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Report: Atlanta edge towards becoming MLS’ 23rd franchise

Feb 7, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT

Arthur Blank AP

Soccer in the Southeast of the United States has never had it so good.

In the last three months the region has been handed two Major League Soccer franchises, with Orlando City arriving in 2015 and David Beckham’s Miami franchise set to begin play in 2017.

Those two Florida franchises could have a Southern foe to do battle against, as MLS might be heading to ATL.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay told city officials on Thursday that the NFL side is “far along in negotiations with MLS” about becoming the league’s next franchise.

With the Falcons about to break ground on their new stadium just a few hundred yards from their current home in the Georgia Dome, plans to have an MLS side based in the new $1.2 billion venue have been apparent for quite some time as NFL owner Arthur Blank has spoke of his admiration for an MLS franchise in downtown Atlanta. On Thursday McKay reinforced those feelings.

“It’s our objective to get an MLS franchise if we can make it happen,” McKay said. “We think it would be, not just great for Atlanta and the region, but really it’s the right thing to do for the southeast.”

(MORE: Who’s left? With Miami confirmed, MLS down to two expansion slots)

How do we feel about Atlanta’s potential arrival into MLS?

It could work, especially with Orlando and Miami as regional rivals a la the Seattle, Vancouver and Portland triangle up in the Pacific Northwest. The far Southeast corner of the U.S. has been neglected in soccer terms for many years and deserves a shot at bringing a whole new dimension to MLS, which I think it will.

Having a franchise in ATL playing in a 70,000 American Football stadium may not sound that attractive to many people, but the Vancouver Whitecaps have proven it can work as they have a partition that folds down and acts as a ‘fake roof’ at BC Place, as ‘Caps fans sit in the bottom tier of the 60,000 seater stadium and get crowds of over 20,000. This would not be a return to the dark ages of MLS when teams played in huge stadiums and struggled to get crowds of over 10,000 in the ’90’s.

It is something that could happen as early as 2017, as that’s when the Falcons new stadium will be ready. Perfect timing to join Miami’s Beckham-owned franchise as they are likely to join the league in ’17.

The league does like to introduce expansion sides in groups, as we saw Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake join in 2005, Portland and Vancouver in 2011 and New York City FC and Orlando City will arrive together in 2015. This is all beginning to make some sense, but I can’t help but think some other cities in the U.S. would be feeling pretty miffed if MLS did arrive in Georgia. Cities like San Antonio, Minneapolis and Sacramento have a decent chance, but there will only be a maximum of 24 MLS sides in the foreseeable future after Commissioner Don Garber said so.

So, ATL to MLS, what do we think?

  1. sfm073 - Feb 7, 2014 at 1:02 PM

    Atl is a bad sports town.

    • Sgc - Feb 8, 2014 at 11:56 AM

      Atlanta’s rep as a bad sports town is a bit dated. Atlanta shot up in population between the 60s and the 90s. A lot of its rep comes from when metro ATL was half the size that it is now, and a lot of those people were new, and had loyalties to out-of-town teams.

      When pro sports teams (Falcons, Braves, Hawks, Flames) flooded into ATL in the late 60s, it was both ‘too soon’ and ‘too late’–too soon to have a large native Atlantan population, and too late to do anything about the fact that college sports had established a long tradition in the region. Which is part of why their attendances were pretty soft, and something that tends to change slowly over time as people actually grow up there.

      There is one problem, though, that hasn’t changed as of yet: sprawl. Atlanta is one of the most sprawled metros in America. Fulton plus the inner counties that border Fulton only have a combined population of about 1.5m. The outer counties are about twice that. And that’s a problem, because it means there’s no location you can put a stadium without being inconvenient to a large part of the population. “Downtown” isn’t even the best location you could pick from a fan point of view (this is why the Braves are moving to Cobb County. If you’ve ever seen the map of their season ticket holders, most of them live quite a ways north of town.)

      Plus, if you’re living an hour out of town, your identity as an “Atlantan” tends to be weaker.

  2. gr8force - Feb 7, 2014 at 1:16 PM

    Bring it! Would LOVE LOVE LOVE to have MLS team here in the ATL!

  3. Scottie - Feb 7, 2014 at 1:22 PM

    We’re eager and we’re ready in Atlanta!

