Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank sat down for an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday in a large conference room at what is probably his most expensive home away from home: $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Wearing a gray, plaid jacket and gray tie, Blank went into the depth about topics ranging from the futures of Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron to Columbus’ seemingly pending relocation to Austin to his interest in owning a soccer team in Europe.
Look in Sunday’s AJC for more about Blank’s vision for Atlanta United and soccer in the city.
Q. There are reports that Josef Martinez is attracting interest – again – from clubs in Europe as he worked to set the MLS scoring record. What would be an acceptable price to sell him? Same for Almiron?
A. You are asking probably the wrong person. I will almost always align with the fans.
I haven’t heard any of that.
He’s been to Europe. I don’t think his experience was great there.
He loves Atlanta. He’s said that. He loves the atmosphere. He’s playing in front of more than 70,000 folks.
He’s a big hero in major league soccer, big here.
He likes living here.
But soccer is a global game.
We hired Darren Eales, because unlike the NFL which is the pinnacle of American football, MLS is not the pinnacle of soccer in the world.
That’s why our developmental teams, our academy teams are … that’s why developing our own talent and bringing along our own talent. That’s what Darren has done and coach (Gerardo) Martino has done and what Carlos has done.
So, we’d like to keep him here for as long as it makes sense. We will see what happens in the future.
The nature of the sport is often these players end up on a bigger stage.
What’s interesting is now they aren’t often playing in front of crowds that are anywhere near as large as what we have here. Probably half of the EPL teams don’t get the attendance that we get.
First week of World Cup games, we had 72,000 people in the building. The two World Cup games had less than that combined.
So, where the center of the universe is in soccer is changing.
We would love to keep him for as long as it makes sense to do that.
Q. Other Americans have purchased franchises in Europe. Is that something you are considering or been asked to be a part of?
A. We are aware that soccer is a world-wide game.
We ask ourselves periodically when we’ve had time to breathe, which isn’t a lot of times given the success and the team’s success on the pitch, could this culture be transported elsewhere and be as successful in other markets?
My argument is I think it would be, because it’s centered on who we are serving.
We understand that Atlanta is different than other cities in the country and other countries are different than the United States.
The emotions that we elicit from our fans and their responses cross all countries.
We have no plans, but you never know.
Q. Were you for, against or neutral, regarding Columbus’ move to Austin, and why?
A. I don’t know all the details.
From what I understand, the city hasn’t been as aggressive as it coulda/shoulda been to try to keep the team there.
I understand the soccer fans are very disappointed. Soccer fans everywhere are avid, so it’s hard to move a team.
On the other hand, you want a community, a city, that can not only support, but help elevate not only their club but Major League Soccer to another level.
Austin is a great emerging American city. It has great population, great demographics for soccer.
I understand it from that view point.
If I were a soccer fan in Columbus, I sure would be disappointed. I certainly understand that.
The league, much like the NFL, you listen to a lot of conversations, the league takes the same view that the National Football League does: the first obligation is to try to stay where you are and make it. So you do everything you can to make a deal, make the economics work, have a viable venue to play in.
If that becomes an impossibility, then you end up making the decision to move.
I think that’s as much as you can ask for and you should ask for that.
Give the existing community and existing fan base a chance to step up and show their commitment.
> Look in Sunday’s AJC for more about Arthur Blank’s vision for Atlanta United and soccer in the city.