PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) — In the midst of two losing seasons, the Atlanta Falcons tried to pump up the noise.
It’s going to cost them.
The NFL announced Monday that it had fined the team $350,000, stripped away a draft pick and suspended team president Rich McKay from the league’s powerful Competition Committee for at least three months after the Falcons conceded pumping artificial crowd noise into the Georgia Dome.
For owner Arthur Blank, the whole episode has been a huge embarrassment on top of firing long-time coach Mike Smith after last season and dealing with criticism over a pricey seat-licensing plan to help fund the team’s new stadium.
“What took place was wrong and nowhere near the standards by which we run our business,” Blank said in a statement. “Anytime there are actions that compromise the integrity of the NFL or threaten the culture of our franchise, as this issue did, they will be dealt with swiftly and strongly.”
Throughout the 2013 season and into the 2014 season, according to the NFL, the Falcons violated league rules that state “at no point during the game can artificial crowd noise or amplified crowd noise be played in the stadium.”
The league also said Roddy White, the team’s former director of event marketing, was directly responsible for the violation and would have been suspended without pay for the first eight weeks of the 2015 regular season had he still been with the club. White, who coincidentally has the same name as one of the team’s top receivers, was fired by the Falcons after the issue came to light.
Atlanta must forfeit its fifth-round pick in the 2016 draft. If the team has multiple picks in that round, the highest selection will be taken away.
“Our review also determined that Falcons ownership and senior executives, including team President Rich McKay, were unaware of Mr. White’s use of an audio file with artificial crowd noise,” said Troy Vincent, the NFL’s vice president of football operations. “However, Mr. McKay, as the senior club executive overseeing game operations, bears some responsibility for ensuring that team employees comply with league rules.”
Beginning April 1, McKay will be suspended from his position as chairman of the Competition Committee, an influential group that considers rules changes. He can petition Commissioner Roger Goodell for reinstatement no sooner than June 30.
The Falcons accepted the penalties handed down by the NFL.
“The league conducted a thorough investigation of this matter, and we cooperated fully,” Blank said. “We understand the penalties imposed and their impact on our team, and we will not appeal the league’s decisions. Further, we have addressed the matter internally and taken actions to ensure that something like this does not happen again.”
Blank told The Associated Press in early February that he had seen enough of the NFL’s investigation to acknowledge wrongdoing by his club in 2013, when the Falcons were touted as a Super Bowl contender but struggled to a 4-12 record. Last season, Atlanta went into the season finale with a chance to make the playoffs in the weak NFC South, but got blown out by Carolina at home and finished 6-10.
The Falcons say 101 of 103 games have been sellouts since Blank bought the team in 2002. Last season, Atlanta ranked 10th among the 32 NFL teams with its average home attendance of 72,130 in 2014, though there were clearly more empty seats as the team struggled.
Construction is underway for a new $1.4 billion stadium that will replace the Georgia Dome in 2017.
As Blank presses forward with plans for his new facility, he vowed there will be not be a repeat of noise-gate.
“The Falcons and all of our other businesses are built upon a foundation of values that drive our decision making,” he said. “This issue was a clear failure in that regard. I apologize for any embarrassment this situation has caused the NFL, our fans, and our Falcons players and associates.”
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