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Panther Nation has its home

The GSU Sports Arena is home to the men's and women's basketball teams, volleyball team and future home of the sand volleyball team. Patrick Duffy | THE SIGNAL.

The Georgia Dome and Sports Arena, both located in the heart of Downtown Atlanta, serve as the hubs of Georgia State University athletics. Each are unique facilities in their own rights and offer players, fans, and alumni different game day experiences as the root for the Panthers.

The Signal recently spoke with several members of the athletics department, Georgia State student-athletes, students and fans about each venue and asked them what they liked, disliked, would like to see change and how feasible are the possible changes.

The following is a small portion of the information that The Signal was able to acquire and shows that the Georgia Dome and Sports Arena are both unique, and ever evolving.

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Background

The GSU Sports Arena is home to the men's and women's basketball teams, volleyball team and future home of the sand volleyball team. Patrick Duffy | THE SIGNAL.
The GSU Sports Arena is home to the men’s and women’s basketball teams, volleyball team and future home of the sand volleyball team. Patrick Duffy | THE SIGNAL.

The Georgia Dome, owned by the state of Georgia and operated by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, is an internationally known sporting facility with an overall capacity of over 70,000. It first opened in 1992. Its primary tenant is the Atlanta Falcons, but its high status also allows it to play host to many other sporting events including the SEC Championship Game and this year’s NCAA Men’s Final Four.

The Georgia State football played their first game in program history inside the Georgia Dome on Sept. 2, 2010 in front of a crowd of 30,237. The Panthers have an 8-11 home record in their three seasons of existence.

The GSU Sports Arena opened in 1973 and houses men’s and women’s basketball and court volleyball matches and is the future home of the sand volleyball team. All of the university’s athletic offices are also based in the four floor Sports Arena. “It’s an amazing situation where you can jump on an escalator down there at the corner of Collins and Decatur, ride it up to the third floor and then you’re in the lobby of a basketball arena,” Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director James Greenwell. “It’s a very unique situation.”

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It too has some international significance as it was the home of badminton when Atlanta hosted the 1996 Olympics.

 

Fan Experience

Student section during football game, fall 2012. Graham Robson | THE SIGNAL
Student section during football game, fall 2012. Graham Robson | THE SIGNAL

The Georgia Dome can make for a raucous atmosphere during a Falcons games, but slightly less so for Georgia State football as the capacity is just under 30,000 (the upper bowl is not open for use during Georgia State games).

Even so, the simple fact of sports being played in a venue such as the Dome is more appealing to some.

“I like the Dome,” freshman Cody Marthaler said. “It’s just the feeling of being in the Dome. The energy and just how big it is.”

The Sports Arena, with a seating capacity of around 4,500, may be smaller than the Dome, but is also no shortage on energy when a game is taking place. Its more intimate nature can provide for a more electric atmosphere than a Georgia State game at the Dome, but sporting preferences give it an edge in some fans’ opinions.

“I prefer the Sports Arena over the Georgia Dome because I like basketball over football,” sophomore Torrie Wilson said.

 

Player Experience

James Vincent in the paint versus Life University in a 2012 preseason game. Patrick Duffy | THE SIGNAL
James Vincent in the paint versus Life University in a 2012 preseason game. Patrick Duffy | THE SIGNAL

In order to play at any sport, a program needs the most important element—players to play in an arena. Each venue offers contrasting experiences for players as well. For football players, having the opportunity to assume the same turf played on by the Atlanta Falcons is exhilarating for them. But given the infancy of the program, that added element to Georgia State football games may be daunting for the roster.

“The Dome is a nice arena for Atlanta, maybe. But it’s too big right now for the football team to play in,” junior basketball guard Devonta White said. According to him, he attends every Georgia State home football game. “The support isn’t there right now. It will be in a couple of years. But, they’re not going to pack it up right now, so it seems to be tough on them.”

“I like the Sports Arena because it’s small and it seems like when more people come and it’s packed, it just looks better,” White said.

When they do come, they’ll likely take sit in one of the sections of seats rising upwards from the sidelines up towards the ceiling of the building. While the majority of larger basketball arenas have seats circling the entire circumference of the stadium, but this common feature is not currently present at Georgia State’s Sports Arena.

“We can’t really sit behind our goal like you want to and distract the opponent’s shooters,” White said. “Our gym is bigger to the side. Most schools have seats behind the goal, almost like a dome. We only have two rows, so it’s different.”

