The Atlanta Trust seeks to keep the Atlanta Silverbacks alive

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In the shadow of the controversies inside of the North American Soccer League involving Traffic Sports as well as the NASL’s desires to achieve Division One status lies two clubs who are struggling to find what their futures are. Carolina Railhawks, who are pursuing a future without Traffic Sports as owners and the Atlanta Silverbacks who helped found the league when it reformed in 2011. Both teams face unpredictable and questionable futures with both clubs seeking stability in the ownership realms.

The Atlanta Trust seeks to keep the Atlanta Silverbacks alive

While much has been said about the future of the Railhawks, as the fans and the league continue to distance themselves from Traffic Sports who were put into the spotlight following the indictments of FIFA officials, few have put thought into the issues facing the Atlanta Silverbacks. The Silverbacks, who also used to be owned by Traffic Sports, had their team taken over by the North American Soccer League on December 2nd, and currently sit without a owner and risk possibly folding if they don’t manage to find a new ownership group by the end of the 2015 season. Without that, NASL could lose a team that not only was a foundation for the league when it reformed, but also has a large number of supporters amid the eventual MLS team, Atlanta United owned by NFL Atlanta Falcons owner Arther Blank and entering MLS in 2017.

While NASL has remained quiet about the new owners for the Atlanta Silverbacks, a new organization has popped up that wants to help fund the team:

The Organization? The Atlanta Trust.

The core of The Atlanta Trust is Ben Whitehead, Shawn Laird, Paul Scanling and Michael Moriart, who all support the current iteration of the Atlanta Silverbacks. Responding via email, Ben Whitehead for the Atlanta Trust describes the trust as “an organization that came together as a grassroots movement via fans on Twitter. We all love the Silverbacks and want the team to continue to grow and succeed in Atlanta. As a group, we are working together to bring fan ownership to the Silverbacks via membership levels. Fans will be able to join the Trust by purchasing membership via each level. We have several levels so that fans can help the team and be a part of it, without breaking their budget.” Similar movements have been made to do this, with one of the most recent and popular being AFC Wimbledon, who after the original ownership left and created MK Dons, was reformed by fans and is almost entirely financed by fans. The Atlanta Trust also pulls from leagues like the Bundesliga which requires their teams to be 51% owned by their fans. Whitehead told me “MLS uses the motto, “Club, Country, Community,” but for example, the Chicago Fire fans protested against their ownership earlier this year. With fan ownership, supporters would have a real say in how the club is run and would be able to have a true in impacting the present business and future of the club.”

One of the largest barriers that faces the future of the Silverbacks is the fact that Major League Soccer will be coming to town in 2017. Many see this as the stake into the heart of Atlanta Silverbacks with Arthur Blank and the money being poured into the club. The Atlanta trust however, disagrees. “The MLS and NASL can function together. There is no doubt about it.” Whitehead told Last Word On Sports. “The Cosmos have proved that NASL teams can outperform their MLS neighbors. If anything, we want to differentiate ourselves from Atlanta United. They may get a brand new stadium when they get here, but we have 20 years of history in Atlanta and fans that care about the team and each other.” The First Team Podcast who covers the New York Cosmos had NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson on before their March match with the Silverbacks and asked him about the future of the Atlanta market. In the interview, Bill Peterson said that, “the league is committed to the Atlanta market just for this season” and without an ownership group could see the Silverbacks possibly move locations if not fold up completely.

One of the other options that sits to keep the Atlanta Silverbacks alive is to let the team die on a professional level and live on on an amauter level. According to a column written by Pyson Schwin of Creative Loafing the rights of the team are still owned by a man named Boris Jerkunica. Jerkunica is a tech entrepreneur and a former Silverbacks owner. The Silverbacks financially have struggled to maintain a positive cash flow and the idea to allow the team to dissolve on a professional level and reform down the road. Jerkunica has a fairly good relationship with Blank and the relationship could bring the Silverbacks back to the National Premier Soccer League.

At the time of this writing, I attempted to reach out to NASL for a comment and no formal comment was made outside a lone tweet from commissioner of NASL Bill Peterson

The Atlanta Trust did however tell me what they would say to Bill Peterson if they could speak with him. “If there was anything that we’d like to say to Mr. Peterson, it would be that Atlanta might not be known as a soccer city, but we have an amazing history. The Silverbacks have contributed to roughly 20 years’ worth of that history. Fans are willing to contribute their time and money to keep this team in Atlanta. Even if we don’t have a majority owner yet, fans should be given an opportunity to show how we can support our team.” The Atlanta Trust are now moving towards filing their efforts as non-for-profits and cement themselves as a viable option for the future

The Atlanta Silverbacks have been a staple of the NASL since the 2011 reforming. It has represented the league nationally having success in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and this season has been a relative thorn in the side of teams all season long. Whitehead told me that the timeline they are working with to get the trust up as a non for profit “has been end of season. We’ve heard it could be earlier, but nothing concrete.”

The future of the Silverbacks may be unclear right now but for now the NASL should move away from seeking an undeserving division one sanction and get out of the legal battles they will engage with if they can’t reach an agreement with US Soccer. The responsibility of NASL should be the help build up new teams but also help retain the current teams so US Soccer has a reason to be looking at them for more recognition instead of threatening to take this fight into litigation.

The future of the Silverbacks is still up in the air. For more information on the Silverback Fan Trust follow them on Twitter and Facebook.