By Maria Saporta
Before the official unveiling of the Atlanta United name and the logo of the Major League Soccer team, Arthur Blank marveled at the thousands of fans who had shown up Tuesday night at the SOHO Lounge in west Midtown.
The name given to MLS-Atlanta’s team was so fitting – Atlanta United.
“We went through the marketing research and focus groups,” said Blank, the owner of Atlanta United. “The words – unity, unification, consolidation – kept coming up time and time again. The Atlanta United name was a natural.”
And how appropriate Blank said that a new stadium for football and soccer was being built in the heart of downtown rather than in the suburbs. He mentioned how the Seattle stadium had enlivened the city’s central city by offering both NFL football and MLS soccer.
“Urban downtown stadiums are so exciting because they are attracting the people who are here tonight,” Blank said in an off-the-cuff interview before addressing Atlanta’s soccer fans at the event. “This is Atlanta.”
MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who was listening in, could not hide his enthusiasm of what he was witnessing in Atlanta with an estimated 4,000 fans present.
“This is just spectacular. I’m speechless,” Garber said. “I expected a couple of 100 fans. It’s just mind-blowing. I’m so excited and so impressed. It really has made my day. This is the celebration of our league. This is a celebration of Atlanta. I’m a happy man tonight.”
Then Garber took out his phone and took a picture of the exuberant crowd of soccer fans so he could tweet it to his 150,000 followers.
When Blank took the podium, he told the crowd how Garber has had to face numerous challenges in his role as commissioner.
“When he comes out and sees this tonight, he gets all the energy he needs to carry him forever,” Blank said of Garber.
Blank, who also owns the Atlanta Falcons, observed that the people who gravitated to Tuesday’s event were representative of the diversity that exists in Atlanta.
“Soccer is a sport of unification in the world,” Blank said of the sport that is popular in 200 countries. “When we polled our fans, we kept hearing one thing – there’s a sense of unity; it’s a very diverse city and a very international city.”
Blank said he always thought NFL fans were passionate and enthusiastic – “but I will tell you there’s nothing like soccer fans.”
Then Blank made a heartfelt pledge to the crowd. “I promise you we are committed to you, and we will never let you down.”
Garber spoke of what a great day it was for soccer in the United States – the win that the U.S. women’s enjoyed in the World Cup on Monday night. And he prepared the crowd for the upcoming viewing of the U.S. Men’s National Team match versus Honduras – a match that the U.S. team won 2-to-1.
“There is something so special happening here in Atlanta,” said Garber, who said the television audience that watched the Women’s World Cup exceeded the number of people who had watched the final game of the World Series or a regular NFL game. Soccer now belongs to what Garber called the “new America.”
And “this new America is right here in Atlanta,” Garber added.
Numerous celebrities were present for the event, but the number of politicians were few and far between. One absentee leader was Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who had been instrumental in providing bond funding for the new home of the Atlanta Falcons and the soccer team.
Darren Eales, president of Atlanta United, said that because the MLS team is starting with a clean slate, the soccer franchise has “a chance to make Atlanta United” the city’s team. “We want to be your club in the truest sense of the word, Eales said. “Our story is still being written.”
Eales went on to say that even though the team is 20 months away from the opening day, it already has received deposits for 21,500 season tickets.
At that point Eales unveiled the team’s new logo – a bold “A” in red, black and gold.