Will Arthur Blank be Atlanta’s soccer savior?

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With the Super Bowl complete, Arthur Blank can put the final nail into his worst season with the hapless Atlanta Falcons since he bought the franchise in 2002. Last season proved to be one in which the billionaire founder of Home Depot wondered if the bad news would ever end. It has, of course, and Blank explained his take on the season in a wide-ranging interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that recaptured the optimism and drive that has made Blank an icon in the city’s business and sports worlds.

“I look at 2007, in retrospect, as if you were sailing a boat. You get out to a bad storm and you wonder, ‘Is it ever going to end,'” Blank said. “But to me, it’s going to be just a blip on the charts looking back.”

But what’s most interesting about the interview are not his predictions of reworking the Falcons and capturing a Super Bowl title – what owner wouldn’t say that? – but his thoughts on soccer, a new stadium and the Braves.

Blank said he’s interested in adding to his sports portfolio, which currently includes the Falcons and arena football’s Georgia Force.

Blank said he is “actively looking at” bringing a Major League Soccer expansion team to Atlanta. He described it as “in the exploratory stage” and said the team would need a soccer-specific stadium. “We’re out looking at stadium sites right now … in a variety of places,” he said.

An MLS franchise, the sport’s top professional league, would complete Atlanta’s already strong offering of professional sports, which includes arena football, baseball, basketball (men’s and women’s), football and hockey. The Atlanta Silverbacks offers a men’s team that plays in the First Division of the United Soccer Leagues and a USL W-League team. Though the USL bills itself as professional soccer, it’s more comparable to the minor leagues of Major League Baseball than a competitor to MSL.

Blank’s interest should excite soccer fans. He can inject a level of business acumen and financing that the city’s soccer scene hasn’t ever experienced.

On the Braves, whose near future seems improved with the sale of the team last year to Liberty Media, Blank said he’d be interested in making another pitch for them, too.

One might think that, given the troubles of his football team in the past year, Blank would be relieved in retrospect that his 2006 bid to buy the Braves didn’t work out. “No, I’m not,” he corrected. “I would have loved to have had that happen.”

Blank also said he plans to ditch the Georgia Dome.

Blank said “I don’t have any doubt” the Falcons will move into a new stadium after the Georgia Dome construction bonds are paid off. That would be no later than 2020 and, according to the team’s projections, maybe as soon as 2015.


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