Atlanta reportedly close to getting MLS team, as league says, “Enh, soccer-only stadiums not so important after all”

When MLS commissioner Don Garber announced plans to add four more teams this decade and create the most humongoid soccer league on earth, the assumption was that next to follow would be a massive bidding war among cities to build soccer-only stadiums, since that’s what Garber’s always demanded before and there are tons of mid-sized cities to choose from. Instead: Atlanta, Georgia, come on down!

Local and national reports say MLS is relatively close to an agreement with Falcons owner Arthur Blank to bring an MLS expansion team to Atlanta, one of the five new franchises coming in the next seven years. The two would share the billion-dollar retractable domed stadium—aka, “The Sphincter”—that’s scheduled to be completed in 2017…

The lack of a soccer-specific stadium doesn’t appear to be an issue for MLS. The Atlanta stadium will be designed to accommodate soccer, with a wide pitch and separate locker rooms, and the upper deck can easily be closed down to reduce capacity. A similar situation is in place in Vancouver, where the Whitecaps play in a CFL stadium.

Also Seattle, where the Sounders play in an NFL stadium. Still, coming on top of the announcement of New York City F.C. with only a baseball stadium to play in for now, this seems to indicate a shift in strategy for Garber: Instead of doling out teams one at a time to whoever coughs up a soccer-specific stadium, just grab whatever money it can for expansion franchises ASAP and sweat the home field stuff later. (Of the other two new teams rumored to be next in line, Orlando is apparently still dependent on a new soccer-only stadium, while nobody’s sure where Miami would play, just that David Beckham would own it and what he wants, he gets.)

Whether this is because Garber is looking for quick cash now that franchise values seem high or what, I’ll leave to somebody with a more thorough understanding of MLS finances. Still, if this Atlanta thing pans out, you have to wonder what cities that are currently considering building soccer-only stadiums because their teams say they need them — I’m looking at you, Washington, D.C. — will think of the fact that sharing a football stadium is now apparently A-OK with MLS. Stadium blackmail is tough.

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12 comments on “Atlanta reportedly close to getting MLS team, as league says, “Enh, soccer-only stadiums not so important after all”

  1. I think the main criteria has probably gone down to “don’t have football lines on TV.”

    Trouble is also brewing in Toronto, where the Argonauts are being kindly shooed from Rogers Centre so that the Jays can get grass, with MLSE exploring making modifications to BMO Field that will allow Canadian football. Toronto FC fans aren’t very happy about it.

  2. So it’s okay for teams in Atlanta, and possibly Miami, to play at NFL stadiums, but Orlando won’t be allowed to play at the Citrus Bowl (a slightly smaller venue which actually hosted World Cup matches in the past)?

    Okay Don.

  3. Neil:

    Supposedly the biggest problem for Rogers is installing a drainage system, every article I’ve read kinda hand waves the sunlight issue with “it can be done.”

    Strange because SkyDome is more a dome that can open sometimes rather than a ballpark that happens to have a roof (the roof is permanently closed after the Jays are done).

  4. Hg, depends on the expectations of owners.

    If they’re OK for drawing 15k after the first few years they get a stadium built, they’ll probably stick it out.

    But if they’re counting on a big TV contract, it won’t fly. People who are soccer fans outside the cities will usually always gravitate to the Champions League/Premier League matches on TV rather than the MLS.

  5. American Soccer is like the hot chick in the bar, you buy drinks for, but nothing ever pans out. The soccer (oops football) fan watches European Soccer, and the sports fan everything BUT soccer. American Soccer is basically for mommy watching her 7 year old, so he does not play a “dangerous” sport like football (when he is 10 he switches sports). I have heard that Soccer is the next big thing for 30 years, and it has still not caught up to hockey (and based on TV ratings is even further behind), let alone Football (NFL & College), MLB, and the NBA. They will build a Stadium in Washington DC, and probably in The Bronx and in Massachusetts as well, and everyone will be talking about it on ESPN 980 (Washington DC), WFAN & WEEI, and offering congratulations on the wonderful facility…… Until the next day when it is back to Redskins, Yankees & Red Sox talk.

  6. Neil- What they are realizing is anything downtown is better than anything in the suburbs. People in their 20’s go to games, “soccer moms and dads” don’t go to games after spending the day watching their kids play.

    Dan Brown- sorry hot chicks never panned out for you. I think the MLS is comfortable in its place as a 5th sport. You are right that it has challenges from European and Mexican (the country has changed in 30 years) leagues on Tv, but it is still an affordable alternative for those who want to actually go to a game.

  7. Tom, Soccer is below a number of other sports in popularity (starting with NASCAR, NCAA Hoops & Golf), not just the ones I mentioned. One thing that I can imagine hurts the image of the sport, is seeing Team USA booed within our borders. Until we get passionate fans rooting for AMERICAN Soccer over say, Mexico, and top AMERICAN athletes electing to play Soccer over other sports, it will continue to lag behind, the other sports in popularity.

  8. “Until we get passionate fans rooting for AMERICAN Soccer …”

    The problem there is that Americans are used to cheering on teams that are at or near the top of all the other sports you mentioned. And that starts with coaching. There are probably several million people in the US who could sit down tonight and manage an MLB game without embarrassing themselves. And a significant portion of those could offer useful advice on the practice field. The equivalent numbers for basketball, hockey and football would be lower, but still way ahead of the number of people who really know how to coach soccer players. We still hire soccer coaches from outside the US the way the rest of the world hires basketball coaches from the US.

  9. David Brown- you obviously didn’t see the US – Mexico World Cup qualifier this past week, but your point about NCAA basketball and such is valid. I just think the anti-soccer thing is a little old-school -1980’s old school. My point, related to he article, is that the MLS has shifted from families to young adults, and this has implications in stadium building.

    Keith- I agree, and the implications for both are interesting (“the world” has produced some good NBA players).

  10. “They’re going to try to put grass in the Skydome? Can the entire field even get direct sunlight?”

    That I don’t know but for a couple of years whenever a European Soccer Club or should I say football club play a game at SkyDome, natural grass has been installed. After the game it get’s donated.

    I’ve heard for a couple of years of talk about putting natural grass at SkyDome for the Jays. That means no other events like trade shows and sports without grass can be played and/or happen at the dome. So the question is are the Jays prepared to lose revenues from non-baseball events?

    As for the Argos…………….Markham has a better chance of getting a 26,000 to 30,000 seat football stadium built than getting a 20,000 or whatever the seating capacity it is for a new arena.

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