Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber today announced that Atlanta has been awarded an expansion team that will begin play in 2017. The new team will be owned by Falcons Owner and Chairman Arthur Blank and will play at the new world-class stadium soon to be built in downtown Atlanta.
"We are thrilled to welcome Atlanta to Major League Soccer as our 22nd team," Garber said. "Atlanta is one of the largest and most diverse markets in North America and has a rich tradition in sports and culture. And with Arthur Blank joining our ownership group, we are adding one of the most respected owners in professional sports. Arthur is deeply passionate about soccer and our quest to become one of the top professional soccer leagues in the world. We look forward to working with him and the entire Falcons organization on achieving this important goal."
"We are very excited to bring a Major League Soccer team to Atlanta," Blank said. "We are going to build a first-class organization on and off the field that will be a source of pride for the entire community, and we believe our downtown stadium will become a destination for soccer fans throughout the Southeast for many years to come."* *
Atlanta features a diverse population of young adults that are connected to the sport of soccer. During the past decade, the Hispanic-American population in metropolitan Atlanta has doubled in size and the state of Georgia has long been a hotbed for youth soccer. Atlanta-area products include MLS All-Star and U.S. World Cup veterans Clint Mathis (Conyers), Josh Wolff (Stone Mountain) and Ricardo Clark (Jonesboro), and current MLS standouts such as Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson (Lilburn) and Montreal Impact striker Jack McInerney (Alpharetta). In addition, current U.S. women's national team star Kelley O'Hara (Fayetteville) and 1991 Women's World Cup winner Linda Hamilton (Atlanta) are from Georgia, and FIFA Female Player of the Century Michelle Akers currently resides in Powder Springs.
During the last few years, crowds of more than 50,000 fans have regularly attended international soccer matches in Atlanta. Recently, nearly 70,000 fans attended the March 5 match between Mexico and Nigeria, and more than 16,000 fans attended the U.S. women's national team victory over Russia on February 13.
"A Major League Soccer franchise in the city of Atlanta is another strong example of how our city and region continue to draw world-class professional teams, cultural attractions, sporting events and new businesses that create jobs, attract more visitors to our city and make Atlanta the center of commerce in the Southeast region of the United States," Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said. "Atlanta has long been an international city with a vibrant and diverse population. An MLS soccer team competing in our new state-of-the-art facility could not be a more fitting and welcome addition as we continue on our path towards being one of the leading cities in the world. I want to personally thank Arthur Blank and his team for their hard work in making this goal a reality and for believing in Atlanta."
"Georgia is home to some of the most passionate sports fans in the country," Governor Nathan Deal said. "And no sport has grown in popularity during the last two decades as much as soccer. I expect game days for our new team in Atlanta to be colorful and festive events, with people from all over the state making the trip to the state capital to support the team." * *
In March 2017, the new Atlanta MLS team is expected to host the first sporting event in the state-of-the-art retractable roof stadium that will serve as home to the soccer club and the Atlanta Falcons. For MLS games, the stadium will feature a more intimate configuration, with a seating capacity of 29,322. The venue will be located adjacent to multiple MARTA rapid-transit stations, providing easy access to soccer fans throughout the region.
Since 2008, Major League Soccer, Arthur Blank and executives from the Atlanta Falcons and AMB Group, the parent company of the new MLS club and the Falcons, have been working closely to bring top-flight soccer to Atlanta. The group's work included visits to six MLS markets to discuss club business operations and tour stadiums, as well as discussions with another six MLS teams.
One of the most highly-regarded owners in professional sports, Arthur Blank acquired the Atlanta Falcons in 2002. A native of Flushing, N.Y., Blank is the co-founder of The Home Depot, where he retired as co-chairman in 2001. At the time of his retirement from The Home Depot, the company was a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and one of Fortune Magazine's "Global Most Admired Companies." During Blank's last year as CEO of the company, The Home Depot ranked first in social responsibility in an annual survey conducted by Harris Interactive, Inc.
The Atlanta team's nickname and logo, along with the coaching and administrative staff, will be announced at a later date. Fans will be asked to provide their suggestions for the team name.
Five thousand $50 deposits for Atlanta Major League Soccer 2017 season tickets will be accepted beginning today. The first 5,000 fans who put a deposit down will be eligible to purchase up to eight season tickets for the 2017 season and members of their accounts will become Founding Members of the club. Founding Members will be recognized as such in the new stadium. Members of the new stadium team are working now on exactly what that recognition will be. For more information on securing a season ticket for 2017, fans should visit www.MLSAtlanta2017.com.
With the addition of Atlanta, MLS has added 11 clubs since the beginning of the 2005 season, leading to a remarkable and rapid transformation of professional soccer in North America. Two more expansion teams will be added by 2020, including a potential club in Miami owned by David Beckham that is expected to be finalized later this year.