Atlanta United's Early Success Reflects Arthur Blank's Ownership
Second-year club Atlanta United hosts the Timbers in the MLS Cup Final on Saturday, and while Atlanta United Owner Arthur Blank felt the team would be successful, team President Darren Eales "will be the first to tell you that we thought it would take longer than this," according to a front-page piece by Steve Hummer of the ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION. Asked how he thought Atlanta United's success on and off the field has redefined Atlanta as a sports city, Blank said he has "never been part of the camp that said Atlanta was not a great sports town." Blank: "I always believed if you put a great product on the field, you give the fans a great experience, that they will respond to that." After Atlanta was awarded an MLS expansion franchise in '14, Blank said there were "some people who were skeptical" about whether soccer would work in the city, but he "didn't give them a lot of audience." Blank: "I had a good feeling for the pulse of soccer in Atlanta." Blank said Atlanta United's success so far can be tied to fans having the "opportunity to be part of the birthing process of a new franchise in the city, in a sport that is a global sport." Blank said of the atmosphere on game days, "We respect the soccer fans so that when they walk into that stadium it doesn't feel like a Falcons stadium. It feels like a Atlanta United stadium in every sense" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 12/7).
SUCCESS IN EVERY FACET: The AJC's Hummer writes if anyone has not "already heard about Atlanta's fevered following for this team, they'll soon enough find out." Mercedes-Benz Stadium is "going to be full and filled with a youthful, diverse energy that has marked the United audience as something different from every other Atlanta game-day crowd." Flags "will be waving" and chants "will fill the room." There is "no need to manufacture noise or gin up excitement at even those United games that don't come with a trophy at the end." Hummer: "Imagine the ruckus when a title is at stake." One of the "most extraordinary facets of United has been its fan base." Record crowds "have been the norm, and they are an equal partner in the Atlanta soccer experience" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 12/7). Blank when he bought into MLS said that he was "determined not to treat the soccer team as 'a stepchild.'" THE ATHLETIC's Jeff Schultz wrote it would be the "natural perception: an NFL owner buying into a lesser league for the mere purpose of having another tenant for his stadium." Atlanta United has been a "great example of how to build a sports franchise on and off the field, investing in the front office, coaching, player acquisition and development and marketing" (THEATHLETIC.com, 12/6).
EMBRACING THE COMMUNITY: PRO SOCCER USA's Jordan Culver noted Atlanta United partnered with MLS Works to "transform the James T. Anderson Boys & Girls Club" in Marietta, Ga. The team on Thursday "unveiled a new teen center for the club's 130-154 kids, as well as a mini-pitch." Eales was "on hand for the announcement," as were MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Atlanta United D Mikey Ambrose and F Romario Williams. Eales said, "Right from the very start, the things that we've done, whether it's working with the Boys & Girls Club (or) doing the stuff we do with 'Soccer in the Streets' with our pitches that we have at the MARTA stations, everything we've tried to do is about community and connection." Culver noted this is the "second MLS Works event organized by Atlanta United" (PROSOCCERUSA.com, 12/6).