SBD/April 10, 2014/Franchises

Arthur Blank Expected To Pay Between $70-100M For MLS Expansion Fee

Blank confirmed that his MLS expansion agreement is in the final stages
Falcons Owner Arthur Blank's new MLS team in Atlanta is "expected to pay an expansion fee" somewhere between the $70M paid by Orlando City SC and the $100M paid by NYC FC, according to Brian Straus of SI.com. Blank, appearing on Atlanta's WCNN-AM on Tuesday, confirmed his expansion agreement is in "the very final stages." He added that the MLS BOG "already has approved the use" of the Falcons' new stadium, which is set to open in '17. Straus reported the stadium "will be built with soccer in mind, with a wide field (albeit artificial turf) and a draping system that will create a second, temporary roof over the lower deck." In Blank, MLS has "vetted its new partner carefully" and "determined that he's in it for the right reasons." MLS also "has a long-standing relationship" with Falcons Exec VP and Chief Marketing & Revenue Officer Jim Smith, who served as Crew GM from '00-04. He has "played a key role in helping Blank arrange his expansion bid." Still, an Atlanta MLS franchise will have "skeptics, either because of the empty seats at Braves playoff games and the departure of the Thrashers or because of a more deep-seated doubt that the southeast will support pro soccer." But if Sporting KC "has proven anything, it’s that a well-run club with the right stadium can succeed just about anywhere." Meanwhile, a 24th MLS team "should be on board" by '20. A source said that Minneapolis "is considered the frontrunner" (SI.com, 4/9).

ENOUGH TO GO AROUND? In Montreal, Matthew Wood wrote while expansion "can be considered good news to the current clubs, the pace at which MLS is growing is perhaps slight cause for concern." With current rosters set at 30, there are "serious questions as to the ability of the United States and Canada to support an extra 21% growth within three years." Wood: "Simply put -- do the U.S. elite ranks have enough talent to put an extra 120 players into MLS without 'watering down' the product that has begun to win so many local fans?" (MONTREALGAZETTE.com, 4/9).
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