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Atlanta drops out of MLS expansion race

ArthurBlank (GettyImages)

And then there were five.

Atlanta dropped out of the MLS expansion race last week, citing trouble getting commitments from its potential partners for a 2011 target date. The news, which got a bit lost during MLS Draft week, means that St. Louis, Miami, Portland, Vancouver and Ottawa are the lone remaining candidates for the two expansion slots for 2011. Montreal had its bid removed from consideration.

Was Atlanta, led by Atlanta Falcons owner and Home Depot founder Arthur Blank (pictured), really an option for 2011? It appears we will never know, although Atlanta still seems to be holding out hope for 213.

So who are the favorites? I would still say Miami and St. Louis are the picks, although Don Garber continued his tradition of telling the St. Louis ownership group that it needs to get stronger financially. That would give some hope to the bids in Portland and Vancouver. I'm still not sold on Ottawa being a viable option.

What do you think of Atlanta dropping out? Share your thoughts below.


  1. THIS SUCKS. There is a lot of support in the area, not only the hispanic population, either…… I have NO DOUBT that an MLS team would flourish in the Atlanta metro area… If anyone doubts this, come visit Atlanta on Football Day and I will take you to a number of pubs packed wall to wall with footy fans from all over the globe… Atlanta is an EXTREMELY international town… Almost HALF of the ATL metro area is transplanted from elsewhere (my family moved here from NY in 82)….

    An MLS club would do just as well here as any of the other towns in the running.

  2. As a long time Atlanta resident (since 63) and Georgia native, I’d love to see the MLS here. I am disappointed by Arthur Blank withdrawing his bid, but still have hopes for a secondary expansion (post 2011) in the MLS.

    Atlanta has had a rather spotty history with soccer. There was the Chiefs in the late 60s, the Apollos in the mid-70s, the Chiefs (again) in the early 80s and the Silverbacks most recently. None have drawn especially well and all have eventually folded. So, there is a rather huge history to overcome.

    As others have pointed out, Atlanta has some unique problems. A large number of Atlanta residents are relocated from other areas and already have affiliations with other teams. There is a substantial bias against any sport other than football, especially in the media (newspaper, radio and TV).

    There are some positives that could be built on here. Since the last franchise, there is a very large population of both Hispanic and Asian immigrants. Both of these populations could support a team, if marketed correctly. I believe it would take some specialized marketing to make this successful.

    Arthur Blank is a very charismatic person with existing good relations in the local media. In Atlanta, it will take someone like him would have the opportunity to actually influence the media to overcome their bias. (I’ve heard 15-20 minute diatribes on both sports talk radio stations about how they don’t want to talk for even 5 minutes about hockey).

    For soccer to work in Atlanta, it will take a rather substantial marketing campaign. It would need to be an ‘event’ to attract patrons from other sports venues. A team simply can’t hope to open the doors and be successful here, unless it is a form of Americanized football. And even then, there’s no guarantee that league will survive.

    The big hold-up on the Atlanta bid, from what I have been able to ascertain, is/was the ability to finance/build a soccer-only facility and have it operational before the 2011 season starts. Just construction times alone pretty much limit MLS expansion in 2011 to cities that already have a facility under-development. I think that a 2013 or even 2015 time-frame would be much more likely for an Atlanta bid.

    Ultimately, I think that MLS could support a 24 team league. There are enough cities in the US and Canada that should be feasible.

  3. I think atlanta would be a great place for mls expansion considering how committed Blank is on building a quality team.

    as far as fan support, i think Atlanta has a lot of fans of mls. and the stadium would be smaller, as to only seat 18,000-30,000.

    BTW this isnt dumb hockey or basketball

  4. Say yes to St. Louis, Portland and Vancouver, who can only make the league stronger.

    Say no to Miami, Atlanta, and Ottawa, who add nothing but embarassment to the league and will drag it down.

  5. If the St. Louis group wins a team – which it probably won’t – they’d have more time to complete their stadium than the Cardinals needed to build the much bigger Busch Stadium in a much tighter location. Throwing up an 18,500-seater in a horseradish field won’t take two years.

  6. if it isn’t St Louis this whole selection process is a joke.

    hell, it already is

    St Louis should have gotten it before Seattle.

  7. Yeah right David, the boycott from Atlanta fans is going to be terrible for MLS. If you didn’t notice, Blank was part of the end of this bid. The bid wasn’t even close to having a long-term stadium solution. Grow up.

