mercedes-Benz Stadium is for now immediately playable only in one-off, offline games. But Falcons fans can already get a feel for the team's new home — including the one-of-a-kind "halo" scoreboard ringing the building's oculus — and if they select the team in Franchise mode, it will move there once the 2017 season begins. (Falcons opponents will also see the stadium when they visit beginning in the 2017 season.)
"This is part of the grand reveal, so it's very exciting," Tim Zulawski, the chief commercial officer for AMB Sports & Entertainment, told Polygon. AMB is the group that manages the new stadium. "It's an opportunity to provide an early look into some of these amenities and features of the stadium, along with the detail that went into the design."
Mercedes-Benz Stadium's most impressive capability — a dome that irises open, above that video board, to allow in natural light on fair-weather days — is not yet represented in the game. But it will be in future editions. "It's already exciting, thinking about next year's version with the roof being able to open, potentially changing the lighting," Zulawski said.
For now, the roof is closed and glassed-in, with translucent panels allowing in some overhead light. The main view is out the stadium's end zone; also glassed-in, it offers a look at the Atlanta skyline, which darkens and whose buildings light up if the user selects to play at night.
The whole of the stadium is gorgeous, as any high-tech, $1.4 billion facility should be, frankly. The eye-catching "mega-column" — architects basically took a huge support structure and paneled its four sides with video boards — is there by the open end zone. The field-level premium suites are represented, with high-roller fans sitting directly behind both teams' benches. (Having covered college football from field level, I've wondered about the view they might have here, but hey, that's what the halo video screen above is for, I guess.) There's supposed to be a 100-yard long bar on the upper concourse, but I couldn't quite make it out, or its interior design is set back enough that it appears like regular skybox suites.
"We needed to ensure each part was accurate because it's the first experience people will have with this stadium," Zulawski told Polygon. "So we looked at the window to the city, the vista, the digital boards - most notably the 360-degree halo board - the premium areas, and point of visibility into and out of the city. We additionally confirmed all signage placement and the exterior features on the roof petals along with the roof's lighting."
AMB Sports & Entertainment provided Madden designers at EA Tiburon with their official schematics, including a 3D model of the stadium, a fly-through video and cross-sections of the building's component levels. EA sent its work back to AMB to make sure everything checked out, and minus a few corrections (mostly for things like branding elements and construction details) they nailed it. The Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the game is the one fans will see next year.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium will replace the Georgia Dome, which opened in 1992 and was once the world's largest covered stadium. Mercedes-Benz has signed a 27-year naming rights agreement to the facility at undisclosed terms. (Yes, its name will still be on the Louisiana Superdome, giving the car maker 50 percent of the stadium sponsorships in the NFC South). Atlanta, mainly in the form of a lodging tax, backed it with $200 million up front and is committed to financing, maintaining and operating the stadium through 2050. The Falcons, the NFL and sales of personal seat licenses covered the rest of the construction.
Madden NFL 17 players who select the Falcons in franchise mode and play as an owner will not have an option to relocate the team, with the game showing construction on Mercedes-Benz Stadium wrapping up. This is also the case for the Los Angeles Rams, who play at the L.A. Coliseum (called Rams Stadium in the game) as they await the completion of their new home in the city.
Madden has done this kind of a stadium preview before, with Levi's Stadium for the San Francisco 49ers debuting in Madden NFL 15 and U.S. Bank Stadium appearing in Madden 16, under similar conditions. Once the stadium is officially opened it will go into all other modes of the game as the Falcons' home field.
But this is no sneak preview. It's the real deal, says Zulawski. "It solidifies that this is the new home of the Falcons," he said.