ATLANTA -- Major League Soccer 's commissioner and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank announced Wednesday that a new MLS team is coming to Atlanta.
The team is expected to start playing in 2017.
BACKGROUND: Read more about the announcement
A three-hour fan fest with radio stations, food trucks and games led up to the announcement. MLS commissioner Don Garber and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed spoke at the event. Former MLS star Alexi Lalas served as master of ceremonies.
Blank has long coveted a top-level soccer team for the city, and negotiations with the MLS intensified after he reached a deal on building a new $1 billion retractable roof stadium next to the Georgia Dome. Site preparation is underway, and the new dome is expected to open in 2017. He said that the stadium will seat about 71,000 fans for football and about 29,000 for soccer. He promised soccer fans that no football lines will be visible at soccer games -- a line that drew loud cheers from the enthusiastic crowd.
Blank also promised to bring a winning team to Atlanta.
"We want to put a winning team on the field," Blank said. "We understand that in all sports, winning and losing does matter and we want to win. You've got my commitment to do that."
The Atlanta franchise is part of an expansion that also includes new teams in Orlando and New York City. It will bring the number of teams in MLS to 22.
Average attendance in the league was 18,594 in 2013. The Seattle Sounders topped the league in attendance, averaging more than 44,000 per game. The lowest attendance went to a team out of Carson, Calif., which averaged around 8,300 fans.
By way of comparison, the Atlanta Braves averaged about 31,000 fans a game in 2013, and the Falcons have more than 70,000 for each game. Atlanta's former NHL team, the Thrashers, averaged around 13,000.
The MLS season runs from spring to summer.
Blank said that fans will help decide the team's name.
Will you watch Major League Soccer in Atlanta if they bring a new team?
Matt Stigall, a Georgia Tech graduate who started the website ATLWantsMLS.com said he's already looking beyond Wednesday's announcement.
"Truly, that's when the work begins," he told 11Alive News. "We'll have three years to bring supporters together. When the first game happens, we want to make sure it's sold out."
Close to 70,000 fans packed the Georgia Dome in March for an exhibition game between Mexico and Nigeria.
"Soccer is the world's most popular sport and will be an exciting addition to the city's robust sports portfolio," said William Pate, president & CEO, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. "The Falcons and the new MLS team will ensure year-round activity at the new stadium and will draw additional domestic and international visitors to our city."
One of the most famous soccer players from metro Atlanta, Josh Wolff, a former MLS and U.S. national team player, said he was excited to hear the news.
"It's a great opportunity that has been a long time coming," Wolff said in a release. "Being from Atlanta, I am really excited. I think (the new team) will have a tremendous impact. The landscape of youth soccer -- and soccer in general -- in the state of Georgia has been changing rapidly and this will really give an identity to the sport."