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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Arthur Blank still having 'substantial' talks to bring pro soccer club to Atlanta

Atlanta's professional soccer dreams are still alive and well, Arthur Blanks says.

Over the past year, the Home Depot co-founder and Atlanta Falcons owner has had lengthy talks with Major League Soccer officials about potentially bringing one of four planned expansion teams to the city sometime between 2015 and 2020.

It's been a while since Blank, whose proposed Falcons stadium plans include administrative offices for a professional soccer team, publicly commented on the prospects of an Atlanta soccer club. But Blank gave a brief update to veteran Atlanta reporter Maria Saporta on how the talks are going:

"You look at the crowd, and you see the spirit that's here," Blank said during a 10-minute sit-down interview in his suite during the game. "It is a great tribute to Atlanta and the appetite that Atlanta has for soccer at the highest level.

Asked about the status of his talks with MLS to buy an expansion team, Blank said: "I would say they are substantial."

Is a deal about to be announced?

"All I will say is that the talks are substantial," Blank said. "They have an interest in Atlanta. They love Atlanta, and we obviously know Atlanta. We are building a world-class sports facility for professional soccer. If you look at their map, there's a huge hole in the Southeast, and Atlanta is the hub of the Southeast."

MLS Commissioner Don Garber sounded pleased at the turnout for this week's friendly matchup between Mexico and Nigeria, which drew more than 68,000 fans to the Georgia Dome, and said that these kinds of events help MLS make decisions about where to expand the league. When asked about Atlanta, he replied:

"This has exceeded our expectations," Garber said. "It has exceeded the expectations of the Mexican Federation. This is a bold statement of support for high-level soccer in the Southeast.

"The sport continues to show signs of real growth. This will represent an opportunity for all of us who want to see MLS come to Atlanta."

The expected price tag for an MLS expansion team is estimated between $70 million and $100 million, Saporta says based on other recent transactions.

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