ATLANTA — How many Major League Soccer expansion announcements have seen the new owner choking up at the podium?
Even for a veteran professional sports owner like Arthur Blank — he's owned the NFL's Atlanta Falcons since 2001 — the 22nd MLS expansion team awarded to him and the city of Atlanta on Wednesday night is more than just another sports team. It's personal.
Blank was visibly emotional when articulating to the crowd on hand for Wednesday's announcement what the sport meant to him. His middle son plays for local club Concorde and his fiancee's two children also play "at a very high level" for the same club.
"It's important for myself and my family," Blank said. "I have a lot of family members who are involved with the sport. It’s meaningful to them and meaningful to me … Their involvement in soccer was an opportunity for me to share their passion and see their enthusiasm.
"Sorry for the emotion, but I'm not," he continued. "Because that's what soccer is. A lot of emotion."
Blank was also impacted by the reception from the supporters group, the Terminus Legion, as they serenaded him during the press conference and at one point chanted "Uncle Arthur." He admitted afterward: "That was cool, I didn't quite know how to react to it."
And he promised those supporters that the new MLS team which kicks off play in 2017 will belong to them. Literally.
"This franchise … will be owned by the fans," Blank said. "It's to create a unique opportunity for you our fans, our owners, to feel that ownership and to help drive that uniqueness that soccer presents. So much of the uniqueness of soccer both in the US and worldwide depends on the local fans and how they feel … And I promise you we'll do that and do it forever."
So much so that he vowed to give the supporters the opportunity to have a say on the team name and the team logo which will consist of the colors "red and black with some percentage of gold in it."
- Get all the latest details on MLS Atlanta at MLSAtlanta2017.com
That team will be playing at the new $1.2 billion stadium being constructed in downtown Atlanta that opens in 2017 and will be shared with the NFL Falcons. It will feature an artificial turf field — "a design requirement of the stadium" as he called it — but Blank promised that "there’ll never be an MLS game where NFL lines will be shown on the field."
And he made it clear the MLS club will have its own dedicated soccer staff aside from some "crossover [with the Falcons] in terms of some backroom operational stuff." The first MLS hire will be a team president and he will be given all the resources allowable to put a winning product on the field.
"I've been an NFL owner since 2002 and we have been at the salary cap [maximum] all of those years," he said. "So I promise you that whatever resources it's going to take to give us the winning tradition, not only on the field but off the field, you have that commitment from me."