Arthur Blank has taken the American soccer scene by storm. Despite what the antiquated “America will never be a soccer country” crowd is saying, Major League Soccer is booming. With roughly eleven clubs averaging over 20,000 supporters per match, the MLS expanding to 22 teams in 2017, and the acquiring of top-level international players, it’s safe to say the United States is starting to really dig this “soccer” thing. In fact, one market in particular has done exceedingly well this year with regards to professional soccer: Atlanta, Georgia. Yes, that’s right: the same city that gave us Tyler Perry, Lil Yachty, and Migos is America’s latest MLS success story. Atlanta United FC, one of 2017’s two expansion sides, has shattered all expectations. They currently sit at fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 30 points and 9 wins. They’ve brought down some of the leagues’ oldest, most storied clubs: beating Columbus, San Jose, Houston, and Real Salt Lake with ease. With regards to supporters, the team averages over 46,000 spectators per game (passing the Seattle faithful as the city with the best MLS attendance). However, behind every great venture, there is an even greater businessman. When analyzing the almost-instant success of Atlanta United FC, you need to focus on one man: Arthur M. Blank.
Ever dream of being so wealthy that you could own your own sports team and manage it like your FIFA Ultimate Team? Well, Blank owns not one, but two professional sports teams in the United States, and he doesn’t like to lose. The New York-native made his fortune by co-founding a small business venture by the name of Home Depot in 1978, after being fired from his previous job. You could say that Blank bounced back after taking the L because his company would later revolutionize the home improvement industry and popularize the warehouse business model, eventually opening a store in all 50 U.S. states. As you may have expected from the founder of one of America’s most iconic brands, Blank became a multi-billionaire, currently valued at $3.1 billion as of 2016. His newfound wealth, more moula than Jordan Belfort and his drug-loving friends could have ever dreamed of, gave Arthur Blank the means to pursue his greatest passion: the American sports market. Thank the good Lord for Home Depot.
The savvy businessman purchased the Atlanta Falcons in February of 2002 and used his wealth to build the franchise into one of the top teams in the National Football League (NFL). Before Blank flashed his cash and acquired the Falcons, the franchise averaged roughly 37,000 season ticket holders per year. Since 2002, the Atlanta Falcons have never sold fewer than 50,000 season tickets per year to their growing fan base. Go Birds. In the same time period, the team has sold out 110 of 112 regular season games and has made the playoffs 6 times in 15 seasons, eventually making it to Super Bowl LI against the New England Patriots (we all know how that one ended #GottaHateTomBrady). In addition to these accomplishments, Blank is even credited with being the main reason that Dan Quinn, one of the most sought after NFL coaches at the time, came to Atlanta in 2015. Yet, it is Blanks two latest investments that will undoubtedly instill his place in Atlanta folklore.
After years of planning and collaboration with the city, Blank and his associates began the construction of the 1.6 billion dollar Mercedez-Benz Stadium in May of 2014. The futuristic, larger than life arena will feature free in-house social clubs for loyal supporters, fan-first food and beverage services that will provide affordable meals to all, 91,000 square feet of LED video boards, and some of the best views of Atlanta from the bridge. Basically, Blank has able to plan the dopest professional sports stadium in United States history.
For America’s smartest businessmen, those who see opportunity wherever they look, every investment lays the foundations for the next great venture. Blank’s purchasing of the Falcons in 2002, the push to make the Falcons a top-tier NFL franchise, his desire to build a truly unique stadium in the heart of Atlanta, and his love of U.S. sports teams have all prepared him for his latest project: soccer. The sport that has proved to be ineffective in the United States for decades has finally begun to gain momentum thanks to Major League Soccer’s owners and organizers. Blank will prove to be one of the best club owners in American soccer. In 2012, after a failed MLS bid in 2008, Blank’s push for a new stadium in Atlanta attracted the attention of the league. Major League Soccer’s Commissioner, Don Garber, promised a serious opportunity for an expansion bid if Blank could finance his venue plans. Finally, after a $30 million deal with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the stadium plan was finalized and Garber began his last meetings with Blank in 2014. That same year, Atlanta’s favorite sports owner announced that the MLS had awarded a bid to Atlanta for the 2017 season. Blank was ecstatic. He wasted no time in hiring some of the industry’s top talent, hiring former Tottenham Hotspur director of football administration, Darren Eales, and legendary Argentine footballer, Gerardo “Tata” Martino (Argentine soccer fans living in Atlanta will have to forgive Tata for their national team’s short comings. Damn you Lionel Messi). With Martino as manager, Blank was able to sign some of soccer’s most promising stars, many from international clubs. Paraguyan midfielder Miguel Almiron and Argentina’s Yamil Asad, among other players, were signed thanks to Blank’s aggressive scouting strategy. In addition to this, a youth academy for future soccer development was established and tens of thousands of tickets were sold to Atlanta’s eager supporters. Within a few years, Arthur Blank had built the foundations for a monumental United States club side, using his wealth and past business expertise to his advantage. What. A. Dude.
The future is limitless for Atlanta United FC. The club are current contenders for the MLS playoffs and will surely be raising the league cup soon enough. They have a world-class manager in Martino, a football administration genius with Eales and goal-scoring players such as Almiron. The club has found itself in a more than desirable sports market, calling the bustling city of Atlanta its home. Both Atlanta United FC and the Atlanta Falcons will be playing in one of the most revolutionary stadiums in American sports history, with Mercedes-Benz stadium set for completion in 2017. But most of all, they’ve got Arthur M. Blank: the Wolf of Peachtree Street (another Atlanta joke, sorry folks). Blank is the genius behind the unexpected rise of the Falcons and the man who made Home Depot one of America’s largest home improvement supplies companies. He is literally the reason college kids can go to Home Depot and build crappy pong tables out of cheap wood. He is the man behind the legendary Falcons tailgates that have taken over the city on game day. His passion for the professional sports scene, his ability to work with government and league officials, and his love of Atlanta have made him the perfect owner for Atlanta United. The city’s soccer scene is only getting started, and the future of American soccer belongs to Arthur Blank.
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