MLS and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank are in "significant discussions" to bring an expansion team to the Georgia capital, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The team would be one of the four expansion clubs MLS has said it would add by 2020, bringing the league up to 24 teams.
Blank has been chasing a MLS team ever since he began pursuing a new stadium for the Falcons, but he could only do so much until he had his building. Now he does, with the city agreeing to fund the stadium to the tune of $200 million, $200 million more coming from a NFL and Blank footing the rest of the bill. With that sorted, and just the site and design left before construction begins, Blank is free to chase the MLS team he wants to host.
The Seattle Sounders have shown that sharing a stadium with a NFL team is not impossible. While some may point to the struggles of the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium as a counterpoint, the Atlanta stadium is expected to be near downtown so an Atlanta MLS team wouldn't share the issues Gillette presents the Revolution. Whether that is enough to make a MLS team in a NFL stadium successful -- or does it require crowds over 40,000 like the Sounders get? -- remains to be seen.
At the very least, MLS would be getting a very wealthy and influential owner in Blank, as well as the eighth-largest TV market in the nation, if it does award Atlanta an expansion team.
Atlanta would mark the league's return to the southeast. D.C. United has been the team closest to the region ever since teams in Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa Bay were contracted in 2001, but the league has made returning to the area a priority of late. Expansion to Atlanta would do that, putting a team in the region's biggest TV market, with expansion teams in Miami and Orlando possibly coming later as investors from both cities continue to pursue clubs.