What will the pending announcement of an MLS expansion team owned by Arthur Blank coming to Atlanta in 2017 mean for the city’s current team, the Silverbacks?
Bill Peterson, commissioner of the North American Soccer League, where the Silverbacks are members, said Tuesday that he doesn’t think a second team in the city will be a threat.
“Atlanta is a city that will benefit from more than one soccer club,” he said. “It may raise awareness and excitement throughout the region. This could be a good thing for all of us, whether we are competing on the field or off the field.”
Silverbacks co-owner Boris Jerkunica expects the team will continue to experience positive growth, so much so that they are looking at trying to accommodate 10,000 seats. Silverbacks Park currently has a capacity of 5,000.
“Three years is a long time, and Atlanta is a big city,” Jerkunica said.
It is an interesting problem because Atlanta and New York are the only cities that have, or are scheduled to have, teams in the NASL and MLS. The Washington metro area also has both.
Before last year’s NASL championship game, neither Peterson nor Jerkunica said they view the NASL, with smaller stadiums, lower payrolls and what they say is a more intimate feel, as a competitor to MLS.
Peterson reflected that belief again Tuesday, saying that his league doesn’t have a relationship with MLS.
“They do what they do, and we do what we do,” he said. “Probably the way it will stay for some time.”
The Silverbacks are on the verge of starting their fourth season in the NASL since resuming play in 2011 after a two-year hiatus. They hosted and played for the league’s championship last year, averaging 4,702 fans during the regular season, with 10 sellouts in 16 games at Silverbacks Park, located near Spaghetti Junction.
Capitalizing on the success, the team added two co-owners during the offseason and have sold more than 500 season tickets for the 2014 season. The team will open at New York on Sunday.
But Peterson acknowledges that Jerkunica and the rest of the Silverbacks ownership group likely will have a lot to think about over the next three years as it relates to the business of running a franchise: community and corporate sponsors, community and government support, etc.
“At some point they have to decide if it matters or not if there is another club in the area,” he said.
Jerkunica said it’s hard to predict what might happen, again saying that three years is a long time.
But he agreed that the Silverbacks face three scenarios:
- The team’s owners could agree that metro Atlanta is big enough to support two pro soccer teams.
- The owners could keep the Silverbacks and drop down to the USL Pro league, which would be considered the equivalent of Double-A baseball.
- Or, the team could move.
Jerkunica said he is focused exclusively on the first.
“If we are selling out every game (and) we’ve got good corporate support and we are making money, it’s a much different conversation than if things are getting worse,” he said. “I don’t anticipate them getting worse. I anticipate things getter better and better.”
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