ATLANTA — Major League Soccer announced its newest franchise Wednesday, unveiling an expansion team for Atlanta that will begin play in 2017 at the city's new retractable roof stadium.
The team will be owned by Arthur Blank, who also owns the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. He donned a traditional soccer scarf and was serenaded by a burgeoning fan group that calls itself "Terminus Legion," a reference to the city's former name.
"We've been working on soccer for over 10 years now," Blank said. "This has been a dream of ours."
The team's name has not been determined. Blank said he will get input from the fans before deciding on the new moniker.
The franchise will play at the new $1 billion stadium to be built next to the Georgia Dome. While primarily designed for the Falcons, Blank was eager to line up an additional revenue source for the new facility and stressed that it will be soccer-friendly, with stands that are designed to retract to accomodate the larger pitch and new technology that will close off the upper sections to create an intimate atmosphere.
While the new facility is designed to seat 71,000 for the NFL, it will be reduced to about 29,000 for soccer using only the lower bowl.
"There will never be an MLS game in Atlanta where NFL lines are shown on the field," Blank said, drawing a big cheer.
MLS, which has 19 teams this season, is expanding rapidly with a goal of having 24 franchises. Orlando and New York City are scheduled to begin play next season, and the league has awarded a provisional franchise in Miami to a group led by David Beckham, contingent on a new stadium deal.
The league went all out to tout its newest franchise. Blank and MLS Commissioner Don Garber arrived by helicopter for the introductory news conference, touching down on the roof of a downtown hotel.
Garber said the Atlanta market, the largest in the country without an MLS franchise, was vital to the league's growth.
"This is something that will help elevate our league," Garber said. "It will also elevate our sport in the entire Southeast, which is something that is very important to us strategically."