TOP TEN REASONS FOR ATLANTA
(1) INTERESTED OWNERSHIP
Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot and billionaire, is well known for taking the Atlanta Falcons, a once floundering franchise, into a successful franchise that regularly ranks in the top ten for attendance in the NFL. Blank has considered a MLS franchise for several years now, and with his deep pockets, he has the ability to provide Atlanta a team that has all the tools to be successful.
(2) STADIUM PLAN IN PLACE
The proposed stadiums includes some of the most beautiful and attractive stadiums that any fan has ever seen. The stadium bids are truly revolutionary to sports with features like the rumble seats and oculus. Most importantly, these stadiums will be designed with soccer in mind. Stadiums such as CenturyLink Field (Seattle Sounders) and BC Place (Vancouver Whitecaps) have proven that soccer specific stadiums are not always the golden ticket as a stadium designed for soccer can still be successful. The quick solution is to close off the upper sections in order to create the intimate feel necessary and to ensure there will be no football lines on game day.
(3) LARGEST TV MARKET WITHOUT A TEAM
One of the key pieces of success for MLS is to get more publicity and air time. To accomplish these goals, MLS needs to have a presence in the major TV markets. People should also be reminded that Atlanta, has been a growing celebrity destination and has even been dubbed the “Hollywood of the South.”
(4) GLOBAL CITY, AFFLUENT POPULATION
In 1996, Atlanta joined the ranks of the few select cities around the world that have hosted the Olympics. Of the listed alpha cities in the world, Atlanta is one of the only few that do not hold a major league franchise in soccer. Also, Atlanta holds the busiest airport in the world. And, Atlanta contains a considerable affluent population which has proven to be a key demographic in supporting a MLS franchise in areas such as Seattle and Portland. Likewise, “Hotlanta” boasts ample tourist attractions and nightlife to lure players into joining the club.
(5) MLS NEEDS TO EXPAND ITS NATIONAL FOOTPRINT
It goes without saying that when the league leaves out one of the largest and culturally significant regions in the country, it is missing out on a lot of potential profits. For instance, if you add up the most culturally southern states that an Atlanta MLS market could attract, Georgia (9.9 million), North Carolina (9.8 million), South Carolina (4.7 million), Tennessee (6.5 million), Mississippi (3 million), and Alabama (4.8 million), you are looking at around 38.7 million people which roughly translates to a seventh of the total population in America. These statistics do not include Florida, Louisiana, Virginia, Arkansas, or Virginia where fans may come from, as well. Furthermore, it is important to note that southern culture is perhaps America’s most distinct culture from the rest of the American population. And for reference, southern fans have shown the capacity to adopt a southern franchise as their own by example of the popularity of the Atlanta Braves across the south. Finally, Atlanta has the benefit of being centrally located in the south, and has been known as the unofficial Capital of the New South.
(6) SOCCER GAMES HAVE PROVEN SUCCESSFUL IN THE SOUTH.
When it comes to put up or shut up, the south has shown that it can support soccer games. For example, in the World Football Challenge, Atlanta boasted attendance rates exceeding 50 thousand for exhibition games. In the 1996 Olympics, the south had various games with attendance exceeding over 80 thousand for games. World Cup qualifiers and friendlies that have been held in Nashville, Cary, and Birmingham have been successful, as well. In short, there has been ample success stories to show that there are numerous fans that are willing to pay to watch soccer.
