Atlanta United president understands fans’ frustration

6:05 p.m Tuesday, April 18, 2017 Sports
A rendering of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta United won’t play in the stadium until Sept. 9.

Atlanta United has gone from conducting the first event in Mercedes-Benz Stadium when it was supposed to have opened in March, to the first event when it was supposed to open July 30, to not playing in it until Sept. 9, when it hosts Dallas after several football games will have been played in the $1.5 billion building.

The most recent delay — caused by issues related the retractable roof of the stadium — were announced by AMB Group CEO Steven Cannon on Tuesday.

The July 30 MLS game against Orlando City that was supposed to open Mercedes-Benz Stadium has been moved to July 29 and will be the final Atlanta United game played in its temporary home of Bobby Dodd Stadium. Kickoff is 5 p.m. The team will play nine of its 17 home games this season at Georgia Tech.

The repeated delays have frustrated some of Atlanta United’s supporters, who took to social media to vent Tuesday.

“From our perspective, we completely understand that the fans are disappointed,” Atlanta United President Darren Eales said. “We are disappointed.

“The great thing about this season is our fans have been unbelievable. I think Bobby Dodd has been a temporary venue with an amazing atmosphere that the fans created. Fortunately, it’s just one more game, one more chance to be on national TV on Fox Sports and a game against our rivals.”

Other Atlanta United home games scheduled for Mercedes-Benz Stadium against Minnesota United on Aug. 13 and the L.A. Galaxy on Aug. 19 will be rescheduled for later dates at the stadium. MLS is working on the schedule. Cannon said there is no timetable for announcing the new dates for the home games.

MLS issued this statement Tuesday: “We know that Mercedes-Benz Stadium is going to be a state-of-the-art venue, and we look forward to it serving as the home for Atlanta United. We have adjusted the MLS schedule for the July 30 match and will announce the additional two changes soon.”

As recently as April 11 during the opening of the team’s headquarters in Marietta, team owner Arthur Blank and Eales implied that the team would open Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Eales even described a comment made by league commissioner Don Garber, who said he was looking forward to a September opening, as a “slip of the tongue.” Eales said Tuesday that July 30 was still the opening date at that time. He learned of the change over the weekend.

Asked what changed in the past week, Cannon said Tuesday that they weren’t “100 percent” on the July 30 date as of last week. Cannon said they “wanted to hold on to that until the last possible moment because we were thinking about our fans. As information came to us, we made the best possible decision.”

An Atlanta United spokeswoman said in an email that season-ticket holders will receive a credit for each seat they own. They can expect to receive that refund back to their account within the next week. This was communicated to them today via email. The team also offered some concessions to supporters when Bobby Dodd Stadium move was announced. Cannon also encouraged any dissatisfied fans to reach out to the team.

“On balance, the Bobby Dodd Stadium experience has been excellent,” Cannon said. “We will manage through this timeline issue and ultimately we will delight our Atlanta United fan base.”

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