 

Recruiting

Persuading players to compete in your university’s venues is the job of a school’s recruiters. Georgia State University recently signed 27 recruits to its football team in what, overall, is being seen as a good class of newcomers under new head coach Trent Miles.

Since Georgia State’s football program is still in building mode towards the future, it needs a strong recruiting pitch to prospective athletes out of high school, especially given that it is competing with traditional football schools in the Southeast such as Alabama, Florida, LSU, Georgia Tech, UGA and Georgia Southern.

One of the things the athletics program is banking on is the opportunity for football players to play home games in the same stadium that the Falcons play in.

“Even better than avoiding having to build a new facility and getting this fantastic Georgia Dome is that you’ve got this unbelievable facility right here in Atlanta that has all this tradition and can help you recruit,” Greenwell said. “So, it was like a bonus. You’re getting one of the best facilities in the South for football.”

The Sports Arena also has a bargaining chip for recruiting given that it is in Downtown Atlanta.

“That’s an advantage shared by both facilities is that we’re right here in Downtown Atlanta,” Greenwell said. “Even though the Dome is not on campus, it’s so close that it’s almost a part of campus. So, it’s a huge advantage for us.”

 

Improvements and changes

While Georgia State maintains its desire to create excellent fan experiences at both the Dome and the Arena, arenas do come with issues over time. The Sports Arena is now more than 40 years old and some say the Georgia Dome is aged as well, despite its only 21 years of existence. The university does not own the Georgia Dome, so changing it drastically for its purposes is far less feasible than the Sports Arena.

“The Sports Arena is OK,” sophomore Torrie Wilson said.  “It’s also great that our floor is on the upper level of the building. I just wish they had more comfortable seats.”

The Arena currently has no leather seating in the stands.

One change to the facility will happen by next year is the conference paraphernalia.

The CAA logo that is visible on both painted ends of the basketball court will be replaced as Georgia State athletic programs will fully join the Sun Belt Conference beginning next season. There are flags that feature the logos of each CAA school as well as the conference itself inside the Arena. Those flags are on the end of the Arena adjacent to Piedmont Street and will have to be removed as well.

“It would be pretty cool if we could expand (the Sports Arena),” freshman Cody Marthaler said. “Since we’re going to the Sun Belt, if ESPN were ever to come here, they would need more room to film and shoot and see everything.”

While basketball and volleyball will still share the Arena next year, it can be as much of a challenge on players as it is on the maintenance staff and athletics department.

“For the Sports Arena, if we could get a practice gym, that would be real convenient,” White said. “Sometimes we come in and the volleyball team is on the court. We want to work out and we can’t really do that. So, if we could get a practice gym, that would be perfect. There are a lot of schools we play on the road that have practice gyms. Sometimes we’ll practice there.”

 

Future

Panthers fans play cornhole in the Georgia Dome parking lot before a Georgia State football game in 2012. Chris Shattuck | THE SIGNAL
Panthers fans play cornhole in the Georgia Dome parking lot before a Georgia State football game in 2012. Chris Shattuck | THE SIGNAL

The big issue that has many talking, both around the Georgia State campus and throughout the rest of Atlanta, is the Atlanta Falcons possible move to a new stadium. The new stadium is currently still in the planning stages, but there appears to be a strong consensus that the deal will get done and that Arthur Blank, owner of the Falcons, will get his new, downtown stadium.

A new Falcons’ nest would also mean a new Panthers’ den for the football team.

“We are “grandfathered” in with the GWCC and the new stadium as an official tenant,” Taylor said via email. “So, if a new Dome is built in 2017 or 2018, we move along with the Falcons, just like things are now. Then, we’d really be playing in one of the nicest stadiums of any college team in the country. Love that for recruiting.”

Georgia State recently unveiled its Master Plan to relocate most of their athletic facilities at Panthersville, located in DeKalb County, within walking distance of the main campus. The university claims the project will cost $80 million, will be funded through private donations, and the facilities will be built when the funding is available.

“The beauty to that Master Plan is we’ve created a plan that doesn’t require all of the money to do everything at one time,” Greenwell said. “It’s somewhat like an Erector set because you can do small projects to work toward the great goal which is an entirely renovated arena.”

The Sports Arena renovation plan includes a new Ticket Plaza, Walk of Fame and Team Store and increased seating that will stretch around the court.

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