Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank has officially been awarded an MLS team that will begin play in 2017. This will push the size of the league to 22 teams, with four scheduled enter the league over the next few years — New York City FC and Orlando City in 2015, Atlanta in 2017 and David Beckham's Miami team yet to be determined.
Though this burst of expansion is an exciting show of the league's growth, the stadium situations for each new club are less than ideal. After making an odd attempt at a grand entrance by landing in a helicopter, MLS commissioner Don Garber announced that the Atlanta team will share the Falcons' new stadium, using a new "downsizing technology" to shrink the 70,000-seat, $1.2 billion stadium to a more intimate 29,000 seats for soccer once it is completed. It will have artificial turf, but Blank vowed that the American football lines would not be visible on the field, which drew the biggest cheer of the announcement.
This follows the New York Times report that NYCFC will play in Yankee Stadium for three years. Orlando City, meanwhile, will play in the Citrus Bowl while their stadium is being built and David Beckham's first choice for a waterfront Miami stadium is being strongly opposed by a powerful cruiseline. Stadium sharing was thought to be a thing of the past for MLS. In the last round of expansion, a firm plan for a soccer specific stadium was needed to even get the league to answer the phone. But since each new team announcement means the league collects $70-100 million in fees, it's easier to understand why patience for ideal situations is thin.
As with Miami, the Atlanta team does not have a name, colors, or a crest yet. Blank said that would be left to a fan vote, following NYCFC's lead.
Expanding into Atlanta is nonetheless a positive step for MLS. It was the biggest city in the U.S. or Canada without an MLS team and it fills a geographical gap in the Southeast between Orlando and Washington D.C. Like Miami, Atlanta has had trouble selling tickets for other sports, but if you're going to entrust two men to defy that trend, Beckham in Miami and Blank in Atlanta (who was dubbed the city's "Batman" during the MLS announcement) are strong picks.
- - - - - - -