Football players and fans have voiced disdain on the proposed neutral site conference championship games at the end of the NFL playoffs, and now it seems that they have the support from at least one league owner in rejecting the idea when it comes up again in future discussions.
Atlanta would have been the first NFL host city to lend the league "a neutral field" had the Buffalo Bills beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC's divisional round. However, the Bengals went on to play spoiler and won that contest 27-10.
It was a result that deprived Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank the ability to cash in on the league's proposed neutral site for the AFC Championship Game, with the eventual bout between the Chiefs and Bengals taking place at Arrowhead Stadium.
Despite the possible financial upside of a neutral conference championship game, Blank was happy to see how the AFC playoff picture played out and admitted that he would like to keep the current playoff format as it stands with the higher seed hosting the conference championship game in a traditional home-field format.
"The whole year you fight, you do what you can to win games, et cetera, et cetera, and you want to reward your fans by hosting that championship game in your facility," Blank said in an interview with Chris “Mad Dog” Russo on SiriusXM Radio.
“It was interesting because Clark Hunt, Lamar’s son, who is the operating owner for the Kansas City Chiefs, he just came out just yesterday, I think, and said he definitely doesn’t think those games should be played on a neutral site," Blank added. "But his father, Lamar, was a strong proponent of it. And I know Clark well, obviously I serve on committees with him and he’s a great owner, a great leader in the league, I would agree with him. I’m sure his dad, if he was with us, he would have some other viewpoints on why it was a good idea but I’m happy with the existing [approach].”
What would need to happen for NFL to switch to neutral sites for championship games?
The league needs 24 "Yes" votes from its 32 owners for any neutral site proposal to be approved, and right now support for the concept seems to be low given the initial backlash to the Bills-Chiefs potential in Atlanta.
What other cities could be looked at for neutral sites?
The NFL selected several cities and stadiums this winter when contemplating a neutral site for the AFC Championship Game. One of the biggest factors was availability. Detroit was ruled out because of maintenance at Ford Field. Similarly, AT&T Stadium in Dallas couldn't host because of the slight possibility that the Cowboys would be able to host the 2023 NFC Championship Game. Minnesota ran into a similar issue, too, in its candidacy for neutral site host.
Indianapolis, New Orleans and Tampa Bay also were considered by the NFL.
Ultimately, Atlanta secured the chance for a football game that was never played. The city has hosted three Super Bowls, most recently Super Bowl XLIII in 2019, which saw the New England Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams 13-3.
"It was a credit to our organization, we were selected out of any number of teams, to use our stadium," Blank said.