Atlanta United’s parent company, AMB Sports and Entertainment, has purchased a share of less than 10% in Aberdeen, a Scottish top division soccer club.
The club, founded in 1903, announced a new ownership group Sunday. Atlanta United President Darren Eales will have a seat on Aberdeen’s Board of Directors. Eales stressed that the investment of 2 million pounds ($2.57 million) was agreed to as a means of sharing best practices between clubs, including construction, fan engagement, scouting and youth development, and will not affect the day-to-day operations or goals of the MLS team.
“We’ve always gone in with the intention of win-win for both clubs,” Eales said. “For Atlanta United, it’s really important that this is Aberdeen, already a well-run club. We aren’t taking our eye off the ball on Atlanta United, which 100% remains our focus. It builds our scouting network, our ability to share best practices across the board from academy right through to sports science.
“Everything we try to do Atlanta United is trying to get that little edge in every area. A chance for us on the performance side to help boost, whether it’s by 1% or 2%, our technical side so that we can compete a be a club that’s pushing the competitions year over year.”
Aberdeen has remained in Scotland’s top division, the Premiership, since the club’s founding. It twice won European championships in the early 1980s when it was managed by Alex Ferguson. It has won its league four times, the Scottish Cup seven times and the Scottish League Cup six times. It is building a new stadium, which is scheduled to open in 2023, and will replace its current stadium, Pittodrie. The club recently completed the construction of a new training ground. Atlanta United opened its $60 million training facility in Marietta in 2017 and Mercedes-Benz Stadium later that year. Those are a few of the best practices and information that the clubs can share.
Eales said that the two sides began discussing the investment six months ago. Aberdeen’s new chairman, Dave Cormack, is a resident of Atlanta and Atlanta United season-ticket holder in the Delta Sky360 Club. Cormack made a fortune as a software entrepreneur in the health-care field. Aberdeen’s new training facility, Cormack Park, is named after him.
Cormack, currently Aberdeen’s vice chairman, and Eales considered ways in which the clubs could help each other. Eales visited Aberdeen twice as part of AMBSE’s due diligence. Arthur Blank, Atlanta United’s owner and owner of AMBSE, approved the investment in September.
Eales said an important factor in AMBSE’s agreement to purchase part of the club is that they share similar values and focus on the community. When Eales was a part of a group of senior executives from AMBSE visiting Scotland in August doing due diligence, he saw a sign at its stadium featuring this quote from former Real Madrid manager Alfredo di Stafano, said after Aberdeen defeated his club 2-1 in the 1983 European Cup final: “Aberdeen FC have what money can’t buy: a soul, a team spirit built in family tradition.”
According to Eales, like Atlanta United, Aberdeen has a keen focus on community. Its efforts were rewarded by being named as the Best Professional Football Club by UEFA in October among all of the clubs in Europe for its work focusing on “football for life, education and healthy communities.”
This purchase and partnership is different than other ownership situations in MLS such as Montreal and Bologna, NYCFC and Manchester City, and Red Bulls with clubs in Austria and Germany. Those pairings have a common majority owner. Eales will not participate in day-to-day decisions. Eales said the decision is more about benefits for Atlanta United without the responsibility of operational effort. There are also MLS clubs that have “sister club” partnerships with clubs around the world. Eales said the investment in Aberdeen is different because AMBSE has a financial stake in the success of the club, which means consistent attention and cooperation will be exercised.
Eales anticipates the scouting departments working closely together to help identify talent. Atlanta United has done well identifying and recruiting talented players from South America. Aberdeen is strong in the United Kingdom and Eastern Europe. Eales said Vice President Carlos Bocanegra and Jonathan Spector, recently hired to oversee international scouting, will communicate and coordinate with counterparts at Aberdeen.
Eales also said the academies will benefit because each the various teams will play each other at times at their homes. Eales said the more exposure younger players can get to different styles and environments the more it can help their development.
“It’s good to give them different circumstances and culture,” Eales said. “That’s a natural win-win, straight away.”
Atlanta United has one player, Jon Gallagher, on loan with Aberdeen. Eales visited Aberdeen ahead of the loan to make sure the situation would be a good fit. Eales said it’s possible for more exchanges, as long as they fall within each league’s rules.
This investment doesn’t exclude Atlanta United from doing something similar with other clubs.
“You’ve got to walk before you run,” Eales said. “We’re still only just finished our third year. We’ve done our due diligence. We so feel like this is something that’s going to be a helpful tool for Atlanta United. Like anything, if it’s successful, who knows what we might do down the line?”
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