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MLS- Expansion

Report: MLS in "significant discussions" to create expansion team in Atlanta

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By DAN KARELL

Atlanta is looking more and more likely to be one of four sites that Major League Soccer plans to expand to by 2020.

A report in the Atlanta Journal Constitution states that billionaire owner Arthur Blank is in “significant discussions” with MLS and Don Garber to bring a new team to the capital city. Blank, who owns the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, received some good news on Thursday in his efforts to build a new stadium for the Falcons, and previous reports have stated that he’d like the stadium to house an MLS team as well.

The city of Atlanta found enough private money to buy a piece of property on the land that the Falcons would like to build their stadium on. The stadium is expected to be finished in 2017, and could cost an estimated $1 billion.

Atlanta is no stranger to soccer, and the summer of 2013 has been very kind to the city. The NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks won the NASL Spring Season title, while the Georgia Dome hosted a Gold Cup doubleheader this summer with an announced crowd of 54,229, a record attendance for soccer at the Dome.

Back in April, Falcons President and CEO Rich McKay said to the Atlanta Business Chronicle that the team and ownership group were open to a number of options when it comes to operating an MLS franchise in the city of Atlanta.

“We believe that a world-class city like Atlanta needs a Major League Soccer team, and that Major League Soccer will be very successful here,” , McKay said. “We are trying to facilitate that happening by configuring a new stadium to accommodate the requirements of professional soccer.”

Back to the Atlanta Journal Constitution report, even if there is no MLS team in Atlanta when the stadium opens, the report states that there have been discussions about hosting an MLS match there anyway.

On Wednesday, Garber told TSN while in Toronto, Canada that three of the four potential expansion franchises were “already spoken for.” Atlanta might just count themselves in that list.

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What do you think of this report? Do you like the idea of MLS in Atlanta? Do you believe they could support a team? Do you see the league expanding to multiple teams in the southeast United States?

Share your thoughts below.

331 comments
  • Phil

    Atlanta will be okay. I am far more interested to see who is the fourth team, presumably in the midwest. Indy? Detroit? Minne?

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    • slowleftarm

      All poor choices in my opinion. I’d go with Orlando and San Antonio next and then see what happens. I think that’s sufficient for right now.

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      • What me worry?

        St. Louis should be first choice and then Indy maybe. St. Louis for some reason has great and knowledgeable sports fans who support its teams and not just baseball and football. They have a rising youth and high school and college soccer base and an SSS would work well there. Indy fits the same mold but not sure where could put a stadium to attract people since downtown appears to be full.

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      • crossmlk

        What me worry,
        You are correct in all your points regarding St. Louis. As a Kansas City guy I’d like to offer another very important one. For most other markets MLS has gone out of their way to bring in natural rivals for teams. See the excellent job they’ve done in the Pacific Northwest. The addition of Philly to make the Eastern corridor have even greater rivalry opportunities. The addition of Montreal gives Toronto a natural and traditional rival.

        If they want to double down on the success of SKC and give a boost to Chicago (who have had a lot of success as a franchise also) as well but also doesn’t have great natural rivals available, St. Louis MUST get a franchise. A nice three way rivalry might give the Chicago-KC rivalry a little extra bite as it really hasn’t taken off. The funny thing about rivalry’s is they can’t be forced but they can be developed. St. Louis could be a catalyst to make that happen for Chicago-KC.

        MLS has developed (or had developed for them) a very successful franchise in KC. It’s time for them to show their support for it!

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      • Phil

        Orlando will be 21. Miami will be 22. Atlanta could be 23. SA or Sac could be where Chivas moves to if prices for an expansion franchise keep going on an upward trend (why buy a franchise for 100 mill when you can get Chivas for that).

        MLS want to go midwest but where is the question. Indy has 5700 season tickets sold already. Detroit has a strong PDL team, but would love to see in USL or NASL. Minneapolis leads NASL in attendance but still has a few hurdles. St. Louis… man they should have been number 15 or 16 or so. They deserve something.

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    • Alex

      Um. He always wanted them to play in this new hybrid stadium. Nice try though.

      Hey everyone, Jason Davis is ragging on ATL on Soccer Morning. Let him know he’s clueless. Call now. Email. Contact him via Social Media.

      Like

    • Drew_OC

      Charlotte’s a good area that really has a good soccer tradition. Building a soccer stadium close to downtown would be relatively cheap. We had the Home Depot Center, maybe we could have the Lowes Sports Park and put BofA on the team jersey.

      Like

    • What me worry?

