Are the Atlanta Silverbacks Going Anywhere?

The Atlanta Silverbacks could be on their way out of the NASL. What are the repercussions of a move to a different league?
by Corey Langley   |   Friday, November 07, 2014

Atlanta Rising – column on MLS Atlanta & the Georgia area soccer scene.

In an interview on Soccer Morning, North American Soccer League Commissioner Bill Peterson acknowledged that the Atlanta Silverbacks were looking into options outside of the NASL.

Since the interview, rumors have been swirling over the potential demise of the Atlanta Silverbacks. They might be in talks to sell their franchise rights in the NASL. They might move down to a lower league like the USL Pro or the NPSL. Either way, it seems as if the Silverbacks brass are looking to get out of the NASL. Most fans, on the other hand, would like the club to stay exactly where they are.

With future and current NASL teams competing for markets against Major League Soccer, should the NASL fight to keep their league in tact? Is the NASL the best option for the Atlanta Silverbacks?

USL PRO

There are obvious benefits in a move to the designated third division in American soccer.  First, it is a league in close contact with Major League Soccer, which offers several opportunities. MLS Affiliate clubs would be making their way to Atlanta  on a regular basis. Young players, who may grow to be MLS, or even United States National Team stars, may be getting their starts with USL Pro clubs. MLS teams with a following, such as the Seattle Sounders, would surely help grow the attendance markers for the team.

There is also a possibility of affiliation with the Atlanta based MLS club set to play in 2017. This could be the most beneficial for the Silverbacks. If MLS Atlanta decides to affiliate with the Silverbacks, they would need to help market the team in order to keep their developmental team alive. Marketing has not been the Silverbacks’ strong suit, so this partnership could be the most helpful.

A move to USL Pro would invoke almost as many questions as it does answers, though. If the team is to sell their franchise rights in the NASL (Which has a majority of east coast teams) out of financial issues, why would they then purchase a franchise in another league that involves more travel?

If this is an attempt to affiliate with the MLS club, why has the NASL not been more vocal about the possibility of losing a team to a rival league? After accepting the New York Cosmos, who will compete against big spending New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls, into the fold and saying that he does not see why NASL clubs cannot compete with MLS clubs, would Bill Peterson let Atlanta get away so easily? According to his interview, he would not, but he did acknowledge that it is a club decision.

NASL

The path of the North American Soccer League would offer quite a few hardships for the Silverbacks in the short term, but could be lucrative in the long run. In the same interview on Soccer Morning, Bill Peterson suggested that the NASL might have some kind of promotion and relegation system at some point in time.

The likelihood of MLS and USL Pro doing the same thing seems way too distant to even consider. While it may not be Division 1 by US Soccer standards, the prospect of it would likely increase fan attendance at least a little. By moving out of the NASL, the Silverbacks would be going away from the shortest option for promotion and relegation.

There is a major negative to staying the NASL, though. That negative is a club that will not play for another two years, but is already pulling weight. The Silverbacks would have to compete for fans, advertising dollars, and players to a league, MLS, that currently has a lot more pull than the NASL.

If the NASL truly sees their league as one of the top three or four in CONCACAF, they will need to get used to competing head to head against MLS. Keeping Atlanta in the NASL is an incredibly important piece of the puzzle for the NASL. Failure to keep them in the league would result in a major hit in credibility.

Final Thoughts

Obviously the answer is not black and white. Fans will want a certain thing while management may want another. Management may sell the club altogether. They may find new investors to keep the club in the NASL. Either in the USL Pro or the NASL, the club will not lose its’ most loyal fans. This does not mean that the fans are not willing to make their voices heard, however.

 A movement has started in Atlanta. The three supporters groups for the Silverbacks are reaching out to as many people as they can in order to let their concerns be known. Support Rallies have and will occur. Hashtags have been created (#SaveOurSilverbacks, #SOS). All that is left is a decision. Hopefully, it will come soon. 

Corey LANGLEY

Nationality:
USA
College:
U. of West Georgia
Club Domestic:
LA Galaxy, MLS Atlanta
Club Foreign:
MUFC
Corey fell in love with soccer too late, so he tries to soak up all he can now that he watches. He will cover soccer in Georgia and specifically Atlanta, which will be adding an MLS team in 2017.
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