Let me take you back to better days we all hope to experience again someday soon. The year was 2017. It was a relatively brisk month of January, and for the first time in four years, the Atlanta Falcons were still playing football this late into the season. Behind the NFL’s most dominant offense, the Birds had just beaten the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Round of the playoffs to mark only the second postseason win in the Matt Ryan era.
A day after Atlanta’s victory, the Green Bay Packers went down to Texas and upset the No 1-seeded Dallas Cowboys in their own Divisional Round matchup. This set the stage for a Falcons-Packers NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome.
There was understandable electricity and excitement in the city of Atlanta — nobody could stop talking about the Falcons. Everyone was wearing their Falcons gear, and strangers in that gear, walking past each other on the streets, greeted one another with “Rise up” and “we got this.”
The night before the Falcons were set to kick off against the Packers, I was at the Hawks-Bulls game at Phillips Arena and bore witness to a massive “Let’s go Falcons” chant which broke out throughout the entire building. Everyone was buying in, and this city was more unified than it had been in years.
Everyone, of course, except for Park Tavern — the “Atlanta restaurant” which partners with Southwest Airlines over Delta and serves Pepsi instead of Coke. A couple of days after the matchup was set, it was announced that Park Tavern, situated in historic Piedmont Park, was going to host a Green Bay Packers pep rally the Friday before the big game. Falcons fans felt understandably betrayed — after all, this was one of our restaurants, catering to the enemy just two days before the most important Falcons game in 18 years.
Out of those feelings of betrayal grew resentment and a resulting desire for revenge. The backlash Park Tavern received over this actually unified Falcons fans even more as they now had a common enemy beyond just the Packers.
Falcons fans took to Yelp and Facebook reviews to completely destroy Park Tavern’s rating and reputation. I recall following along on Facebook throughout a 24-hour period as their rating fell from around an average of 4.6 stars to around 2.9 stars. I don’t know what their Yelp rating was before the incident, but it was below 3.0 stars by the end of it. 1-star ratings and messages of boycott flooded the review boards for all to see. Some even called Park Tavern the Bobby Petrino of restaurants, which made me laugh.
Even the First Lady of the Falcons, Matt Ryan’s wife Sarah, expressed outrage at the pep rally on Twitter, another social media site where Falcons fans repeatedly roasted the local restaurant.
While hurting Park Tavern’s star average on social media and review sites may seem like pettiness which results in nothing, any marketing director will tell you how detrimental this can be to a restaurant’s business. People are much more inclined to listen to their peers in this word of mouth review system than they are to the marketing messages of the business itself. In fact, according to a 2015 study done by BrightLocal, a research and review firm, it was discovered that 92% of consumers read online reviews when evaluating a local business. As a result, a poor Yelp review can be pernicious to said local business.
The outrage got to be so overwhelming that, a day later, Park Tavern’s owner had to apologize for “offending” Falcons fans. The Packers pep rally still happened that ensuing Friday, however.
I understand that Park Tavern is a business and that they probably made some good money for hosting this event, but they were looked at as an Atlanta staple (because of their location, mostly). Had this been done in a Packers bar in Atlanta then there would’ve no complaints from me or many others, but this wasn’t the case here.
Atlanta received some backlash for our outrage, most notably from Deadspin, who called us “crybaby Falcons fans.” I guess they were upset that this went against that cheap narrative they consistently try to push about Atlanta being a bad a sports town.
Can you imagine if a Green Bay restaurant held a Falcons pep rally that Friday before the game? That restaurant would’ve probably gone out of business as a result of the ensuing outrage and backlash, and I’m sure that Deadspin would’ve upheld a double standard by commending Packers fans for being such a passionate fanbase.
I’m immensely proud of the Falcons fanbase for what they did to Park Tavern on the review boards following the announcement of this treacherous pep rally. I may just be speculating here, but I’m sure that had Park Tavern management known what was in store for them, they would’ve never accepted the offer to host that event. Falcons fans showcased the type of passion and drive I had been waiting to see for years, and we made Park Tavern pay for their treason.
If you look on the Yelp and Facebook review-boards today, you’ll see that Park Tavern has never fully recovered from this incident. Their Facebook average is currently at 3.3 stars with a healthy sample size of 5285 reviews. On Yelp, they now have just a 3-star rating with 500 reviews. I hope the money they made from that Packers pep rally was worth it.
The Falcons would go on to beat the Packers by a resounding score of 44-21 to advance to the Super Bowl, and I still haven’t stepped foot in Park Tavern following this episode.