The secret that everyone knew about finally became reality on Wednesday afternoon as Atlanta was awarded a Major League Soccer franchise. Speculation had been rife for months that Arthur Blank was on the verge of bringing MLS to Atlanta especially since he gained the final approvals on his new Falcons stadium.
That speculation proved to be well founded as Blank, Mayor Kasim Reed, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Frank Poe, Executive Director of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority and former MLS and USA international standout Alexi Lalas gathered for a press conference to announce the award. The Atlanta MLS franchise will use the new Falcons stadium and will put its first team on the field in the 2017 season.
The popularity of the MLS has been steadily growing in North America over the last few years. As soccer gains a growing foothold in North America more stars are being attracted to the highest level of professional soccer here. International stars like Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, and David Beckham have all played MLS alongside such U.S. stars like Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan with English soccer superstar David Beckham and his investor group likely to be the next MLS expansion franchise in south Florida once a stadium is determined.
It makes sense to award Atlanta an MLS franchise. It is the biggest media market in the United States without an MLS team and the changing demographics of the city have created a growing demand for top class soccer. That demand has become more evident in recent years as Atlanta has been attracting bigger soccer events and larger crowds.
Most recently more than 69,000 fans watched Mexico and Nigeria play at the Georgia Dome while the city has also played host to two CONCACAF Gold Cup games, the US Women’s National team and several international clubs that have played games at the Dome.
In announcing the addition of Atlanta and Arthur Blank to the MLS family, Commissioner Garber said in a statement “We are thrilled to welcome Atlanta to Major League Soccer as our 22nd team. Atlanta is one of the largest and most diverse markets in North America and has a rich tradition in sports and culture…With Arthur Blank joining our ownership group, we are adding one of the most respected owners in professional sports.”
This has been a developmental journey that started in 2008 for Blank who stated “We are very excited to bring a Major League Soccer team to Atlanta. We are going to build a first-class organization on and off the field that will be a source of pride for the entire community, and we believe our downtown stadium will become a destination for soccer fans throughout the Southeast for many years to come.”
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was full of praise for the decision of the MLS and the motivation of Arthur Blank. He acknowledged the benefit of the move for the city as it strives to become a major urban force and influence in the 21st century, “Atlanta has long been an international city with a vibrant and diverse population. An MLS soccer team competing in our new state-of-the-art facility could not be a more fitting and welcome addition as we continue on our path towards being one of the leading cities in the world.”
What remains yet to be seen is how the new MLS franchise will interact with the existing NASL team, the Atlanta Silverbacks. At the press conference on Wednesday afternoon the talk was all about how the new MLS team will look for ways to work together with the Silverbacks. They have three years to work out those details.