  4. GreenCent - Feb 7, 2014 at 1:25 PM

    If I hear another uninformed blob commenter spew the ESPN “Atlanta is a bad sports town” line, I’ll puke. We’re the national capital of college football (there’s a reason why the Hall of Fame is being built here), the Falcons have sold out for years (unlike other cities I won’t mention), and we’re middle of the road on baseball attendance despite not being a baseball town. NBA viewership is ridiculously high here, and despite lousy ownership for the past decade, the Hawks are turning a corner. Yes, we lost two hockey teams, but there’s absolutely no reason we should have a hockey team in the first place given that we have a grand total of 3 ice rinks in this city. Haters, give it a rest.

    As for the possible success of an MLS franchise in Atlanta, it’ll work. Arthur Blank is an amazing owner. An state of the art new stadium will be built by 2017 right in the heart of the city. Metro Atlanta has a great youth soccer culture and a large Hispanic demographic. We’ve shown with Mexico’s recent Gold Cup match that soccer draws crowds above 50K.

    Should I go on or some other disciple of J.A. Adande or Tony Kornheiser going to badmouth Atlanta for the upteenth time?

    • chadmoon1 - Feb 7, 2014 at 5:44 PM

      I’ll do it. Atlanta completely blows as a sports town.

      When the Braves aren’t good, attendance is low. When the Falcons aren’t good (this year), attendance flags. When the Hawks suck (all the time), attendance is terrible. When the Thrashers aren’t good…Oh wait, they left town because Atlanta is such a great sports city.

      And MLS has been working vigorously to get all teams into their own stadiums, yes this is a step backwards playing in an American football stadium.

      If Atlanta wants an MLS team so badly, let the Silverbacks grow organically into it.

      • GreenCent - Feb 7, 2014 at 6:42 PM

        Yes attendance does down when teams aren’t good, just like at… Yankee Stadium and Wrigley, where supposed “die hard sports fans” live? That happens in every city, except maybe hellholes like Green Bay or Philly. And your point about “organically” growing into MLS is dumb. The vast majority of MLS teams didn’t have to do that to join MLS, so I’m not sure why you would require it of Atlanta.

      • GreenCent - Feb 7, 2014 at 6:44 PM

        Oh and the new stadium would collapse down nicely to better suit a smaller MLS crowd. So all your points are wrong.

  5. gtg007w - Feb 7, 2014 at 1:25 PM

    Please please please make this happen!

    For those doubting if it will succeed… when AC Milan and Man City came to play Club America for pre-season in successive years, the attendance was over 50k. Even when Mexico played in a friendly. There is a demand for pro soccer in this city.

    • hildezero - Feb 7, 2014 at 2:54 PM

      Obviously, you’re new to this sport called, “soccer” and don’t know how it works to get a soccer club in your town. Just because AC Milan, Manchester City, and Club América played in your town, doesn’t mean having an MLS club will be successful there. It doesn’t mean that the 50K or whatever you said, will show up at the Atlanta games. Also, you mentioned Mexico to show as an example… Yeah. You definitely don’t know anything about soccer. I’m Mexican and I’ll tell you this: Just because Mexico fans showed up at a Mexico game, not only does not mean that they’ll show up for the Atlanta games, but also you do know that most Mexico fans that go to Mexico games in USA are not actually from that local host city where ever they’re playing at, right? Most Mexico fans come from far destinations to watch their team play. Most come from other cities and towns and others outta state while a few are from locally. So don’t expect Mexicans from Alabama and Mississippi to go to your Atlanta club’s matches. Oh. Also, about your Milan, Man. City, and América point, it doesn’t mean that those same fans from their respective clubs are gonna support the Atlanta club. Don’t believe me? Just ask New Yorkers and NYRB fans about that same subject. You’ll get the same answer.

      • GreenCent - Feb 7, 2014 at 6:49 PM

        Clearly this response was written by someone who has never been to Atlanta nor knows anything about what’s been happening demographically down here since 1996. We have one of the fastest growing Hispanic (largely Mexican-American) populations in the U.S. My experience going to MLS matches elsewhere and Atlanta Silverbacks games leads me to believe that the population will get behind a team in in Atlanta.

        The fact is that Atlanta has sold a lot of soccer tickets in the past and you’re trying to find lame excuses for why that shouldn’t matter.

  6. toadgeek - Feb 7, 2014 at 1:25 PM

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!!! We need MLS in ATL!!!!

