Major League Soccer (MLS) has confirmed Atlanta in Georgia as the home of its 22nd team, which will be owned by The Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank.
The team will make its MLS debut in 2017 and will play at a new US$1.2bn retractable-roof stadium currently being built in downtown Atlanta. The 65,000-capacity venue will host the new franchise alongside its main tenants, the Atlanta Falcons NFL side, also owned by Blank, in a model similar to that seen in Seattle, with the Seahawks and Sounders, as well as in New England, with the Patriots and Revolution.
According to an MLS statement released on Wednesday, Blank and his associates first contacted the league about a potential franchise in Atlanta in 2008. The 71-year-old businessman and his group then visited six MLS stadiums and cities as part of their research, before agreeing to pay the reported US$70m expansion fee for the franchise.
MLS said the team’s name and logo, along with the coaching and administrative staff, will be announced at a later date, with fans set to be invited to suggest names for the team.
“We are thrilled to welcome Atlanta to Major League Soccer as our 22nd team,” said MLS commissioner, Don Garber. “Atlanta is one of the largest and most diverse markets in North America, and has a rich tradition in sports and culture.
“With Arthur Blank joining our ownership group, we are adding one of the most respected owners in professional sports. Arthur is deeply passionate about soccer and our quest to become one of the top professional soccer leagues in the world. We look forward to working with him and the entire Falcons organisation on achieving this important goal.”
Though Atlanta is the ninth-biggest metropolitan area in the United States, it is also one of the most competitive markets in the country, with the NFL, NBA and MLB all already established in the city through the Falcons, Hawks and Braves respectively.
Atlanta also currently hosts the Atlanta Silverbacks, a second-tier North American Soccer League (NASL) team, founded in 1994 as the Atlanta Ruckus.
“We are very excited to bring a Major League Soccer team to Atlanta,” said Blank, who co-founded The Home Depot in 1978 and has owned the Falcons since 2002.
“We are going to build a first-class organisation on and off the field that will be a source of pride for the entire community, and we believe our downtown stadium will become a destination for soccer fans throughout the Southeast for many years to come.”
The addition of the Atlanta franchise comes as part of a long-term plan to expand MLS to 24 teams by 2020. In the past year, MLS has confirmed that New York City FC, to be co-owned by the New York Yankees and Manchester City, and Orlando City SC will join the league in 2015. A further franchise in Miami, owned by soccer icon David Beckham, is expected to join Atlanta in debuting in 2017.