Posted September 13, 2013

MLS expansion team likely heading Atlanta’s way

MLS
(Pouya Dianat/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images)

The choice of Atlanta for an MLS expansion team makes sense, as it’s the ninth-largest metropolitan area in the U.S. by population. (Pouya Dianat/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images)

Atlanta has emerged as a prohibitive favorite to host an MLS expansion team, SI.com has learned.

Multiple sources have confirmed that the league and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank are deep into discussions that likely would result in an MLS club sharing a downtown stadium with the NFL franchise. The Falcons intend to open a new $1 billion, retractable roof facility in 2017 adjacent to the Georgia World Congress Center, which is just north of the Georgia Dome.

It’s unclear whether Blank’s MLS team would launch in 2017 or join the league earlier and play in a temporary home. The new stadium is being designed with a wide, soccer-friendly field and MLS locker rooms. It also may feature a secondary retractable roof system that will cover the upper tiers, leaving approximately 27,000 seats available for league games. The Vancouver Whitecaps use a similar configuration at BC Place.

On Thursday afternoon, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that negotiations between Blank and the league “accelerated” when the Falcons received approval for the new stadium, which will be 70-80 percent privately financed. Opening the new facility with an MLS game has been discussed, according to the AJC.

SI.com spoke to three sources with knowledge of Atlanta’s expansion effort following the release of the AJC article.

MLS commissioner Don Garber announced in late July that the league plans to field 24 teams by 2020. There currently are 19. New York City FC, a joint venture between England’s Manchester City and the New York Yankees, is scheduled to begin play in 2015.

SI.com understands that Garber told MLS staffers during meetings in Columbus this week that three of the four subsequent expansion sites (after NYCFC) already have been decided. He used similar words when speaking to Canada’s TSN on Wednesday.

Orlando City, a USL Pro (third tier) club that claimed its second championship in three years on Saturday before nearly 21,000 fans at the Citrus Bowl, appears destined for MLS. Assuming an October vote on using an existing tourism tax to fund the final quarter of the club’s $80 million downtown stadium project goes well, MLS should be ready to announce Orlando’s addition by the end of the year. The Lions could take the field as an MLS team as early as 2015.

The second of the three cities to which Garber referred to is Miami, although its progress isn’t as clear-cut as either Orlando’s or Atlanta’s. Former L.A. Galaxy midfielder David Beckham, who holds an option to purchase an MLS expansion team, has been focusing on Miami. He has been working with Marcelo Claure, a Bolivian billionaire who went to college in Massachusetts and made his fortune in the wireless industry.

On Wednesday, Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross told attendees at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in New York that he was interested in bringing an MLS club to South Florida. A source told SI.com that Beckham and Ross are not currently working together. Ross has been trying to get public funding to help pay for a renovation of Sun Life Stadium.

In comparison, Atlanta appears to have its house in order. It is the ninth-largest metropolitan area in the U.S. by population, a massive transportation hub and it would serve as a natural rival for either Orlando, Miami or both. The Atlanta Silverbacks of the second-division NASL play at a 7,500-seat facility located about 15 miles northeast of the Georgia Dome. The last top tier team to call the area home was the Atlanta Chiefs. The old NASL club existed in two incarnations, the latter folding in 1981.

Blank, who’s also the co-founder of The Home Depot, has been interested in MLS for some time. He was one of seven potential owners who bid for an  expansion team back in 2008-09, but Atlanta lost out to Portland and Vancouver. Garber confirmed last February that conversations with Blank were continuing. Blank’s teenage son, Joshua, is an accomplished youth player, so the sport runs in the family. It now appears to be only a matter of time before he has a local MLS team to cheer for.

48 comments
M20
M20

If they install a secondary roof, I hope they do it better than the Whitecaps do. Those curtains look awful. You can see through all the gaps and are still very aware that you're in a much larger stadium.

jeg_atlanta
jeg_atlanta

@therednorth1@jeffrey.a.tyler I'm from Atlanta and I can tell you that hockey didn't make it is because winter type of sports aren't popular here and there is very little support for these types of sports at youth level. In addition to the poor finances there were some legal issues between the owners that led to the sale of the Thrashers to Winnipeg.

Atlanta is a top 10 US TV market. It has a great technology, communications, and trasnportation infrastructure. It also has a great culinary and music scene. It is the home to some very large companies that are potential sponsors like Home Depot, UPS, Intercontinental Hotels Group (Americas Headquarters), Coca Cola, Suntrust Banks Inc. to name a few. Atlanta has some of the best club and high school soccer programs in the south and it has produced several professional and national team players. 

