[MLS EXPANSION]MLS introduced Atlanta as its latest expansion team, owned by Atlanta Falcons Arthur Blank, to begin play in 2017.
It is the third city -- all located in the Southeast -- MLS has announced plans to move into since Commissioner Don Garbertargeted MLS's growth from 20 to 24 teams by 2020. Orlando City will begin play in 2015, while MLS's move into Miami is contingent on it securing a stadium.
Blank is the fourth NFL owner to purchase an MLS team after Robert Kraft (owner of the New England Revolution since MLS's first season), Stan Kroenke (owner of the Colorado Rapids) and Paul Allen (minority owner of the Seattle Sounders)
Garber called Blank, who purchased the Falcons in 2002, one of the most respected owners in pro sports.
"He had a focus on fans and keeping fans first," said Garber, "and a focus of being very committed to community service."
The new MLS club will play in a new downtown stadium that will cost $1.2 billion and be paid for by stadium bonds issued by the Atlanta Development Authority and repaid by the city of Atlanta through a portion of revenues it receives from a hotel tax.
The stadium, which will feature a retractable roof, is being built for the Falcons to replace the Georgia Dome and seat 71,000-plus fans. The seating capacity for the MLS club will be 29,322, and the stadium will be veiled to create a more intimate atmosphere. Blank said the upper levels of the stadium will be draped over and the stadium will be an open air stadium, depending on the weather.
"Never will there be an MLS game where there will be NFL lines," Blank assured fans.
Blank said his group has been working for more than 10 years. Falcons senior vice presidentJim Smith was previously an executive with the Columbus Crew, where he was 2001 MLS Executive of the Year
Blank said the MLS team would have its unique fan base, different from the Falcons, and involve it in the selection of the team name, color scheme and logo.