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Monday, July 19, 2010

Atlanta wants to become a global soccer city

Brazilian soccer star Ronaldinho dribbles down the pitch in last years match between AC Milan and Club America de Mexico at the Georgia Dome.
  • Alejandro A. Leal
  • Brazilian soccer star Ronaldinho dribbles down the pitch in last year's match between AC Milan and Club America de Mexico at the Georgia Dome.

"Soccer is good for Atlanta, and Atlanta is good for soccer."

That's the motto of Atlanta's first ever "soccer cabinet," a group of executives for Atlanta-based companies who believe soccer can not only stimulate the city's economic and social growth but also boost its standing globally.

The group will work together to study how Atlanta can embrace the sport and capitalize on its growing interest in the city. In a meeting last Wednesday, Aaron's CEO Robin Loudermilk - the head of the "cabinet" - cited a survey of international planners taken last year in which Atlanta ranked 33rd out of 40 U.S. cities in destination appeal. The group says that one reason for this low ranking is the city's lack of a Major League Soccer team.

All of the numbers confirm that professional soccer is an untapped opportunity in Atlanta... one that should definitely be explored now amidst all of the Post-World Cup buzz and excitement.

Here's why:

- It's the most populous sport in the state. 81,000+ players compete in leagues run by the Georgia State Soccer Association.

- It's the largest TV market in the country without a team in Major League Soccer. The MLS has been absent in the southeast for nearly a decade, but "Atlanta, with its demographics, population and business reputation, would be a natural fit," according to league commissioner Don Garber.

- The 2008 census shows that the Hispanic community makes up 8 percent of Georgia's population. The AJC reported that "businesses say they need soccer as a way to tap into that demographic."

- We have World Cup fever. The World Cup finals had an 8.5 TV rating in Atlanta, according to Nielsen research.

- Atlanta was selected as one of 18 cities included in the United States' bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2018 or 2022.

Aaron's International Soccer Challenge between Mexico's Club de Fútbol América (Club América) and England's Manchester City will be held at the Georgia Dome next Wednesday, July 28. The match is a key effort in Atlanta's campaign to prove it can support soccer on the world stage.

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