Bringing Major League Soccer to Atlanta began more than 10 years ago and Wednesday, those efforts ended when MLS Atlanta owner Arthur Blank stepped to the podium donning a red and gold “ATLANTA 2017” scarf to a drum beat and chant that you’ll only find in soccer.
Blank’s announcement that the 22nd MLS franchise will be in Atlanta ushers in a new era in professional sports in the city. Soccer is an emotional game, as Blank shared during his press conference, and the emotions of Wednesday’s news was evident. At various times, gathered fans chanted “Uncle Arthur” in addition to other Atlanta-themed soccer-style chants. Blank said introducing the city to MLS is something close to his heart.
“This decision is important for Atlanta,” Blank said. “It’s important for us professionally. It’s important for myself because I have a lot of family members involved in the sport. It’s meaningful to them. It’s meaningful to me.”
Atlanta is the home to the second-fastest foreign-born population in the country, making it a natural home for the international game of soccer. Atlanta is also the largest market without an MLS team, but it’s a been a target of the MLS dating back to the league’s creation 10 years ago, Don Garber, the league’s commissioner said.
Atlanta has hosted the Olympics and the Super Bowl among many other major sporting events and now they welcome MLS to their roster of pro sports teams. MLS hopes a team in Atlanta will help raise the awareness of the league as well as improve interest in the sport throughout the southeast.
Blank said his role as owner in the MLS will be no different from his work in the same capacity with the Atlanta Falcons. He sees the city as a natural fit for soccer and he intends to raise the level of support for the future franchise just like he has with the Falcons.
“This franchise, I said this with the Falcons and I meant it and I say it with much emphasis, will be owned by the fans,” Blank said. “We will do everything we can to focus on the fans and to make sure we create the right atmosphere.”
Blank spoke about the passion of soccer culture and each time he did, fans in attendance broke into a new chant. The new owner hopes the fans of Atlanta will feel ownership of the team and help promote the uniqueness of the sport of soccer. He told the fans and the city that this will be their team and if his past with the Falcons is any indication, there should be no doubt that soccer fans in Atlanta will feel a connection to their new franchise.
The wait for a soccer club in Atlanta is over. Atlanta’s mayor Kasim Reed, said it best, proclaiming his city ready for the unique opportunity of professional soccer.
“I don’t think that there’s any question that the Atlanta metropolitan region and the state of Georgia is ready for MLS soccer,” Reed said.