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Atlanta gets MLS franchise

UPDATED POST at 5:45 p.m.:

Atlanta has its MLS team.

League commissioner Don Garber, Falcons owner Arthur Blank, mayor Kasim Reed and others officially announced that Atlanta will be the 22nd team in MLS on Wednesday downtown amidst a parade-like atmosphere.

Fan club Terminus Legion led chants of “I believe that we are next” before the ceremony. Garber and Blank helicoptered in – some would say an appropriate metaphor for professional soccer’s entrance into football-mad Atlanta – with the hashtag #MLSATLANTA on the side. The helicopter landed on the roof of Ventanas where there news conference/party was held.

The yet-to-be-named team will begin play in the 2017 in the new $1.2 billion stadium that is scheduled to open that year. Blank said he has no preference on the name. He wants it to reflect the fan’s preference. The team colors will be a combination of red, white and gold, similar to the original colors of the Falcons.

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Blank agreed to pay an expansion fee of $70 million for the franchise. That fee is generally paid by the first game.

Blank, a self-proclaimed fan of the sport, first expressed interest in owning an MLS team in 2004. Those discussions began to heat up last year. After months of discussions, an agreement was finalized.

Blank, wearing a red and gold scarf worn by soccer fans, and Gerber cited several factors as to why they think MLS can work here when previous franchises in previous sports leagues folded. Among them were: the number of youth players in Metro Atlanta, the location and quality of the stadium and the growing Hispanic population.

Both Garber and Blank said that Atlanta likely wouldn’t have received a new franchise without a stadium that can accommodate soccer. The new stadium will be constructed to accommodate the sport. The upper deck can be closed off with curtains and the lower seats and be brought closer to the field to provide a more intimate feel for the smaller crowds that most MLS teams average. The team will play on artificial turf, but Blank said grass will be brought on for international games and, he hopes, eventually a World Cup. Garber said the Georgia Dome wasn’t considered ideal to host a franchise.

Blank said he will commit whatever resources needed to make the franchise successful. He also pledged to commit resources to continue the community work that Blank and Falcons already do.

“If you put a winner on the field, people will respond to winning,” Mayor Kasim Reed said. “That’s what’s going to happen here.

“Lastly, folks have no real appreciation how many soccer fans are in the metro region and the state of Georgia.”

ORIGINAL POST:

Atlanta is four hours from the official announcement that Arthur Blank is bringing an MLS expansion franchise to the city.

MLS commissioner Don Garber, Blank, mayor Kasim Reed and others are scheduled to announce at 5 p.m. that Atlanta is joining the league in 2017. The unnamed team will play in the new downtown stadium that is also scheduled to open in 2017.

As part of today’s news, a soccer celebration is being held in a parking lot near the intersection of Marietta Street and Baker Street.

Blank, a self-proclaimed fan of the sport, first expressed interest in owning an MLS team in 2004. Those discussions began to heat up last year. After months of discussions, an agreement was finalized.

The team will be the 22nd in the league and is another in a flurry of expansion for MLS. Orlando recently joined as the 21st and Miami, as soon as a stadium deal is finalized, will be the 23rd. Garber is targeting adding a 24th team by 2020 and several cities are competing for that final franchise.

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