With the recent announcement that Atlanta will be the latest city to have a team in Major League Soccer, the question of success surely needs to be asked.
Given the dominance of college football in the city, it may be difficult to attract a large enough fan base to make the project worthwhile.
However, that is not to say that other sports are not popular in the city. The Atlanta Braves of MLB, the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA, and the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL are all based in the capital of Georgia.
Yet despite the popularity of sports other than college football, the Atlanta Falcons have by far the largest stadium, with a capacity of 74,000 compared to the 50,000 and 20,000 capacities of the MLB and NBA teams respectively.
Indeed, this brings us onto a more immediate problem - a stadium will have to be built for the MLS side that is capable of bringing in a significant number of fans; otherwise the potential for future fan base growth will be limited.
It is of course a difficult balancing act, the idea of building a large stadium that will be half-empty is not pleasant, but neither is the prospect of a small stadium that can’t seat enough fans.
Additionally, public funding will need to be secured, something that the Atlanta Braves found very difficult when they announced plans for a new stadium.
David Beckham’s proposed Miami franchise already hit its first stumbling block, when a group of local wealthy businessmen publicly opposed the proposal for a new stadium. Major League Soccer’s planners should certainly take note when considering possible opposition.
Perhaps the biggest problem faced by the league is one of scheduling and structure. The league is made up of 19 teams currently, but four more are set to join in the next three years.
After Montreal Impact joined in 2012, the normal home and away style of playing – where every team in the league plays every other team over the course of a season – was abandoned.
Instead, an East/West conference set-up was established, with ten teams playing in the east and nine in the west. Only once a season do teams play opponents in the opposite conference.
As the MLS continues to expand, this issue will only get worse. Of course, there are massive difficulties involved, with vast distances separating teams and different time zones in need of being negotiated.
The need to develop real rivalries between sides is also important for entertainment purposes, as is the surely crucial matter of schedules that fit in with international television as much as possible.
Clearly there are issues that need to be looked at if the MLS is to become one of the top ten international leagues in the world by 2020.
As for Atlanta, there are both short term and long-term issues, yet perhaps the MLS itself will be the biggest stumbling block.
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