  8. Well, if everybody’s so glad that Atlanta is out of the expansion race, then maybe you all can do without Atlanta’s TV ratings as well. We do watch MLS down here, you know. Call me when MLS’ ratings are better than extreme nose-picking.


  9. Portland is working on the public financing. I’ve seen it up close and I’m not worried about it. I think it’s going to happen and that’s not just some educated guess.

    Did anyone miss the fact that Garber basically said St. Louis doesn’t have the money right now unless they get a deep pocketed investor? I don’t understand why people are still saying St. Louis is getting in.

    Here…go look for yourselves..

  10. First; Ottawa will not drop out.

    Second; those who put Ottawa down are not aware of what is going on who just make their opinions with the little knowledge they have (sorry to be blunt, but if the hat fits you can put it on).

    The MLS needs a healthy USL as a second tier, and grabbing Miami, Portland or Vancouver will simply make the USL weaker. On the other hand, you want to build up where youth soccer and the soccer community is. In this regard, the 2011 picks are fairly easy; St.Louis and Ottawa have the best youth soccer communities of the lot. They are also not in the USL.

    So if the MLS comes up with anything other than St.Louis and Ottawa, it will show that this was uniquely a money grab and not trying to make soccer into a contender sport in North America.

  11. 3. everyone has to drive into downtown everyday for work, last thing they want to do is go back there for the weekend. no one lives downtown, they are all in subs.

    Posted by: Jags98


    And how is that different than most other major US cities?

  12. After Ottawa drops out as well and 7 becomes 4 will Garber realize that he asked for too much money?

    Posted by: Dave Clark


    Or, is it just a case where potential investors were in over their heads in the first place?

  13. If St. Louis falls by the wayside due to lack of deep, deep pockets, then I believe Vancouver has to be looking good. The ownership group is wealthy, their is a very good fan base with a Whitecaps-friendly media, and they have a renovated, downtown stadium with a chance to build a gem on the waterfront as soon as the Federal gov’t/port gets out of the way. Vancouver would be a great rival to both Seattle and Toronto, and if Portland ever gets its stadium situations ratified, then Portland would be a rival too. Seattle has a similar soccer passion to Vancouver and I would bet that Vancouver could replicate Seattle’s season ticket success upon launch.

  14. Couple of other thoughts on Atlanta:

    1. Silverbacks were too busy trying to reinvent the league with their own league instead of focus on building fans with quality soccer.

    2. pushing out the bid allows Gwinnett to get back in the game, they are too busy adding the new minor league baseball stadium to help with this project, but they do want it.

    3. everyone has to drive into downtown everyday for work, last thing they want to do is go back there for the weekend. no one lives downtown, they are all in subs.

  15. How about MLS & US NATs working with future sites to promote the sport. US friendlies need to be played in areas of consideration for future teams as well as MLS preseason games. Start building interest, prep the cities. Why do you think European clubs are here in the US playing games before their season starts. Expanding fan base, growth.

  16. Kakadinho, I’d agree with you except that KC’s owners won’t let you move their team after they’ve build a new stadium.

    Jones71, agreed. Portland has a lot to do and I don’t see how it gets done by the start of the season. It usually takes around 3 rounds of negotiating to get a deal struck and MLS rarely has suceeded in getting a downtown city to put up any money. A 2nd NYC team would be great. Getting a soccer stadium built in NYC proper would be incredibly expensive so MLS needs some luck with the right owner coming around. Hopefully Wilpon is the man.

  17. Here’s what I don’t understand about Portland – sure the Timbers have strong fan support, but their stadium plan is contingent on moving the minor league baseball team to their own stadium – where in the world are they coming up with the the money for the new baseball stadium on top of the money needed to renovate the exisiting stadium? Big question that needs answered.

    And anyone who thinks that MLS doesn’t need a second team in New York for it’s long term success (i.e. National Television contracts that actually pay) is dreaming, naive or just plain dumb.

  18. Ottawa will get in soon enough.

    They have the complete package along with Miami and Vancouver. It might not be in the next round of expansion, but I bet they get in before you know it.

    Finally, Portland won’t get in because they don’t have the public funding. If they did…it would be a lock.

  19. Cabrito, what exactly does having NHL teams in the south have to do with MLS? Some of you are getting dumber by the second.

  20. I think it will be Portland and Miami. St. Louis does not have the money, and MLS would prefer the Portand v Seattle rivalry instead of Vancouver v Seattle.

    As for Miami, I cannot see the MLS turning down Barcelona, who are touring here again this summer.

