Arthur Blank

Atlanta, MLS don’t need to quiet doubts to be successful in the Southeast

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Major League Soccer’s worst kept secret was its interest in Atlanta. As Don Garber’s reflex response goes, the league has been interested in the city for over a decade. Not only does it give MLS a coveted spot in the abandoned Southeast, but it represents a location that hasn’t failed before. Going into Florida? There’s a history there. In Atlanta, MLS can write its own.

Miami may be the capital of Latin America, but Atlanta is the center of the South. If MLS is going to go challenge the notion that professional soccer can’t gain a foothold in the region, it has to succeed in ‘The ATL’ – a focal point that can promote the sector’s link to the rest of the country. Without it, the two Florida franchises (Orlando and David Beckham’s eventual team in Miami) are left on an island, one that could sink once more.

It’s an endeavor that stares skeptics’ two main assumptions in the face – notions that also apply to the potential Miami franchise: First, that the cities are not a “good sports towns”; and second, MLS’s history says it can not succeed in the Southeast.

The funny part about the first it that there’s no clear standard for evaluating what is and is not a good sports town. And whatever standards you do hear? They’re probably completely inapplicable to Major League Soccer.

Critics will point out there’s a lack of excitement for the Dolphins and Marlins in Miami, the Hawks and Braves in Atlanta, but it’s not as if those teams are going out of business. Even the Marlins, at this point, are a well-established part of their city’s landscape. By Major League Soccer standards, those franchises are outrageous successes. If Miami and Atlanta are bad sports towns, it’s only relative to a lofty, irrelevant standard that shouldn’t apply to MLS.

Plus, as Blank alluded to in today’s press conference, the extent to which you can look at a football, basketball, or baseball franchise and see MLS’s future is a dubious one. According to the new MLS owner (citing information relayed to him by Seattle’s ownership), only three percent of Sounders season ticket holders do the same with the Seahawks. If you’re looking to NFL-ledd MLS teams as a means of evaluating Atlanta’s potential, here’s actually very little overlap between NFL customers and potential soccer supporters. As we’ve known for some time, soccer fans are a distinct type of customer, one that’s more likely to be reached with a distinct approach.

Perhaps paradoxically, that’s where Blank’s NFL organization can help. As those around Seattle recently noted as the Sounders severed business ties with the Seahawks, being linked to a huge, established organization likely helped the Sounders’ unprecedented growth. It gave the franchise a large machine capable of leveraging its experience in a way that took advantage of any opportunity for growth. Given the Falcons’ presence in Atlanta, Blank may be able to do the same.

Does that make Atlanta a good sport market? No, but it’s also unclear what a good sports market is. If having franchises like the Braves and Dolphins mean a city doest care about sports, maybe we’re too idealistic about what represents success in this realm. And if the doubters’ argument is that places like Salt Lake, Columbus, Santa Clara, Portland — small cities where MLS is already successful — represent better opportunities than the city with the 15th largest economy in the world, the standard is broken. MLS doesn’t need to win over the whole town. A small slice of the pie will work.

Critics, however, are also skeptical of MLS’s ability to penetrate the market, usually citing the region’s sports culture and MLS’s previous failures as reason to believe another Southeast excursion will fail. But if there’s one thing we know about Major League Soccer, it’s that the league is nothing like it was in 2001. Pointing to anything the league did at age six as an example of what it’s capable of at age 19 ignores the league’s trajectory.

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The Miami Fusion ceased operations in 2001, but a group led by David Beckham are hoping to secure a stadium that will allow a new team to play by 2017, the same year Atlanta will come into Major League Soccer.

By now, MLS is a totally different organism. It’s bigger and far more stable that it was in 2001, when a small group of owners were faced with the task to keeping the two Florida franchises afloat. MLS, struggling for its mere survival, didn’t have the resources back then. Overly reliant on Phil Anschutz and Lamar Hunt, the league couldn’t wait out teams’ slow starts.

