Bettering the Atlanta Falcons Fan Experience Through New Technologies

Joe Laird
UNC Blue Sky Innovations
6 min readJun 14, 2022


Innovation Lab CIO Steven King (right) poses with Innovation Fellows Liz Gibson (left) and Joe Laird (center) on the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

At the Reese Innovation Lab, we ideate ways to make current business models better through new technology. This summer, the Atlanta Falcons tasked us with forming an idea that would keep their fans in seats, loud, and at the stadium for the entire game, no matter if the team is winning or losing. This is not an easy task, especially for a team who won just one home game last year and does not necessarily have an optimistic fanbase coming into this season.

We started by researching the background of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality inside the NFL and all sports, along with new technologies that have been implemented in sports. We looked into activations like the Dallas Cowboys’ “Pose with the Pros,” which allowed fans to take pictures with players on the team through kiosks found around the stadium. We also explored VR activations like the model Raven and Panther used at Baltimore and Carolina’s stadiums in the past year. These are interesting activations but vary in price and we did not feel these were the right direction to retain fan interest at Falcons games. We then looked at the possibility of making an AR statistics-based app that shows stats otherwise only available on the broadcast. Having these statistics, like catch radius or catch probability available to those in the stadium could be revolutionary for stat-minded fans.

Through all these deliberations, though, I consistently came back to the same concept — fantasy football draws fan interest even when the games are meaningless. Fantasy sports make fans care about players that they may never hear of otherwise, as a few more yards may win them their weekly matchup, some money, or prizes. This can be done through individual leagues or daily fantasy apps, like Draft Kings or Prize Picks. Finding a way to use daily fantasy in-stadium would allow fans to be engaged, have a personal stake in the game, and most importantly, leave feeling like a winner even if the team does not win.

This leads to our idea, which we coined “Dirty Bird Bets.” This Falcons-specific daily fantasy app would provide users with five categories to choose one bet from each category — kickoff, offense, defense, special teams, and a 4th Quarter Multiplier. Each of these categories would allow fans to only bet on positive potential outcomes for the Falcons. For example, in the offense category, fans could bet that Kyle Pitts would have over 60.5 yards, but not under that amount. They would also be rewarded for riskier bets, i.e. saying a backup running back like Jeremy McNichols would have over 38.5 yards.

On the defensive side of the ball, we were tasked with finding ways for fans to be loud on 3rd downs. As a result, we thought there should be a large incentive to bet on the Falcons getting 3rd down stops. This means fans would bet on, for example, over 4.5 3rd down stops throughout the game. Our hope is that this would cause fans to be excited and loud during the game and help the team to get these stops.

Along with this, we were tasked with keeping fans at the game until the clock hits 00:00 in the 4th Quarter. In order to do this, we would include a 4th Quarter Multiplier in the app, which allows fans to bet on one player to score a touchdown for the Falcons in the 4th Quarter. They would have an incentive to vote on riskier players, as the players less likely to score in the 4th Quarter would have higher multipliers, giving them a chance to win more luxurious prizes.

Each of these bets is tied to a point total that adds up to a total number of points at the end of the game. Through this point total, they can then earn prizes depending on which tier they fall into. This means if only one or two of their bets hit, and they are in tier 1, they may earn a keychain. However, if several of their bets hit, along with their 4th Quarter Multiplier, they may finish in tier 5, which could win them a Falcons jersey of their choice. Having incentives like these could result in much higher fan interaction than before — keeping fans in their seats, loud, and at the stadium until the end of the game, regardless of the team’s performance.

Pictured above are screenshots of our “Dirty Bird Bets” prototype, which features the Kickoff category (left), Offense category (center), and Post-Game Redeem tab (right).

After forming the idea, the next step was to build the app on Adobe XD, which allows us to create demo app pages, along with giving them different instructions when buttons are pushed. We then created pages for each of the five categories to show how the interface of the app would work, if eventually built. We also created pages for the app like a prize page and a page to allow fans to receive their code post-game. This interface provided a much more realistic demonstration of what the app would look like, and we were able to present it to the Falcons in a realistic way from then on.

From here we went to Atlanta and scheduled a few meetings to present the app, as well as a few other ideas, to the executives of the Falcons and Mercedes-Benz Stadium. During these meetings, we received great feedback regarding the app, and overall the idea was well received. Although they liked the idea, the team is pursuing a similar, but different idea.

However, the Falcons execs loved a concept we developed for an AR app that allows fans to participate in a virtual t-shirt toss. In their current t-shirt toss, parachutes drop from the rafters, and only certain sections can have shirts land there. The AR app allows fans to play a game all throughout the stadium, and a few dozen fans will be randomly selected during the game to click on a special t-shirt that earns them a prize. This is right up the Reese Innovation Lab’s alley, and we are excited to develop this game in the coming months.

As for the rest of the trip, visiting Mercedes-Benz Stadium was incredible, and it was fun to see such a magnificent facility in person. Along with this, networking and presenting with professionals inside the Falcons organization gave Liz and me an opportunity neither of us had seen in the past, which was incredibly valuable. We also attended the Falcons' open practice in the stadium on Friday, June 3rd, and I took that opportunity to interact with the season ticket holders and deeply invested fans of the organization. Having those conversations allowed me to better understand the relationship that consistent fans have with the gameday atmosphere, along with how they interact with technology inside the stadium. Some of my findings were that these fans did not interact with their phones much at games but would consider it if they were to get a better understanding of the games through an app or feature on their phone. In general, though, fans were excited about the technology currently available at the stadium, like the Halo Board and games they could play during breaks in the game. These fans in particular just did not engage with this content the same way a more casual fan may interact with it.

Innovation Fellows Joe Laird and Liz Gibson interview two Falcons fans about their experience with technologies at Mercedes-Benz Stadium during the Falcons First Look event.

This trip was overwhelmingly positive, and I am certain the Falcons will be excited to see the app we develop for use during their games this season. Development of the app will continue over the coming months — check back for updates on our website!