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Atlanta Beat announce plans for first-ever women's soccer specific stadium

In a move that sets a new standard for Women’s Professional Soccer expansion teams, the Atlanta Beat officially announced Tuesday a partnership with Kennesaw State University to build a $16.5 million, 8,300 seat soccer stadium.

The stadium is being touted as the first soccer-specific stadium in the world built for a professional women’s soccer team, and is expected to open sometime in spring 2010. Ground broke on the stadium in August, although the partnership was not made official until Tuesday.

Amongst the stadium’s features will be 12 luxury suites and one “super-suite,” which will be double the size of the others, according to Atlanta Beat General Manager Shawn McGee. A major focus of the stadium will be to establish an intimate atmosphere, which will be created by seats that are practically on top of the pitch. The suite side of the stadium will feature just 12 rows of seats in order to keep fans close to the action.

With the résumé of the company in charge of the stadium’s design, it is hard to imagine a product that will be anything short of spectacular. Atlanta and KSU are working on the design with the architectural firm Rossetti, the masterminds behind several MLS stadiums (such as Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah) and even bigger projects such as Ford Field in Detroit, Mich.

One potential problem with the stadium might be its location. Kennesaw, Ga. is located over 20 miles north of downtown Atlanta, which could create accessibility problems for many fans. However, McGee is not worried about losing support.

“No, we’re not,” he said of being worried. “The area up here is growing very quickly and it is a very soccer-dense part of Atlanta and there are a lot of soccer clubs up here. There’s a lot of growth in soccer up here, so we feel fairly confident that we will do well up here. In addition to that we are right in the middle of the split between I-75 and I-575 so we are easily accessible to two major highways and actually to Chastain Road and [Ernest W Barret Parkway]. So, we feel like we have a very easily accessible stadium and that coupled with the fact that most of our games will be on weekends, we think in terms of traffic – obviously Atlanta is known for traffic – we think that we’ll end up doing ok.”

McGee may just have a point. Atlanta currently leads the league in new season ticket sales revenue (though as an expansion team, all sales are new) and is second in number of season tickets sold (a much more impressive statistic). The Beat do not expect all 8,300 seats to fill up immediately, but there should be a strong following for the team. Kennesaw State was initially looking to build a 3,500 seat soccer stadium for its successful women’s program (which has made the NCAA Division I tournament two of the past four years after being a force in Division II), until Beat owner Fitz Johnson approached the school about expanding the stadium to host the WPS side.

According to McGee, both parties “put in a good amount” of the money to fund the stadium, although he could not discuss details. Johnson was unavailable for comment.

The stadium, still unnamed, is being dubbed as the first of its kind. The construction of the stadium will set a standard for WPS expansion teams in a similar way to the standard set for Major League Soccer expansion teams: present a strong ownership group with a plan for a soccer specific stadium.Will that necessarily mean that every WPS expansion team will have to get its own stadium built? Absolutely not.

The Philadelphia Independence will enter the league in 2010 along with the Beat, and will play (at least, hopefully before the end of 2010) in a brand new soccer stadium built for MLS side Philadelphia Union. The Chicago Red Stars and Los Angeles Sol already have similar situations in place, but with a capacity just over 8,000, Atlanta’s stadium presents a more realistic chance of reaching capacity.

It also means that the Atlanta Beat could become the top professional soccer team in a Southeast corridor that is untapped by Major League Soccer.”We are it in terms of professional soccer in the Southeast at this point,” McGee said.

“We really think that we can be the focal point for soccer in the Southeast and if you talk to people from around other organizations, from U.S. Soccer to MLS to other groups, they will tell you that the Southeast is under-served in terms of soccer and we’re looking to kind of fill that void. So, you’ll see us being very aggressive in going after special events from the soccer perspective and otherwise as well.”

It is important not to exclude the likes of the Charleston Battery or Miami FC. Even locally, the Atlanta Silverbacks are still a presence in the local community. RE-MAX Greater Atlanta Stadium just opened in 2006, but with a a capacity of over 15,000 and a turf field, it was not a good option for the Beat (yes, Atlanta’s stadium will feature a grass surface).

Equally important is the fact that the stadium will not just host Atlanta Beat and KSU events. Just as most MLS stadiums are now designed to do, concerts will be a major revenue producer (there will be a stage behind one end of the field). This stadium will most likely feature United States Women’s National Team games and NCAA College Cups in the future as well.

The Beat’s stadium is a move that proves viability, sustainability and independence from the Major League Soccer venues that have popped up throughout North America. For the first time, a soccer-specific stadium in the U.S. will have a design dictated by a women’s team, as opposed to a WPS team becoming a tenant of an already established MLS stadium.

And if it sounds ambitious to have the stadium ready for play in 2010 when other soccer stadiums in the United States have seen massive delays (see Red Bull Arena), McGee says that the team will obviously open up with a few road games, but the organization fully expects the stadium to be completed on time.

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