But now, with the resources people like Blank, Beckham, and Manchester City’s ownership can throw behind new franchises, there’s no reason to expect those slow starts. Instead, these teams will try to hit the ground running, if not on the field than off. If they hit speed bumps, a large group of diverse owners can leverage to decades of lessons to promote the teams’ survival.

That’s not to say Atlanta, Miami, Orlando … New York or franchise no. 24 will succeed. Instead, it’s important to realize the league’s 1996-2001 track record is irrelevant. Different owners with different goals had different tools, none of which will be used in the MLS’s latest attempt to tackle the Southeast. Instead, a sport that’s made significant gains in national relevance over the last 13 years will take another shot, with new minds and new capabilities leading the charge.

If soccer in the Southeast fails, it won’t be for the same reasons Tampa Bay and Miami. And it probably won’t be because Atlanta and the Magic City aren’t Good Sports Towns. Major League Soccer doesn’t necessarily need GSTs to succeed.

It needs good owners. It needs people who have ideas that can help franchises identify that sliver of local support that will sustain the team. It needs a growing game and a vibrant league to give the teams a bigger, more relevant context. Right now, it just needs 20,000-or-so people to want to come to games.

It doesn’t need to make people forget the Mutiny and Fusion, and it doesn’t need to prove Atlanta and Miami are GSTs. All MLS needs to capture each city’s underserved soccer market. Even if that doesn’t push the Heat or Falcons on the back burner, it will be enough to allow address those doubts.

Report: RBNY send McCarty to Chicago for hefty allocation fee

New York Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty reacts towards the fans after an MLS playoff soccer match against the D.C. United, at RFK Stadium, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in Washington. McCarty scored the only goal and New York won 1-0. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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UPDATE: The Fire and Red Bulls have officially announced the trade. The deal will send $200,000 of allocation money to RBNY in 2017, and $200,000 again in 2018.

Don’t look now, but the Chicago Fire are building something noteworthy in Bridgeview.

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Three weeks after signing three-time MLS Cup-winning (LA Galaxy) midfielder Juninho to anchor the midfield in Veljko Paunovic’s second season in charge, the Fire sent a hefty chunk of general allocation money to the New York Red Bulls in exchange for do-everything stalwart Dax McCarty, who’ll partner the Brazilian in comprising one of MLS’s toughest midfield duos.

According to a report on FourFourTwo.com, the Fire will send $400,000 of general allocation money to the Red Bulls, which represents the largest sum of MLS dollars to change hands since the league began announcing figures during the 2017 SuperDraft on Friday (New York City FC traded $250,000 to the Fire in exchange for the no. 3 overall pick, which helped fund the acquisition of McCarty). In total, McCarty made 169 regular-season appearances for the Red Bulls, serving the last two seasons as club captain, and helping the red half of New York to the only two major trophies in club history, the 2013 and 2015 Supporters’ Shields. The 29-year-old (he’ll turn 30 in April) is currently participating in January camp with the U.S. national team.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

The Fire also signed 28-year-old Hungarian striker Nemanja Nikolic to a Designated Player contract last month. Nikolic has nearly 200 goals to his name in 326 career games played.

With seven weeks still to go before First Kick 2017, the Fire’s opening-day starting lineup is shaping up to look something like this…

Nikolic

Accam — De Leeuw — ???

Juninho — McCarty

Vincent — Meira — Campbell — ???

Bava

The Fire might be good this year.

FA Cup replay preview: Fixtures are quickly piling up for Liverpool

SWANSEA, WALES - OCTOBER 01:  Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool reacts  during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at Liberty Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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The last thing Liverpool needed was an FA Cup third-round replay against Plymouth Argyle.

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Already locked in a race for the Premier League title, and a two-leg semifinal tie with Southampton in the EFL Cup, the month of January was always going to be a trying period for Jurgen Klopp‘s side — not to mention, leading scorer Sadio Mane (nine PL goals this season) is away on international duty (Africa Cup of Nations) for the next two weeks (at minimum).

