Copyright 2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Less than two weeks after the announcement that Arthur Blank is bringing a Major League Soccer franchise to Atlanta, season-ticket sales already are brisk.
As of Friday, 3,175 people had paid $50 apiece to join the Founder's Club, a group of supporters that will be capped at the first 5,000 members. The current members have pledged to purchase 9,092 season tickets for the opening season in 2017, according to the Falcons, whose personnel are helping run the MLS franchise until a staff is hired.
"I'm very excited about our progress," Blank said in a statement. "In a little more than a week, we're at more than 60 percent of the 5,000 fans who will have the opportunity to become founding members, and that's three years before we play our first game."
Atlanta is on pace to match or surpass the recent season-ticket sales of other MLS clubs in their inaugural seasons. Seattle, considered the model franchise, sold a league-best 22,000 season tickets in 2009. Toronto sold 14,000 in 2007. Portland sold 12,500 in 2011. Philadelphia capped its season tickets at 12,000 and sold out in 2010.
The Falcons thought they would sell out the memberships, but no deadline was set.
"Always been bullish for Atlanta," Jim Smith, the Falcons' vice president of marketing, said. "This proves why."
Each Founder's Club member can pledge to purchase as many as eight season tickets. To be a member, you must purchase a season ticket, and only Founder's Club members may buy season tickets. The tickets are expected to officially go on sale to the members in the summer of 2015, according to the team's website, mlsatlanta 2017.com. There won't be a personal seat-license requirement to purchase tickets, and Smith said prices haven't been set.
Dibs on the first season tickets is just one of the benefits. According to the website, Founder's Club members will be recognized in a unique way by the team (concepts are being discussed) and receive priority seating choices in the new stadium that will be the team's home. Other benefits may be decided once the team's president is hired.
"Think about how infrequently you have a chance to be at the start of a pro sports franchise," Smith said. "This is that opportunity."
Jason Wells, a Founder's Club member, joined for that reason. Wells, who lives in Midtown, grew up playing soccer in Alabama before he moved to Atlanta to attend Georgia Tech. He purchased his membership April 18 and pledged to purchase two season tickets.
He is passionate enough about soccer to wear a "Don't tread on me" flag to games featuring the U.S. men's national team and to plan to fly to Seattle this summer to watch Tottenham Hotspur play. He also has planned a World Cup party when the U.S. plays Portugal on June 22.
Wells is an example of the millennial generation fan upon which the MLS is building its league and Blank believes will support his team.
"I want to tell my grandkids, 'Look, there's my name on the Founder's Club,'" Wells said. "(It's about) establishing a legacy. I think soccer is here to stay. You only get one opportunity to help the grass roots and groundswell. I've chosen Atlanta as my home and plan to live here as long as I can. I will be a passionate supporter of my favorite sport and my home team."
Terminus Legion, another supporter's club for the franchise, also has seen an increase in membership. Co-founder Matt Stigall, who is also a Founder's Club member, said the Legion had slightly more than 300 members before last week's announcement. As of Thursday, the group had grown to more than 500, who each paid $35 to join.
The group was showcased during last week's announcement when Blank turned to them and promised he would do everything he could to create a successful franchise to make them happy.
"The response of the whole city, there's no doubt that this city will support the team," Stigall said. "It's awesome."