      Still think Raleigh would be better location, less competition for the entertainment $ and easier to get around in. Raleigh would draw from Charlotte and Durham and Burlingtoon, and Virginia, and Greensboro Winston-Salem. Charlotte would draw from some of those areas as well as South Carolina and Tennessee but driving in Charlotte sucks by comparison.

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      • Ryan in NYC by way of NC

        I think Raleigh/Durham would be a MUCH better option in the south for an MLS franchise. There’s rich tradition in the triangle area in regards to soccer and a team would only have to compete with the Carolina Hurricanes. I think a Raleigh team would be a no-brianer.

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  • What me worry?

    This is a giant step back. MLS does need a team in the South but not Atlanta. My argument is not based upon an SSS versus multi-use stadium (and yes I know Seattle does it but they are the possible exception to the rule, see New England Revolution as the rule). Atlanta couldn’t keep interest in a fourth tier sport like hockey so where is a rising but still fourth-fifth-tier sport going to draw from? The size of the market doesn’t justify the hope that a small percentage of the market liking soccer will mean excess fans and success. If market size alone was the key factor then Winnipeg wouldn’t have its hockey team back. The franchise will draw if it is winning but what about average years etc. This is where sustainability comes into play and in this Atlanta fails with any non-major 3 sport.

    Put an MLS franchise in Raleigh or near it, not Charlotte. There already is an NASL team there in Carey and I believe at least two USL teams in the region. This is where the younger urban professionals with money live work and play and they are part of the demographic that would support it. Plus youth and high school and college soccer is huge there. There is no other competition from a pro sports team and as Columbus has shown us an MLS team can do well even in a college football/basketball (The Ohio State University) town.

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    • Josh

      It’s a little hard to hang the Thrashers’ failure on the folks of Atlanta. The Atlanta Spirit Group (ASG) was forced to buy the Thrashers as part of their acquisition of the Hawks. ASG *never* wanted to own a hockey team, and they paid no attention to it, keeping a rock-bottom roster and never even bothering to replace incompetent GM Don Waddell.

      With all that, the Thrashers average attendance was pretty close to the CAPACITY of Winnipeg’s hockey arena, but obviously Winnipeg’s a more welcoming market.

      That said, an MLS franchise would be competing not only with the other pro sports, but college football as well. It’s a crowded sports market.

      All that said, the metro Atlanta is highly cosmopolitan; there are lots of people, Latino and otherwise from all over the world living in the greater metro area, and I’m guardedly optimistic that soccer could become a much bigger draw here than people think.

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      • The Squad

        Whats wrong with this market??

        Much is made of Atlanta as a sports town but no argument moves beyond ‘the fans wont come.’

        This is pretty difficult to determine when the franchise only exists in the planning phase..

        Comparables are useful, but they seldom include information regarding the area’s current top-level soccer franchise..

        A franchise with a recent history of success and an obvious model for the city’s MLS aspirations..

        MLS loves rivalries..

        With the presence of Blank and the energy behind the Orlando MLS bid An Orlando-Atlanta provides a promising alternative to the league’s previous foray into the southeast..

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      • Ali Dia

        Good luck with Orlando-Atlanta “rivalry”. Florida just doesn’t get out of bed for professional sports period, let a alone a highly contrived marketing gimmick.

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      • kryptonite

        You are confusing the city of Miami with the state of Florida. Pro sports do great in the state of Florida outside of Miami. But for the Dolphins and Heat, Miami kills off pro sports franchises. Even Jacksonville keeps some attendance despite the owners intentionally trying to suppress attendance to get a move to L.A. or other larger venue.

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    • Seriously

      Comparing hockey in the South to soccer may be the dumbest argument I have ever seen. You do realize it hardly ever snows down here right? Lakes and ponds don’t freeze over. We have absolutely no connection to that sport at all. Kids don’t grow up playing at some local rink or pond or whatever. Soccer on the other hand is played all over the place, We have several USSDA teams in the region and the TV viewership of USA games is at the top of the country. How about having some actual knowledge about the place and basing an argument in something that actually has bearing.

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      • Ali Dia

        This isn’t “Little House on the Prairie”, bud. Lots of pros never learned to play hockey on a frozen pond. Here in LA, we have a successful pro hockey team with a big fan-base and lots of youth programs, and it hasn’t snowed once during my lifetime.

        Beyond that, I basically agree.

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  • Enos

    Blank only wants to do this because it will help him get his stadium. The Atlanta franchise will be just like the Revs… Bad idea.

