The Blank won’t bring soccer team to Atlanta by 2011 - Atlanta Journal-Constitution

By DAN CHAPMAN Major League Soccer won’t be coming to Atlanta in 2011. But Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who last October applied to the nation’s premier soccer league for a team, hasn’t ruled out trying to win a franchise to begin play possibly in 2013. Kim Schreckengost, chief of staff for Blank’s business group, said Thursday that potential partners, including various metro Atlanta governments, couldn’t commit to a plan in time for the 2011 season. But the sour economy is also to blame. Blank’s potential partners — cities, counties and corporations — are dealing with reduced revenues and job cuts. Spending millions of dollars on sports would likely raise howls from taxpayers and shareholders. Even Blank’s foundation and business group laid off 10 percent of its workforce last November. Sports teams face similar challenges. The Arena Football League postponed play this year. Blank owns an AFL team that plays in Gwinnett County. And the Atlanta Silverbacks, a lower-ranked professional soccer team that plays in DeKalb County, also canceled the 2009 season. Major League Soccer announced last October that two teams would be added for the 2011 season. Atlanta and six other cities submitted bids. An expansion decision is expected early this year. Miami and Vancouver are considered frontrunners. MLS didn’t return calls Thursday. Soccer franchise fees run a reported $40 million. MLS also suggests bidders commit to a 20,000-seat stadium. Add adjoining ball fields, a sports complex and parking and another $80 million would reportedly be needed to win a franchise. Local governments and companies would be expected to kick in tens of millions of dollars. “In this economy, the discussions don’t make sense,” said Cobb commission chairman Sam Olens. Kennesaw State University in northern Cobb County was considered a frontrunner to land Blank’s soccer team. The university owns a chunk of largely undeveloped land across Interstate 75 from the campus that could’ve been used by the school, county sports teams and MLS. But Wesley Wicker, executive director of the KSU Foundation that owns the land, said Thursday that “a number of meetings with the Blank group” last fall failed to resolve financial and scheduling issues. Blank’s group told MLS in early December that “we didn’t think we’d be able to field a team in 2011,” Schreckengost said. “We didn’t feel we were far enough along with the discussions with various groups to make that commitment.” She said the recession, and Blank’s layoffs, bore “no correlation” to the group’s delayed pursuit of a soccer franchise.