SBD/April 17, 2014/Franchises

Atlanta, Arthur Blank Officially Awarded MLS Expansion Team, Will Get Fan Input On Name

Blank (2nd from r) will get fans' input before deciding on the team's name
MLS Commissioner Don Garber yesterday "amidst a parade-like atmosphere" officially announced that Atlanta "will be the 22nd team" in the league, according to Doug Roberson of the ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION. Falcons Owner Arthur Blank will own the team, which will begin play in '17 in the new $1.2B Falcons stadium scheduled to open that year. There is no name yet for the club, but its colors "will be a combination of red, white and gold, similar to the original colors of the Falcons." Blank is paying $70M for the expansion franchise. He and Garber cited "several factors as to why they think MLS can work here when previous franchises ... folded." Among them were the "number of youth players in Metro Atlanta, the location and quality of the stadium and the growing Hispanic population." Both Garber and Blank said that Atlanta "likely wouldn’t have received a new franchise without a stadium that can accommodate soccer." Roberson reports the new stadium will "be constructed to accommodate the sport," as the upper deck "can be closed off with curtains." The lower seats can be brought "closer to the field to provide a more intimate feel for the smaller crowds that most MLS teams average." The team will "play on artificial turf, but Blank said grass will be brought on for international games and, he hopes, eventually a World Cup." Garber said that the Georgia Dome "wasn’t considered ideal to host a franchise." Garber said, "This is something that will help elevate our league. It will also elevate our sport in the entire Southeast, which is something that is very important to us strategically" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 4/17). MLSSOCCER.com's Simon Borg noted Blank was "visibly emotional when articulating to the crowd on hand for Wednesday's announcement what the sport meant to him." Blank also was impacted by the "reception from the supporters group, the Terminus Legion, as they serenaded him during the press conference and at one point chanted 'Uncle Arthur.'" Blank said afterwards, "That was cool, I didn't quite know how to react to it" (MLSSOCCER.com, 4/16). Inner Circle Sports advised Blank and the management team of the new Atlanta MLS franchise in the transaction (THE DAILY).

PUTTING THE FANS FIRST: Blank said that he will "get input from the fans before deciding" on the team's name. He added, "We will spend a lot of time listening to our fans and trying to understand why some names are more important than others, why certain designs are more important than others, why certain logos are more important than others." The AP's Paul Newberry noted one name "that won't be considered: Atlanta Chiefs, the name of two previous teams" that played in the old NASL. While the Chiefs "won the first NASL championship in 1968, both versions struggled financially and eventually folded." Meanwhile, Blank said that the new facility is "designed to seat about 71,000 for NFL games," but can be "reduced to about 29,000 for soccer." Blank said that he will "try to encourage some crossover between Falcons' season-ticket holders and those interested in attending MLS games." But he acknowledged that the teams "are likely to have very different fan bases, making it clear the new soccer team will not merely be a side business for the Falcons." Blank's first priority is "to hire a team president for the MLS venture" (AP, 4/16).

MARCHING ORDERS? ESPN's Keith Olbermann reported shortly after Atlanta was officially granted its expansion team, Massive City FFC, a group of Crew fans, "decided to start something" with the club. They tweeted out an image of Gen. William Sherman and a message that read, "Dear Atlanta, welcome to Major League Soccer. Our warmest regards from your old friends in Ohio." Sherman, who burned much of Atlanta during the Civil War, was an Ohio native. Olbermann said, "If you're an Atlanta fan, you can go one of two ways in response. Sherman was born in Ohio but at the time of the Civil War, he was living and working in Louisiana at a military school which would later become LSU and he really didn't live in Ohio after he left for West Point at the age of 16. In fact, when he died he was living here in New York. He's buried in St. Louis. Not really Ohio, or you can go the other way. Just respond to the Columbus Crew fans at Massive City FCC by saying something like, 'Wait, the Columbus team in MLS is in Ohio? It's not in the real Columbus, the one here in Georgia?'" Olbermann said Sherman "would tell you to always check your history before you go on the attack, don't leave your flank open" ("Olbermann," ESPN2, 4/16).
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