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  • Acf

    Bottom line is winning. People will get behind a winning team and a good product. And Arthur Blank will do things the right way; hire good soccer people, etc. Just note what happened with the Falcons – the difference in culture, competence, support, and success before and after he bought that club.

    What many people fail to grasp is that a team in ATL would be a regional team. In addition to the metro area, they will draw in fans from places like Birmingham, TN, and the Carolinas. Thats both attendance and multiple tv markets (on a regional network like SportSouth). This is interest MLS will not garner in Florida.

    Without historic ties to a team where they moved from (as you get in NFL and baseball), transplants will support the team too.

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    • Seriously

      Birmingham right here, been an ATL sports fan all my life. This pretty much only means the Braves though as College football is so much more important down here. I know a lot of Falcons fans, but if they played at the same time as Auburn, UGA, bama, etc. They would get almost no views in comparison.

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  • BWHOLL

    Comparing this Atlanta team to the Revs is misguided. The Revs play 40 minutes outside of Boston while this stadium will be downtown. Gillette stadium is a terrible stadium for atmosphere, regardless of what sport is played. It is so open that sound escapes easily, making a crowd of 64,000 Pats fans seem quiet. I think this Atlanta team will be similar to Vancouver if anything.

    Like

  • Pingback: Is Minnesota going to miss out on MLS? - Major League Soccer for Minnesota

  • Brian

    Putting a MLS in another football stadium in ATL seems like a horrible idea. You’d think MLS would have learned from the mistake of applying the “big market” trope to MLS teams.

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    • Steve Wise

      That’s not happening in Atlanta. The new stadium will have different configurations for NFL games and MLS games. It is designed from the git-go for both sports — as well as for concerts, NCAA basketball tournaments, whatever. Different seating, different configurations for different events. With a grass field, no artificial turf. “Another football stadium” misses the mark.

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      • petedx

        There is only so much you can do to change configuration. My guess would be this consists of putting giant Atlanta Silverback (or whatever) team logo covers over the upper deck.

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      • Alex

        Your guess would be wrong. Pitch designed to meet FIFA standards for international play, separate MLS locker rooms and offices, inner retractable roof for lower bowl.

        Regardless, what you described above would be exactly what Seattle does and it looks just fine.

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      • WhiteHart

        I’d say Seattle has shown that putting a team in an NFL stadium that had soccer in mind when being designed isn’t a bad idea.

        Putting an MLS team in an old NFL stadium and trying to fit a square peg into a round circle is the problem.

        If the stadium is done the right way, it shouldn’t make a difference that it shares a stadium.

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      • Seriously

        I agree with this. Would I love to see the Atl MLS team in its own SSS? Obviously I would, but at the same time if the stadium is designed with both in mind like in Seattle and with real grass then it can certainly work.

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      • RK

        One, I still haven’t seen what the MLS version of Falcons stadium would look like. Two, Atlanta is not going to pull in 42k a game like Seattle.

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    • Jason

      The new stadium would have a very similar concept to Vancouver,with the retractable roof covering the upper deck to include only 27K seating.

      Like

  • Alexandria

    Let me just say I am soooo there first day season tickets come out I will buy them. And for those of you who keep saying Atlanta has terrible attendance. UGA and GT have better attendance than most NFL teams. People care about the teams they have a connection too. So you put an MLS team a franchise Atlanta can have from the start and watch it grow, it will be just as Organic as the college teams comparing Soccer to Professional sports in this country is way off base the passion in other pro sports isn’t there the true barometer is Collegiate sports and you can not beat collegiate attendance in this region and thats how you sell this team. With PASSION!! lets go!

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    • Sizzle

      Well, Bobby Dodd stadium only holds 55k, so I don’t see how GT outdraws most NFL teams. Atlanta has proven to be a crappy pro sports town. There’s no way around it. MLS needs a presence in the South, and Atlanta is the obvious choice, but there’s a good chance an MLS team in Atlanta won’t be successful.

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    • scott47a

      I have no problem with Atlanta for MLS, unlike some other posters, but saying people are not passionate about pro sports is ridiculous and maybe shows why some people worry about Atlanta.

      College sports are not better than pro sports. Do you find yourself at a lot of college soccer games?

      Can you logically say that the people in Green Bay or Pittsburgh or a few other cities are not passionate about their NFL teams? What about people in Boston or Chicago or St. Louis about baseball?

      Sorry, not buying this.

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      • Seriously

        College football is better than NFL football, in the South. This is not a debatable point. College sports in general? No, most people would rather hit a Braves game than an Auburn, Georgia, GT baseball game unless they happen to live around those campuses. College Basketball may be more popular than the NBA around here as well, though basketball in general doesn’t get much love. I agree with the OP that the feel of MLS is closer to that of other major college sports rather than professional sports. Will that make Atlanta draw crowds for MLS? I have no idea, I hope so. I’ll be there.