The city has hosted every major american sports event (Super Bowl, World Series, NCAAs) and the Olympics.  has one of the fastest growing Latin American population segments in the country and this people love soccer. Atlanta weather is also great for outdoor sports with the exception of later November-February period

Atlanta is a natural fit.

therednorth1
therednorth1

If hockey can't survive in Atlanta, I'm not sure I see why soccer would be any different.

ChachiMcSuarez
ChachiMcSuarez

Share with an NFL stadium? No thank you. Plastic turf and empty seats. 

NoQNoSuperBowl
NoQNoSuperBowl

Braves have the best record in baseball - and they have for much of the year - and they are 15th in attendance. 

cdg1
cdg1

EAST - Toronto, Montreal, New England, NYRB, NYFC, Philadelphia, DC, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, Columbus, Chicago

WEST - Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Colorado, Salt Lake, LA Galaxy, Chivas USA, San Jose, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver

That gives you 12 in the East and 11 in the West. One more expansion team out West. Maybe the Chivas experiment also ends.  What other West cities would be candidates? I have seen Sacramento, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and St. Louis as potential sites.


jeffrey.a.tyler
jeffrey.a.tyler

If Atlanta is not a bad sports town, then tell us how the Atlanta Silverbacks are doing.... not on the field, but in attendance.  I grew up in ATL and can't remember how many Braves playoff games didn't sell out during their run of 14 division wins.  Atlanta sports fans love their American Football, but that's kind of it.  ... tell me, how is the Hawks' attendance?    

 ... I'm just not convinced that Atlanta is a place where soccer will draw, and I'm someone who loves the game and coaches two of my kids' teams.  The money guys see all those people living in the city and assume that they will go see soccer games.  History suggests that this will not end well for the MLS and Mr. Blank.

btcvsolo
btcvsolo

Woopity Doo....

They've tried force-feeding soccer to US fans for 30+ years. No one but immigrants or idiots who played as children care...

Bahamut
Bahamut

Atlanta is not a bad sports town, we've just had terrible sports owners.  The owner of the Thrashers sold the team because they never wanted to own it (but they were a package deal with the Hawks and Philips Arena operating rights), and the Flames owner sold them because he lots millions on a separate real estate deal and needed cash.  People need to stop blaming the fanbase for what was the ownership's fault.  Thankfully, Blank is an owner that actually wants to win, and isn't cash-strapped like the former Atlanta hockey ownerships.

dw0128
dw0128

Wonder if they will last as long as the Thrashers did. Atlanta is a great city, just a horrible sports town. Unless you're the SEC of course.

ryanbparker
ryanbparker

What happened to a soccer specific stadium requirement?

AC16280
AC16280

@ChachiMcSuarezYeah, I mean look at all the empty seats in Seattle.Plastic turf in an NFL stadium will NEVER work!

Davos1
Davos1

The stadium is being built with soccer in mind. This isn't the Georgia dome. And Blank isn't Kraft. He s a soccer fan.

ThePDFGhost
ThePDFGhost

@cdg1 I would like to see San Antonio. I think they have the fan and infrastructure.

jr17
jr17

@cdg1 I'm thinking Las Vegas is eventually an option with the new facilities they are building


blarsenafc1886
blarsenafc1886

@cdg1 
San Diego, surely. They always set records for views for matches on TV. Surely they can do a better job than Chivas. 

Craig64
Craig64

@jeffrey.a.tyler There is a HUGE soccer presence in Atlanta.  Plus a huge mexican/hispanic population that will dump NFL, MBL and NBA to get MLS tickets.

atwood.t
atwood.t

@btcvsolo Since I am neither nor many of the 20,00+ fans in Portland that attend the Timber's games that I watch I guess that your theory is wrong. Portland has been sold out for all three years and Seattle has 35,000+ for all games. You might not like soccer so don't go but also don't insult those of us that do. Go back to whatever sports that you prefer.

miller e
miller e

Tell that to the 21,000 majority US fans who showed up for Orlando City Soccer Vs. Charlotte Eagles USL Pro Finals last weekend. This is division 3 soccer, not MLS and draw over 21,000. The lead story on local news outlet wasn't Miami Vs Florida Gators but yes, you guessed it, Orlando City Soccer. Now please go crawl back into the hole you came out of.

