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Exclusive: Atlanta Group To Bring Pro Soccer To DeKalb County

Atlanta, Georgia is one of the top 10 metropolitan statistical areas in the United States, with a population nearing 6 million residents.  The Atlanta Silverbacks provided the area with pro soccer for many years, but dropped out of the NASL after the 2015 season (the name lives on in the NPSL).  Atlanta United FC will debut in MLS in 2017, sharing Mercedes Benz Stadium with their sister organization, the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.  Midfield Press was able to connect with Trey Brantley, one of the partners in a group looking to bring NASL and NWSL franchises to the eastern Atlanta market.

The city of Atlanta is in two counties, Fulton County and DeKalb County.  DeKalb County in particular is a hub of youth soccer activity. Brantley and Southfund Partners are working with several government entities, local businesses and soccer groups to build a large sports complex that will include two stadiums, a smaller stadium with bleachers and turf as well as a larger one with a grass field and individual seating.  There is no truth to reports that the teams could be based in Cobb County as they are committed to DeKalb and have support from local leaders there.

The sports complex would include soccer fields, baseball diamonds, basketball courts, other youth sports activities as well as restaurants.  Working with local leaders in the County and Georgia youth soccer, Brantley’s group will aim to host over 40 youth tournaments at the complex per year.  The professional teams would serve as the crown jewel of the complex, offering nearby entertainment to those in the eastern Atlanta metro market who don’t want to commute downtown to the see the MLS team, as well as to the families attending the youth tournaments.

Like pretty much every NASL expansion bid, the Atlanta plans are contingent on the survival of the league, but the group is committed to bringing men’s and women’s pro soccer teams to the complex regardless of league.  The timetable for potentially joining the NASL is not currently firmed up, but should be clearer in the near future.  The smaller stadium on the complex could be ready as early as Fall of 2017, while the larger stadium would not be ready until 2019.

The name of the teams are still under consideration.  As far as the men’s team goes, Brantley confirmed that they have considered using the classic NASL brand the Atlanta Chiefs, and have consulted a prominent civil rights group about the use of the name.  The appeal of the Chiefs is due to the original NASL club’s history as the first top level pro sports team to bring a championship to Atlanta.  The Atlanta Silverbacks name is not currently under consideration, as it is owned by another organization.  Several other names are also under consideration.  The Atlanta Vibe is one of the names under consideration for the women’s team.

Brantley is confident that his well-funded effort can be a success in DeKalb County, regardless of the presence of Atlanta United in MLS.  “I have a lot of respect for the Atlanta United guys and I think they are doing a lot of things the right way.  I don’t see what we are doing as competitive with them.  If someone wants to watch an MLS match, they will travel downtown to do that.  We are offering a local pro soccer alternative to the eastern Atlanta area in a high quality, intimate setting along with world class youth soccer facilities that will serve to develop the game here in Georgia.”

What happens next for Brantley’s group will depend on the outcome of the USSF’s sanctioning decisions related to NASL and USL, and what the fallout of that means for NASL.  Brantley is excited about the North American Soccer League and its model, but the commitment of his group to this extends beyond the existence of any one league.

Chris Kivlehan
Chris Kivlehan enjoys writing about lower league US pro soccer because of the rapid growth of the sport at that level. He is a New York Cosmos season ticket holder and occasionally goes to Bethlehem Steel FC games because they are closer to his home. You can follow him on Twitter @kivlehan

5 thoughts on “Exclusive: Atlanta Group To Bring Pro Soccer To DeKalb County

  1. How idiotic can you be to put a pro team in the same market as a new major league team that everyone is excited about? And you wonder why the NASL is a mess and all but dead.

    1. Hi Dave,

      The counterpoint to that would be that markets the size of Atlanta in other countries support multiple teams all of the time. Granted, there are other, larger pro sports to contend with here which make any US market a more cluttered market than those international ones may be. Bottom line is that this is an ownership group that wants to try to build something in Atlanta that should have a positive impact on the development of soccer in the area with its youth initiatives. It’s not like you can tell them, “Hey we like you as an ownership group but pick your plans up and move them to Birmingham.” So then it becomes if their financial backing is impressive and their business plan is viable relative to being a second division club, do you take a chance on a second team in a big market? I think it is more ideal if such a committed ownership group would emerge in an open market (like Birmingham) but if you are the league I can see how it makes sense, especially given that Atlanta is a transportation hub that makes travel easy to the rest of the country.

      Thanks,
      Chris

      1. the counter argument to that is Silverbacks could not survive and their problems started before MLS came along. Mark Frisch is well funded, followed the Indy marketing plan and lasted two years and now we have another league owned team. For a league that almost died if this is going to be one of the first announcements, it can hardly be called prudent development.

  2. I am very surprised that the NASL is still looking at ownership groups who want to put their teams in the same MLS or USL markets and some have been fiascos (Rayo OKC) or have hurt existing NASL teams (Miami FC have bled the Ft.Lauderdale Strikers). Chris, as I have followed your writings on NASL (your series on potential cities, markets, etc) two questions to think about:

    1) Should not the NASL go after open markets first like Hartford, Baltimore, Virginia, Oakland, Milwaukee, Omaha, etc and strive to be the best team in that market (regardless of the fact that it is D2 or potentially D3)

    2) Should not the NASL look to have its own playing window from mid-May to Mid-August?? I am just saying this because if they think they are going to compete with MLS for D1, it will NOT work if they are playing at the same time as MLS. Maybe in the future the MLS-USL will play from March-June/July (depending on whether World Cup or Gold Cup is held in which months) and again from August-October while NASL would play from mid May to Mid-August.

    Just a thought.

    1. Hi Impact Supporter,

      1. Absolutely, you mention some great markets. Hartford and Baltimore already have investor groups in talks with NASL according to Big Apple Soccer and Sports Illustrated. Omaha is a very interesting market, similar to Grand Rapids, Birmingham, Virginia Beach/Norfolk and Albuquerque all around 1 million population where you could be the biggest show in town, potentially. I think Oakland would make for a great rivalry with San Francisco and Milwaukee could do the same for Chicago. All good ideas. Some of them have investors behind them and some don’t. You need the right investors and a good venue for any of them to succeed.

      Bringing this back to Atlanta, in this case they seem to have committed investors who are going to control their own venue which is a good thing. Obviously more ideal if they were in an open market as you point out. However, I don’t think it is likely you could convince an investor group from an area to pick their interest up and put it in another area, such as pointing Trey and his team to Birmingham instead of Atlanta. If they are from Atlanta, they probably want to invest in Atlanta or nowhere. So the choice for NASL becomes do you want this group in Atlanta or do you turn them down entirely. If you believe in the business plan enough to think they’ll draw more attendance than the league average and put a quality product for the division 2 level on the field, then you probably move forward with them.

      2. I don’t think a short season compressed into mid-May to mid-August makes sense for a pro league, though it might work well for NPSL. With the small amount of teams potentially keyed up for the Spring 2017 season (assuming it comes together), the thought did occur to me that perhaps NASL should switch calendars, forgo the Spring season and start up in Fall 2017 again matching their calendar to something closer to the international one used in Europe. So Fall season would start in August and end in mid-December while Spring would start in early March and end in June. They don’t look likely to change this, however.

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