    • chadmoon1 - Feb 14, 2014 at 5:08 PM

      Sorry toadgeek, this isn’t for you, it’s for GreenCent, but there was no reply button there. So organically grown clubs are dumb huh? Seattle-oganic from USL. Vancover-organic from USL. Montreal-organic from USL. Portland-same.

      Check the facts. The organically grown clubs have the highest attendances in the league. Atlanta needs that, because yes, it is a bad sports town.

      And MLS doesn’t need to be in a stadium that needs to “collapse down” to accommodate small crowds. We spent the first 5 years doing that in this league and we are past it. We should not be stepping backwards now.

  7. nwatkins85 - Feb 7, 2014 at 1:32 PM

    This would be superb. The Silverbacks already have a great following (had the highest average attendance in NASL in 2012), and that would easily translate to MLS. And to give us a leg up, join Terminus Legion!

  8. mmbt0ne - Feb 7, 2014 at 1:51 PM

    Couldn’t be more excited for this to happen!

  9. pmkatl - Feb 7, 2014 at 1:58 PM

    So excited about this. We already have a group together for season tickets. I actually think this will work (if it happens!). With a massive youth soccer culture as well as a large international community, I see absolutely no reason why we wouldn’t be able to draw (at least) 20,000 per game. Additionally, none of the transplants (many of whom now have children born in Atlanta) that moved here in the 90s and early 2000s have any allegiance to a soccer team from their hometown. Combine all of this with tremendous intown growth and a new downtown stadium accessible by rail and this could be a really big deal.

  10. wilsonodk - Feb 7, 2014 at 2:28 PM

    Really excited about having MLS in Atlanta!

  11. milleniumcrux - Feb 7, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    Atlanta is the largest TV market without an MLS team and believe me, Arthur Blank doesn’t make business decisions without doing his homework. The interest in an MLS team is DEFINITELY there. The new stadium will be served by Atlanta’s rapid transit system, which serves many diverse areas and international communities. All that is left is a name!

    Semper Terminus Legion!

  12. danielofthedale - Feb 7, 2014 at 2:54 PM

    MLS in Atlanta will be a success. The key demographics for MLS attendance and support are growing in Atlanta. Blank does everything first class and really cares about the city and would not take on a team that he was not sure could become a big part of the community. The Silverbacks have seen attendance grown each season. We have a brand new supporters group that has formed and in less than month they have grown to 100 paid members and that number should really grow as the year goes along. I think that Atlanta is ready for MLS and will make it work.

  13. djp141 - Feb 7, 2014 at 3:00 PM

    It’s not NC, but I’ll take it.

  14. pmkatl - Feb 7, 2014 at 3:00 PM

    So excited. Looking forward to getting season tickets!

  15. rooseveltoldbouy - Feb 7, 2014 at 3:36 PM

    Here is my thing with Atlanta. I do not doubt that there is a passionate base of fans in the Atlanta metro area (how big or small I do not know). I do know that the Silverbacks have had their problems. My problem is with 1) Ownership and 2) Stadium. Garber has said continuously that new owners not only need money but have passion for the game and that teams need a satisfactory stadium situation if not a SSS and a passionate fan base,

    I think that Atlanta is like trying to put a circle in a square hole. The Falcons owner is not passionate about soccer, his organization is trying to fill dates in their new stadiums calender. Paul Allen in Seattle is a minor owner in the Sounders who has turned over the keys to Roth and Hanauer who have invested heavily and make all the decisions. It is the exception. That is not the situation in Atlanta. A team owned by the falcons will be the step sister. A MLS team will not even be second in line in scheduling, behind the Falcons, High School Football, marching band competitions, Monster Trucks, Motobike racing, and concerts. Tell me otherwise and you will be lying. The fact that MLS/Garber has been working so hard to get each team in a situation where they control their dates of competition and control ancillary revenues, like advertising, concessions, parking; Atlanta runs contrary to all of that.

    It all comes down to TV and how many TVs are in the Atlanta metroplex. Not that it would figure into any great ratings surge in the land where FOOTBALL is king. Atlanta is a sellout to everything Garber has declared n the past.

  16. player169 - Feb 7, 2014 at 4:23 PM

    Would be super jealous. Atlanta has a better chance then San Antonio…and I’m hoping someone in St Louis will step up, but probably won’t happen…

  17. arukahmedicine - Feb 7, 2014 at 5:58 PM

    Put me down for two season tickets. Nuff said.

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