miller e
miller e

@btcvsolo Tell that to the 21,000 majority US fans who showed up for Orlando City Soccer Vs. Charlotte Eagles USL Pro Finals last weekend. This is division 3 soccer, not MLS and draw over 21,000. The lead story on local news outlet wasn't Miami Vs Florida Gators but yes, you guessed it, Orlando City Soccer. Now please go crawl back into the hole you came out of.

jdgaucho09
jdgaucho09

@btcvsolo I dunno, it sounds like a better alternative than having the NFL force-feed us RG3, diva quarterbacks and the like.  Besides, the MLS season mostly runs against the MLB season, not the NFL.

red.nights76
red.nights76

Thanks for your idiotic and racist take. Funny that FOX would pay $400 million for the World Cup broadcast rights for a sport no one cares about, or that a World Cup held in the US 19 years ago set an attendance record that still stands. Why don't you crawl back down your troll hole and leave this conversation to people who care about soccer.

blarsenafc1886
blarsenafc1886

@btcvsolo Wow. Could you sound more xenophobic? What makes these people idiots? The fact they like to be mobile for 90 minutes? You know Seattle-Portland match had 70,000 in attendance, right? Wait...you definitely don't; why bother asking?

Oh, and please don't call me an idiot or immigrant. Father still serving in the US Army and I myself played every sport as a child.

Doug1
Doug1

So which category do you fall into?  You obviously have some interest or you wouldn't have read the story?

jdgaucho09
jdgaucho09

@Bahamut that could very well be the case.  But will Atlanta residents support an MLS franchise whose season runs directly against the Braves?


BulletTooth_Tony
BulletTooth_Tony

@ryanbparker Yes, soccer-specific. NOT soccer exclusive.  Being specific means it conforms to the field dimensions instead of having rounded corners.  It has a 6 inch crown in the center of the field instead of 12 inches so that the ball doesn't roll towards the sidelines as much.  Revenues from ticket sales and concessions go to the team, not to the arena owner.  Kinda like Qwest/CenturyLink in Seattle... a soccer-specific stadium, that also hosts an NFL team.

InspireNYC
InspireNYC

@Davos1 If he was a real soccer fan, he wouldn't dare put soccer in an NFL stadium.

El_Oso
El_Oso

@blarsenafc1886 @cdg1 As much as I'd love to see San Diego get a team and the fan base would be there, I can't see it happening due to stadium issues.  I think MLS doesn't want to get near Qualcomm Stadium and the City hasn't been able to get anything going for the Chargers, which they'd give priority to over an MLS team.

San Diego is just too much of a mess right now.

Davos1
Davos1

The Silverbacks are rumored to pad their attendance. They will also probably fold now. But there are soccer fans in Atlanta. A second tier team NASL wasn't going to attract them. But a MLS team could. Atlanta is the largest media market not in MLS.

jeffrey.a.tyler
jeffrey.a.tyler

@M20 @jeffrey.a.tyler   Hey, That's GREAT.  Let's all hope that they are willing to go to a game in the ATL downtown.  I'd love to see it all work out well, even if I have my skepticism that it will.  Let's be honest, hockey in ATL never made sense (how many NY or Canadian ex-pats live in ATL?), but soccer really could.  Hope that the players don't wilt in the ATL mid-summer humidity! 

btcvsolo
btcvsolo

@miller e HAHAHAHAHA.....SO glad I could elicit that kind of response from you jock-sniffers. Keep on writin', haters....your sport sux & I will not respond to any more responses...

btcvsolo
btcvsolo

@Doug1 The category of 'woopity doo' of course...and I can damn well comment on anything I choose...

Kaultar
Kaultar

@ThePDFGhost @AC16280 @ChachiMcSuarez 

Seattle is an exception.  I don't see many other cities in the US supporting their team the way Seattle does.  Doubt there are cities out there that could fill a NFL stadium for a regular season soccer game.

mattsherrod16
mattsherrod16

@Davos1 I'm an avid silverbacks fan and yes some games they do pad their attendance but at the same time there have already been several games this season where they've gone past capacity and sold standing room only tickets. 

M20
M20

@btcvsolo @miller e Ironic use of the word hater. Go crawl back into your cave. The rest of the soccer loving world is doing just fine with you.

miller e
miller e

@btcvsolo @miller e Oooh don't hurt me,"I will not respond to anymore responses." Go screw yourself. You look like you sniffed enough Jocks in your lifetime. How did they taste.