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Posted: 6:24 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013

Silverbacks have new co-owners

By Doug Roberson

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Silverbacks have new co-owners, including two familiar faces.

Two Lawrenceville businessmen, Henry and John Hardin, have purchased a portion of Traffic Sports USA’s shares in the Silverbacks, ending that group’s 65-percent ownership stake in the NASL club.

In addition, longtime owners Boris Jerkunica and John Latham, who controlled the remaining 35 percent, have increased their stake. In the new arrangement, Jerkunica, a technology entrepreneur, and Latham, an attorney, will own 50 percent, and the Hardins will own 50 percent, according to Jerkunica.

“It strengthens the franchise,” Jerkunica said. “Having local ownership is always good.”

The Hardins are similar to Jerkunica in that they have extensive backgrounds in business and soccer.

Henry Hardin is founder and president of SCI Companies, which focuses on human resources outsourcing. John Hardin is an executive with the company. Henry Hardin also assists as a soccer coach at Hebron Christian Academy. Henry Hardin played in college at Berry; Jerkunica at Emory.

“I bring a community insight into how soccer will be successful,” Henry Hardin said. “From my background in H.R. and leadership development, I bring how teams need to work to be functional.”

Jerkunica and Hardin knew of each other because of their passions for soccer, but didn’t begin talking about co-owning the Silverbacks until earlier this summer. They reached a verbal agreement in August and spent the next three months on the details.

“He’s a very successful businessman,” Jerkunica said of Henry. “He and John are high-energy people who bring in new blood, a new way of thinking to the organization.”

The team had been for sale for more than a year because Traffic Sports wanted to divest itself of some of the teams it owned in the NASL. Financial details of the sale weren’t released.

Jerkunica and Hardin have plans for the franchise.

They want to strengthen the Silverbacks’ brand by improving the game-day experience for fans and by increasing the team’s involvement in the community. Hardin described it as a “grass-roots” effort designed at giving kids hope that they could one day play for the Silverbacks.

“You have to be local and intimate,” Hardin said. “You can’t just be a business enterprise like football, which has so much momentum and TV rights that makes it so successful. Soccer is more local.”

The community-involvement plans are still being developed, but Jerkunica hinted at the changes to the game-day experience.

Jerkunica said the Silverbacks learned from hosting last year’s Soccer Bowl and would like to continue to have more corporate tents and a beer garden during next year’s regular-season games. He said ticket prices may increase slightly, but he wasn’t ready to say what they will be.

He also said they are considering expanding the seating for Silverbacks Park, which currently holds 5,000. The team sold out nine home games last year. He said attendance at the next two year’s games will help determine if they decide to expand. Jerkunica characterized what could be done as “significant beyond 7,500 (seats).”

A stadium expansion would seem to be geared toward competing with the possible Major League Soccer team being pursued by Falcons owner Arthur Blank.

Neither Hardin nor Jerkunica seemed concerned about possibly having a direct competitor just down I-85 from Silverbacks Park by 2017.

“I welcome the competition,” Hardin said “If you are that local and intimate team that kids look up to, that will get a following, at least enough to work in the community.”

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