Rather than start its inaugural season with a three-month road trip waiting for Mercedes-Benz stadium to open, Atlanta United FC will set up camp two miles away.
AUFC announced Wednesday that Bobby Dodd Stadium, home of Georgia Tech football, is its temporary home for 2017. Uncertainty about the opening of Mercedez-Benz, which had been projected to be ready for soccer by June 1, prompted team officials to opt out of a long slog on the road and present at least a few home games to its fans as early as possible.
“We think it’s exciting for a number of reasons,” said team president Darren Eales in a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “Firstly, our fans get to see the team in Atlanta three months earlier than we planned and secondly, of course, we’re not going to play on the road for that three-month period, which for expansion teams, particularly a brand new expansion team, was always going to be difficult.
“This gives us that chance to be as competitive as we can from the start, which is what we’ve been trying to do as we build Atlanta United. So we’re very excited about today’s announcement.”
The contract with Bobby Dodd Stadium runs until the end of July. Atlanta United won’t know for a while precisely when it can play its first game at Mercedes-Benz and so has built a couple of months’ cushion into its arrangement. It will also be sharing Mercedes-Benz with the NFL Falcons, another cause of scheduling issues.
The grass surface at Bobby Dodd will have to be widened to accommodate a regulation soccer field; currently, the grass football surface is bordered by an artificial turf apron along the sidelines that will be ripped up and replaced with grass.
In addition to pleasing fans anxious to see the team as early as possible, Eales cited the issue of players -- nearly all of whom will be moving to Atlanta -- adjusting to a new city along with a new coach -- Argentine Gerardo Martino -- and a new team. Playing at least a few home games early in the season is much preferred to a weekly grind of flights and hotels.
Not yet decided is whether the entire capacity of 55,000 at Bobby Dodd Stadium is to be used or some form of downsizing is necessary. The team announced last month is has sold more than 22,000 season tickets.
“With the way ticket sales are going at the moment, we feel like we’ll be in a pretty good place in terms of having Bobby Dodd as a stadium,” said Eales. “Actually it’s almost the reverse, Bobby Dodd was attractive to us because it can have the capability of holding 55,000 fans.
“So we’re in a position where we feel like we’ve got a venue that will allow us to have the support base that it looks like we’ll be getting in Atlanta for our games, which was important to us.”