Arthur Blank didn’t back down on Friday from the goal that Atlanta United would become one of the best MLS franchises.
“We want to be competitive the very first day we get on the pitch,” he said during a brief stop during the community work that he and his associates were doing at various sites around the west side of Atlanta on Friday.
That pledge was first made at the news conference to introduce the franchise two years ago.
Blank and those he have hired have spent the past two years trying to prepare for the team’s inaugural 2017 season.
There have been setbacks. The delay of the opening of Mercedes-Benz Stadium will force the team to play on the road for the season’s first three months, which is something that’s not uncommon in MLS because of the prolific construction of venues, but still isn’t ideal.
The first site chosen for the team's headquarters and training grounds didn't work out and the team selected another site in Marietta.
But Blank didn’t seem at all concerned on Friday in a brief interview covering a range of topics associated with the team.
Q: How important was the work done Friday on the west side of Atlanta to your plans for the Falcons, Atlanta United and Mercedes-Benz Stadium?
A: It's important physically; it's probably more important symbolically because all of our business are involved in giving back. Every single day there is a significant component of each one of our businesses that have philanthropy and community work involved 365 days a year.
Today, and several times during the year, is a chance for our associates to get out, roll up their sleeves and physically do the work themselves.
It’s important to write checks, but it’s easy to write checks. It’s hard to actually go out and do the work ourselves.
On the west side, this is an opportunity when we started our stadium project, the mission was to build a world-class stadium, which we are in the process of doing, and then to make a real difference in these west-side communities, which are important historically and important going forward as much as historically: it’s the birthplace of Martin Luther King and the home of the Civil Rights moment. There are 6,500 people living here. There should probably be 30,000 people here.
We want to be a part of that. That’s a longer journey than building a stadium. It’s actually a longer journey than getting a soccer franchise.
Q: Are you satisfied with the conversion rate of season-ticket pledges to purchases for Atlanta United?
A: Yes, I think it's going along well. I don't track them every day; I don't take their temperature every day. But we meet on a periodic basis. …
The appetite for soccer, as you well know, is significant. We have gotten a tremendous response. You know we can’t assume that all of those will be converted. We have to work at them, make sure that we are responsive to every single person that wants a ticket and we are doing that. We are doing that. Every one has a personal representative. We don’t do it en masse, we do it one on one. That seems to be going very well at this point.
Q: I assume that you won’t share how many have been converted?
A: I can’t.
Q: Who do you consider to be Atlanta United’s rivals in MLS?
A: Probably all of the teams. Some expansion teams are satisfied with, “it’ll take us 2-3 years to get there.” That’s not our M.O. That’s not my M.O. I’m not wired that way. Darren (Eales) isn’t. Carlos (Bocanegra) isn’t. The whole organization isn’t. We want to be competitive the very first day we get on the pitch. We’ve hired a staff that I think will allow us to do that. We have to recruit the players, the coaches and what have you. We are in the process of doing that.
It's hard to believe that next March we will be playing.
It's also hard to believe that all of our academy teams will be playing this summer.
This is the first time in the history of MLS, as you know, that the academy teams have launched before the professional team.
We are excited about that and have had a tremendous amount of outpouring of youth looking for those opportunities. We have a good relationship with the clubs and are making sure we do it in a collaborative way with them.
Q: Have there been any changes or revisions to the plans for the training ground in the past month?
A: No, it's going along. You don't really want any. What you want is to you take a lot of time doing the plans and planning, and then you start construction. You don't want any surprises with cost and schedule, if you can avoid it. We are right on for both right now.
We feel good about the 33 acres. The city (of Marietta) will get caught up on their 13 acres. We feel good about the project.
It will be special.
Q: Is the plan still to play all of the exhibition games and road games on the road for the first half of the season, or are there discussions to play the exhibition games somewhere around Atlanta?
A: That's a possibility (for exhibitions). Darren had mentioned that. I wouldn't preclude that. It's not a bad idea. We will be on the road for a while and then be in our stadium in June.
Q: A person on twitter asked what do you think you are doing to separate Atlanta United from the other expansion teams?
A: One of the things that we did, we will see if it pays off and I believe it will, is we hired everybody probably a year to a year-and-a-half earlier than everybody else did.
That gives us a chance to not only hire the best people, but to give them an opportunity to do their research, to plan properly, to be thoughtful about what they are doing.
Doing other things – Mercedes-Benz Slogan is, “The best or nothing,” which is very much our slogan in terms of we run all of our businesses that way. We really want to do the best or nothing, preferably the best.
Q: Is there a difference between being an owner of an NFL team and being the owner of an MLS team?
A: I know a lot more about American football than I did about soccer.
I played football in high school. I was an American football fan for many, many more years. A lot of my personal interest now (in soccer) comes through my family. My son plays. Angie, she is an international soccer mom. Two of her children play.
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