  21. Scheduling becomes a big problem after 24 teams (and a decent problem before then). They’d probably end up splitting the leagues regional with limited interleague play (like baseball). I hope that doesn’t ever happen. Otherwise they’d have to look at a pro/rel system – not happening anytime soon. I agree that the push towards 30-32 teams will be strong. But this is all a good number of years away from being an issue we need to worry much about.

  22. Chris, what format would you like to see MLS have with 30 teams? I’m going to venture a guess and say most MLS fans would like to see a proper single table league, playing each team twice (home and away) with points crowning the champion. Thirty or more teams would make that impossible. Not to mention the logistical problems of stadia. Where would all of these teams play? Try drawing up a schedule for 30 teams when many of them share a pitch with and NFL or NCAA team.

  23. I believe that someday the USL is going to be a big competitor of the MLS. I would love to see the MLS and USL combine to become a large “national” league and then incorporate relegation. Relegation will force owners to get serious about there investments and team growth. Compete or go to the sidlines with your mediocre team.

  24. LJ, St. Louis doesn’t have a USL pro team just yet. With pro soccer in this country, it’s better to look at actions rather than talk. There’s a lot of talk.

    I have problems with USL’s history of taking in borderline owners with poorly thought out stadium plans. Failed franchises leave scars. Rochester’s previous ownership went bankrupt and fell behind on various payments. Ultimately the city was stuck with a stadium and banks were stuck with loans that paid for the stadium. Virginia Beach built a small stadium that now has no pro team. Building from the ground up means many failures along with the successes. And those scars make it twice as hard for the next guy trying to sell pro soccer.

  25. “But that would seriously force the league to have a August-May type schedule and i don’t see that happening for years to come.”

    Why would 24 teams require a August-May schedule? Considering that Jan/Feb would have a majority of teams unable to play?

    It would just require a non-single table.

  26. Expansion talk by MLS sometimes seems too hurried. I remember when it looked like Cleveland was getting a MLS team and we were looking at satellite pics of the site to be developed. I was looking for work there (My wife needed a reason for me to move by her family.). Slow and smart is a better route than a race to 20.

  27. Chris, you make a great point. MLS Could have 24teams within a decade. But that would seriously force the league to have a August-May type schedule and i don’t see that happening for years to come. That’s as likely as relegation/promotion.

    I think the league should focus on simple expansion. Expand to 18teams by 2011 and 20 by 2013. And cap it there. Maybe by 2016 they can expand more if there money and fans desire it.

  28. Since it was brought up earlier in this thread, I wanted to clear something up with actual statistics, and not just speculation.

    I looked on for NHL attendance figures. Atlanta is next to last in the league, the “2nd” NY team is last, and Florida (Miami) is 24th out of 30 teams. If you rank the teams by % capacity, Atlanta and Miami are the 2 worst in the NHL.

    In the NBA, Miami is 16th and Atlanta is 21st. Portland is 3rd, averaging 102% capacity.

    So if we’re using other professional sports as a guide, hopefully this data will be helpful.

  29. Well, cleveland is growing into something bigger, the at st louis aren’t they building off of their award run PDL side?

    I think they have a system that allows the cream to rise to the top and keep going, instead of betting the farm, throwing people into high stake situations, and having heads role every two seconds.

    I’m not talking about player development but fanbase, executive, and infrastructure development.

  30. MLS isn’t requiring SSS’s. Seattle, Miami, and Vancouver are likely getting in without one.

    Cleveland and Tampa are probably playing in stadiums seating less than 5,000. Toronto and Houston are much bigger than the new USL markets.

    I really don’t see how USL is “building from the ground up” any more than MLS. The PDL and USL youth leagues are great, but only in a couple of markets have they had anything to do with really building pro soccer. And now MLS teams are sponsoring academy teams at a much higher rate than USL.

  31. undrafted, you are solid on your thinking. But I think MLS is also holding itself back in that it requires a lot of money and SSSs and isn’t necessarily a better approach than building from the ground up.

    USL teams that learn from lessons while building from the ground up could prove to accelerate it’s growth a little further down the road. Like I said before, I don’t think MLS should view it as a direct rival, because the US is just so darn big. But if their Cleveland, Austin, St Louis, and Tampa can be the Toronto, Houston, Salt Lake City, and SJ of the MLS expansions, USL could make some real good strides.

    The success in the US Open Cup and CCC doesn’t mean everything, but it is a sign of something I think.

  32. The NFL has 32 teams. The MLB, NBA and NHL have 30. There’s no good reason why the MLS, as it evolves into a top American sports league, can’t have 30 teams eventually.


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