Atlanta United may have a Champions League problem.
I may have a solution.
The team has already stated that it will host its Round of 16 game against Motagua at Kennesaw State. Mercedes-Benz Stadium has events booked for the weekends around that game, which will be played sometime between Feb. 25-27. The Five Stripes did this last year when they hosted Herediano in the Champions League because of the same scheduling issue. The team would love to play the game in its stadium. It can’t. Contracts agreed to long ago take precedent. Anyone who has grown up in Atlanta knows how long Monster Jam and Moto Cross have visited our city.
But, because Mercedes-Benz Stadium is hosting the Final Four of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament next year, there’s a chance that the team won’t be able to host its quarterfinal game because of prep work being done at the stadium. That work is supposed to start on March 16. The home leg of the quarterfinal game is scheduled to be played sometime between March 17-19.
Facing Motagua at Kennesaw State works. It’s unlikely that ticket sales would exceed the capacity of 8,000.
Facing Club America, the likely winner of its Round of 16 matchup, at Kennesaw State doesn’t work. Club America is arguably the most popular team in Mexico, and possibly the Western Hemisphere. Going from playing in 87,000-seat Estadio Azteca in the first leg to Kennesaw State in the second leg would be odd, to say the least.
This isn’t what Atlanta United wants. But it’s the challenge that it’s dealing with.
Some of you have asked why the team doesn’t play the games at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium, which was its home for part of the 2017 season.
It could. Georgia Tech left the sod all the way around the football field with the idea of hosting soccer matches in the future. The issue last year was hosting a game at Tech was prohibitively expensive, but that total wasn’t disclosed. Hosting a mid-week game at night was also an issue because of night classes, traffic, etc. As of Thursday, Georgia Tech hadn’t been approached by Atlanta United.
Sanford Stadium at Georgia is too far. It’s uncertain if a soccer pitch can fit.
SunTrust Park is a possibility, if the field can be made smaller than 115x75 to fit the dimensions within the outfield. Playing soccer in baseball stadiums has worked so well in MLS. That was sarcasm.
This venue might make the most sense: Georgia State Stadium. Atlanta United has yet to approach the university about the possibility, but hear me out:
- It’s downtown, like Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
- It’s accessible by Marta, not as easily as Mercedes-Benz Stadium but it can be done.
- Its turf is the same as in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
- It can accommodate a field as large as 125x75. The field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is 115x75.
- Its capacity can be as much as 43,000, and has 54 suites to hold more. Atlanta United could keep its home advantage while also selling some tickets to Club America supporters.
- It costs between $150,000-200,000 to open the stadium for a single event. That doesn’t seem like a large amount in the grand scheme of professional sports.
- It is available.
The biggest problem is that the lines on the football field are sewn into turf and can’t be scrubbed off, which is how the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium can be so expertly changed from soccer to football and back again.
As some of you may remember, when Atlanta United’s franchise was founded in April 2014, owner Arthur Blank was asked if the team would play on a field with football lines. He said no. The optics of a game are horrible when there are etch a sketch-like lines all over the pitch.
How to get around this issue?
Bring the paint over from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Bring the scrubber.
Paint over the football lines. Work on it for a bit until the tints are close and those optics are reasonable.
Then, when the game is over, scrub them off.
It won’t look perfect.
But it could be made to look reasonable.
There are numerous logistical problems that would need to be solved for sponsors and other stake-holders, revenue splits and shares from parking, concessions, merchandise, etc.
I know Blank’s philosophy is “Best or nothing.”
Maybe, in this instance, for this game, better might be acceptable.
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