Here are the Reds, though, 24 hours after a disappointing 1-1 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday, preparing for that third-round replay, away to a League Two (fourth division) side all the way on the opposite end of England, on Wednesday (2:45 p.m. ET). Swansea City await in PL action on Saturday, followed by the second leg against Southampton the following Wednesday, and a visit from league leaders Chelsea six days later. Should they knock off Plymouth, they’ll squeeze in a visit from Championship side Wolverhampton Wanderers in the fourth round the Saturday between Saints and Chelsea.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Elsewhere, fellow PL sides Burnley and Sunderland are set to face off at Turf Moor after playing to a scoreless draw a week ago. Crystal Palace will welcome League One side Bolton to Selhurst Park, and Southampton have a rematch with Norwich City.

Full FA Cup third-round replay schedule

Tuesday

Burnley vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET
AFC Wimbledon vs. Sutton United — 2:45 p.m. ET
Barnsley vs. Blackpool — 2:45 p.m. ET
Fleetwood Town vs. Bristol City — 2:45 p.m. ET
Crystal Palace vs. Bolton — 3 p.m. ET
Lincoln City vs. Ipswich Town — 3:05 p.m. ET

Wednesday

Plymouth Argyle vs. Liverpool — 2:45 p.m. ET
Southampton vs. Norwich City — 2:45 p.m. ET
Newcastle United vs. Birmingham City — 2:45 p.m. ET

PHOTO: Juventus unveil new logo, identity rebrand

New Juventus FC logo (Photo credit: Juventus / Twitter: @juventusfcen)
Photo credit: Juventus / Twitter: @juventusfcen
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Minimalism — noun — a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Less is undoubtedly more in 2017 — according to marketing whizzes — as minimalistic design and branding grows more prevalent by the day. That goes for the sports world, too, where a number of teams — in all sports, it doesn’t matter — around the world have opted to rebrand in a simpler, minimalist fashion in recent years.

Enter Juventus, the defending five-time Serie A champions, who on Monday unveiled the club’s brand new logo.

If the logo itself doesn’t do anything for you, you’ll surely be captivated by some of the brilliant identity marketing built around the new-look logo, including the following video.

Chinese authorities to halt “irrational investments” in players

BERLIN, GERMANY - JUNE 06:  Carlos Tevez of Juventus reacts during the UEFA Champions League Final between Juventus and FC Barcelona at Olympiastadion on June 6, 2015 in Berlin, Germany.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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BEIJING (AP) The governing body of Chinese soccer plans a series of measures in response to what is termed “irrational” spending by clubs on transfer fees and player salaries, amid concerns that foreign stars are crowding out local talent and harming the country’s goal of becoming a global force in the sport.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

The Chinese Football Association said in a statement Monday the steps will target the “operations and management” of teams in the top-tier China Super League and the China Premier League, one step below it.

The measures will address “recent irrational investments by clubs, high-figure transfer fees and salaries paid to domestic and international athletes and other issues,” the CFA said in a statement.

Spending by Chinese clubs on players such as Argentina’s Carlos Tevez has drawn global attention, raising fears among some that domestic players will be denied opportunities. That could stifle the government’s attempts to produce talent capable of achieving its stated goal of winning the World Cup by 2050, part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s push to make soccer success a national priority.

[ MORE: PL Playback — One from six; who are the title favorites now? ]

Other rules announced by the CFA appeared firmly aimed at addressing the lack of opportunities for Chinese players. They reduce the number of foreigners who can appear at any given time for a club from four to three and require each team’s starting lineup include at least two Chinese players under age 23.

Shanghai Shenhua said it paid an $11 million transfer fee to Argentina’s Boca Juniors for Teves. Oscar was purchased from Chelsea, and Brazilians Hulk, Ramires, Alex Teixeira and Paulinho, Colombian striker Jackson Martinez and Argentine forward Ezequiel Lavezzi also joined the league.

Chinese Super League clubs are thought to have spent close to $300 million in the winter transfer window.