(7) THE DEMAND FOR SOCCER IN THE SOUTH IS EXHIBITED IN THE LOWER DIVISIONS
Five of the eight teams in the NASL are either in the southeast or can be identified loosely as southern. Of these, the southern teams had the highest attendance figures last year. The Atlanta Silverbacks were second only behind the Scorpions. Additionally, the Atlanta Silverbacks and Carolina Railhawks have shown to be two of the most stable teams in the NASL with both having soccer specific stadiums and a flourishing fan base. The Atlanta Ultras has become one of the most passionate fan groups in the NASL. Furthermore, six of the fourteen USL-pro clubs are either in the southeast or can be identified loosely as southern. Last year, only Rochester and Harrisburg consisted of teams outside of the southeast that broke over a thousand fans on average for the season. Charlotte was the only team in the southeast that did not. Moreover, Chattanooga FC boasted attendance figures of an average of 4,400 in the NPSL. Ultimately, these figures suggest that there is a demand for the sport in this region of the country. However, it should be noted that lower division support or lack thereof does not necessarily translate to success in MLS. Seattle and Toronto were consistently poor in regards to attendance figures while in the lower division, but have flourished when they entered MLS. The statistics should simply reveal that there is a high demand for the sport in the south and Atlanta would be a good destination for the first team.
(8) SOCCER IN THE SOUTH COMPARES TO ANY OTHER REGION IN THE COUNTRY
The recent USA vs Mexico qualifier shattered TV ratings, and of all the cities in the country, Birmingham, Alabama had the highest rating. Fans commonly pour into soccer pubs such as the Brewhouse to watch and show their passion for the game. Also, the south, Georgia in particular, boasts a competitive youth development system. For instance, players such as Josh Wolff, Clint Mathis, Sean Johnson, Ricardo Clark, and Jack McInerney all have their roots from Atlanta, Georgia. Likewise, The Concorde Fire of the US Soccer Developmental Academies is one of the many youth teams in the southeast that have produced talented players in MLS. It would serve MLS well if it could more efficiently tap into this future gold mine for talent.
(9) ATLANTA HAS A LARGE LATINO POPULATION
MLS has made no secret that they are keen to their Latino demographic in expansion. Atlanta has seen a “population explosion” of Hispanics in Atlanta in recent years. If MLS considers this a key demographic to market, Atlanta has all the ingredients necessary to have a large Latino fan base.
(10) ATLANTA AS A “BAD SPORTS TOWN” IS A MYTH
In all actuality, Atlanta is at worst average in regards to supporting their sports teams. The Braves are considered to be the third most popular team in MLB behind the Red Sox and the Yankees, and have been dubbed “America’s team.” Atlanta still receives a lot of unfair criticism for poor attendance during the 90s, but it should be remembered that Atlanta was one of the worst teams in the MLB for decades prior to these glory years. Yet, if attendance figures based on twenty years ago and for a different sport enter the equation, it is imperative to note that it has not been since 2005, that the Braves were in the bottom half of attendance when they finished 16th overall. Likewise, the Falcons were notoriously poorly operated under Rankin Smith. Under new owner and prospective MLS owner, Arthur Blank, the Falcons have seen a resurgence as they have grown into a solid franchise. And, if critics want to continue to point to the fact that Atlanta cannot support their teams, I will notate that Seattle has mostly been in the bottom half of the MLB and NFL for their existence. Finally, I believe it is beyond ludicrous to discuss the success of a hockey team in the south when discussing the opportunity of a MLS team. Hockey is a sport enjoyed mostly in colder weather climates. In other words, hockey is a hard sale for people in the south because it does not get that cold here. Regardless, even at the Trashers lowest, Atlanta would have been near middle of the park in regards to MLS attendance. And to reiterate, hockey is not as popular as soccer is in the southeast.
Therefore, I would say that Atlanta has been more unlucky with owners than they have been with having bad sports fans. However, we have still seen Atlanta show the ability to be successful by having quality ownership. Remember that this is the same ownership that wishes to bring MLS to Atlanta; one with a proven track record. In other words, the best predictor for success in any sport is the quality of ownership. We have seen Kansas City transform from one of the worst supported teams into one of the best with good ownership. Therefore, the only question that should remain is if Blank is a good owner or not? I would point to the fact that he has turned around the Falcons already as a testament to his ability to provide a quality product. And, I personally trust that he does not want to put a losing product on the field and he will be studious of how to be successful in this league. In the end, I believe that Atlanta under the ownership of Blank can and will be successful.