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      • scott47a

        I appreciate your perspective, but I have to say I think that is what worries some folks about the south and MLS.
        NFL, MLB, NHL (Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Detroit, Chicago, etc.), NBA (LA, NY, OKC, Portland, etc.), all bring out passion in people in some places, but not, for some reason, in the south.
        It’s not the games or the leagues that lack passion. It’s the fanbase. Let’s hope more southerners think of MLS like the SEC, I guess, so they will support more strongly than they have in the NBA and NHL.

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      • Jason

        Might want to go watch the Braves vs. Cards wild-card last year to see some “Southern” passion about is fanbase. BTW that game was sold out, how did that happen, I thought Atlanta never sold out any Braves playoff games?

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    • yankiboy

      I just want to be sure that I’m understanding you correctly about other pro sports not having passion. It sounds like you are saying hat soccer fans are somehow–maybe by nature (for lack of a better phrase) more passionate that the major pro sports fans in the US.

      Maybe I read that wrong.

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      • Seriously

        In my experience, I would agree with that statement. Being that my experience is almost entirely in the Southeast I would say that matters for this instance. It might be different in other parts of the country.

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  • Alex

    Dear anti-Atlanta MLS fans. We are crashing your little elitist party. Mind if we grab some of your beers and rummage through your vintage vinyl record collection? Oh, you DO mind? Well that’s too bad. Come on in, everybody. Gonna have blow out at the exclusive MLS club. Feel free to raid the fridge.

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  • Lilburn JAC

    Mr. Blank has developed a sports model that transformed an irrelevant Falcons franchise into a financial success with a passionate fan base. This would be adapted for the new club.

    His Falcon organization can be leveraged to benefit the MLS team. Don’t the Sounders and the Seahawks do the same thing?

    And he built Home Depot from the ground up (with Bernie Marcus). How did that turn out?

    This the right guy to make the Atlanta MLS team flourish.

    Can’t wait.

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    • Ali Dia

      Replace Arthur Blank with Robert Kraft. Replace Falcons with Patriots. Replace Home Depot with International Forest Products. And there you go. How’s that working out?

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      • Ali Dia

        It’s not a question of the market. After all, New England could move to a soccer-specific stadium anywhere they like in the region, but the ownership isn’t serious about getting it done.

        It’s a question of ownership engagement. If Blank isn’t sufficiently engaged in the MLS team’s success, it will fail no matter where it is located. The concern is that the MLS team would just be an ancillary amusement to the Falcons, as the Patriots appear to be to Kraft. MLS teams lose money more often than not, and profits are laughable compared to NFL. If Blank is not genuinely interested in growing soccer (and almost certainly losing money in the first 3-5 years), he will lose interest and the team will lose relevance.

        I don’t know enough about Blank to make a guess about how he will treat the franchise, but for me it’s fair to say that a successful and engaged NFL owner does not necessary make a successful MLS owner, which seemed to be the point of the original post.

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      • Al

        (Sigh.). Getting tired of repeating this. Here are the differences:

        Grass pitch conforming to FIFA standards.
        Lower bowl configuration with upper bowl masked off.
        Separate locker rooms and offices for MLS club.
        Central, downtown, urban location.
        Ex-Columbus Crew GM has been on Blank’s staff for years.

        Please do some some research, folks.

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      • Ali Dia

        Thank you for telling me what I already know. The entire point is that those are weak differences. Most of them focus on the physical qualities of a yet-to-be-built stadium. This proves nothing. The Galaxy and Chivas share the same facility, and their stories couldn’t be more different. Why? because what really matters is organizational culture, and engagement of management. These are where the question marks lie.

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  • user222

    There is a pattern that most MLS teams keep making when building a new ‘soccer specific stadium’…

    they always choose sites and locations not really accessible by the working stiff, low-end, blue-collar worker…

    It works for the NFL teams and its large wallet. It is an extremely popular league and when teams upgrade to a new stadium the yuppie, middle, and well-off crowd is always there to support the team.

    Football/soccer in the US is different and is still in its infancy. Most stadiums in the world center around downtown or rough areas where anyone has a chance to get to it even young ethnic kids.

    In their early ages, the Maradonas, Messis, Peles, Ronaldhinos, etc. never played in places that look like suburbia USA…. it is rare but it is almost impossible to cultivate world-class soccer players in middle or upper class environments.

    Like

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