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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fans will help pick MLS team's name, so let's keep this clean, OK people?

CL_MLS-9495.jpg
There's no name. No logo. We might have some colors. But there is, by God, a team.

Yesterday afternoon, in an event space overlooking Downtown and the not-long-for-this-world Georgia Dome, Atlanta was officially named the home of Major League Soccer's 22nd expansion team. Arthur Blank, flanked by Mayor Kasim Reed, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, and chant-happy grassroots fan group Terminus Legion, said the city and metro region are ready for a professional soccer squad. And that he was willing to pay between $70 million and $100 million to own the team. The team will kick off in 2017 in the proposed stadium that the Home Depot co-founder's Atlanta Falcons will call home - provided court challenges and construction issues don't delay its opening.

Blank told the crowd gathered at Ventanas that the $1.2 billion football facility will feature technology that will create a game-day environment conducive to football and soccer games. The lower bowl seats will retract to allow for a wide field and upper-level seats will be covered. Plus, he promised that he'd make sure fans would never see NFL lines on the field during a MLS game.

Here's a simulation of what the stadium could look like during games, courtesy of the MLS Atlanta 2017 YouTube account:

He also told CL that the team wouldn't be an afterthought to the Falcons. The organization would have its own staff, offices, and facilities - they'd be separate entities. No people would serve in dual roles.

Atlanta is the MLS' third expansion team in the Southeast in recent years and perhaps its largest untapped TV market. Garber said Atlanta was representative of what he considers the "New America" - a demographic that's young, diverse, connected, and makes up a large chunk of MLS' fan base. As Maria Saporta noted, Garber said the proposed stadium also played a role, as the league's had greater success with similarly located facilities in other cities. Reed also noted metro Atlanta's claim to having the second-fastest growing foreign-born population in the country and its strong youth soccer programs.

Many questions remain. How much will tickets cost (you can sign up for them here)? Will Atlanta's fickle sports fans show up for soccer games? And what happens to the Atlanta Silverbacks? It's still unclear if the city's existing professional team that's survived since the mid-1990s, will play any role. Neal Malone, the team's marketing director, told me before the announcement that the two organizations have already had brief talks and the Silverbacks are "confident we can work together in some capacity to grow soccer in Atlanta." Blank also told us they've had talks about working together. Neither side, however, knows what that relationship might look like. Malone imagines, "under the right circumstances that the market could support two teams."

The Silverbacks could enjoy a bump in excitement in the three years between now and kickoff, time that Blank says the organization will spend working to boost the fanbase and building a team. He said he has no personal bias as to what the team will be named. All decisions about the team's image - its logo, mascot, color scheme, etc. - will be decided largely by the fans.

"My family asks me, 'What's the [team] name?'" he said. "Ask the fans."

After the jump, photos by Dustin Chambers of yesterday's announcement

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber, Mayor Kasim Reed, and Arthur Blank exit an elevator to cheering fans before team announcement
  • Dustin Chambers
  • Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber, Mayor Kasim Reed, and Arthur Blank exit an elevator to cheering fans before team announcement

Garber and Blank arrived via helicopter, which they boarded a few blocks away at the W Downtown
  • Dustin Chambers
  • Garber and Blank arrived via helicopter, which they boarded a few blocks away at the W Downtown

ESPN commentator and former U.S. Mens national team player Alexi Lalas kicks off the event
  • Dustin Chambers
  • ESPN commentator and former U.S. Men's national team player Alexi Lalas kicks off the event

Blank said soccer is very personal for him and he hopes to use soccer-related programs to help metro Atlanta
  • Dustin Chambers
  • Blank said soccer is very personal for him and he hopes to use soccer-related programs to help metro Atlanta


Terminus Legion fans erupt
  • Dustin Chambers
  • Terminus Legion fans chanted "All I want is a team of Arthur Blanks," sung to the tune of "Yellow Submarine," among other chants

Garber said Atlanta is representative of the New America, which is young, diverse, connected
  • Dustin Chambers
  • Garber said Atlanta is representative of the "New America," which is young, diverse, connected

Blanks 17-year-old son Josh watches as his father, Reed, Garber, and Georgia World Congress Center Authority Executive Director Frank Poe announce the expansion
  • Dustin Chambers
  • Blank's 17-year-old son Joshua watches as his father, Reed, Garber, and Georgia World Congress Center Authority Executive Director Frank Poe announce the expansion. Seated to the left is Dikembe Mutombo, who told Blank afterward that he played soccer before basketball

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