MLS closing in on deal to expand to Atlanta
NFL owner Arthur Blank also wants MLS team for new $1-billion stadium
Major League Soccer is closing in on a deal with Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank to bring an expansion franchise to Atlanta's new downtown stadium.
The team would likely begin play in 2017, when the $1-billion retractable roof stadium is set to open next to the Georgia Dome to provide a new home for the NFL Falcons.
"Our discussions with Major League Soccer continue, but we do not have a final agreement at this time," Kim Shreckengost, the chief administrative officer for Blank's AMB Group, said Tuesday in an email to The Associated Press. "We hope to complete the agreement soon, at which time we will make a formal announcement."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported that a new team will be announced April 16.
"We are continuing discussions with Arthur Blank to bring a Major League Soccer expansion team to Atlanta," said Dan Courtemanche, a spokesman for MLS. "However, we have not finalized an agreement at this time."
The MLS has long coveted the Atlanta market, the largest in the U.S. without a team, as it moves toward its goal of expanding to 24 franchises.
The 19-team league has already announced expansion franchises in New York City and Orlando that are scheduled to begin play next season, in addition to a provisional franchise in Miami owned by a group that includes David Beckham. That team is contingent on a deal for a new soccer-specific stadium in south Florida.
There are no such concerns in Atlanta, where the Falcons' new stadium was designed to accommodate an MLS team, providing Blank with additional revenue streams for the elaborate facility.
While most MLS teams are moving toward smaller stadiums that are built solely for soccer, the Atlanta franchise would follow the model of teams in Seattle and Vancouver, which play in larger facilities downsized to provide a more intimate setting. For instance, Vancouver's BC Place has a curtain system that blocks off the upper deck, reducing capacity from 54,000 to 21,000. Atlanta's new stadium will likely have a similar capability.
Atlanta had two franchises in the old North American Soccer League. The Chiefs won the league's first championship in 1968 but folded after the 1973 season, having spent their final year known as the Apollos.
The Chiefs returned to the NASL in 1979 when the Colorado Caribous moved to Atlanta. That incarnation lasted only three seasons, never drawing as many as 8,000 fans a game before folding due to heavy financial losses.
Atlanta has a team in a new version of the NASL, a league that ranks below MLS on the U.S. soccer ladder. The Silverbacks play at a 7,500-seat stadium on the outskirts of the city and are apparently not involved in talks on the MLS expansion team.