A look at the individuals who helped bring professional sports teams to Atlanta, including the Braves, Falcons, and Hawks.
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Early history of professional sports in Atlanta
In the early 1900s, Atlanta was not known as a hotbed for professional sports. In fact, it wasn’t until 1966 that the city got its first taste of Major League Baseball with the arrival of the Atlanta Braves. However, in the years since, Atlanta has become home to several professional sports teams, including the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, and MLS’s Atlanta United FC. So who were the visionaries responsible for bringing professional sports to Atlanta?
The Braves were originally founded in Boston in 1871, making them the oldest continually operating professional baseball franchise in America. They were brought to Atlanta in 1966 by businessmen Ted Turner and Bill Bartholomay. Turner, who would later go on to found CNN, owned the team from 1976 until 2007 when he sold them to Liberty Media.
The Hawks began life as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks in Illinois in 1946. They moved to Milwaukee in 1951 and then to St. Louis in 1955 before finally settling in Atlanta in 1968. They were purchased by Georgia real estate developer Tom Cousins and Coca-Cola executive Robert Woodruff Jr. in 1977. The team has been owned by Bruce Levenson since 2004.
Atlanta United FC is a relative newcomer to the scene, having only been founded in 2014. They are owned by Arthur Blank, who also owns the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. The team plays its home games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which is also home to the Falcons.
The Atlanta Braves’ history in Atlanta
The Atlanta Braves are a professional baseball team that has called Atlanta home since 1966. The team was originally founded in 1871 as the Boston Red Stockings, making them the oldest continuously operating professional sports franchise in North America. In 1953, the team moved from Boston to Milwaukee, where they were known as the Milwaukee Braves. In 1966, the team relocated again to Atlanta.
The Braves have been one of the most successful teams in baseball history, winning 17 National League pennants and 3 World Series titles. The team’s success has been largely due to its strong farm system, which has produced many star players over the years, such as Hank Aaron, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Chipper Jones.
The Atlanta Falcons’ history in Atlanta
In 1966, Rankin Smith Sr. was awarded an NFL franchise for Atlanta, which would eventually become the Atlanta Falcons. The team’s first few years were admittedly rocky--they lost their first nine games in a row--but they slowly began to improve. In 1971, the Falcons drafted running back Warrick Dunn, who would go on to become one of the most beloved players in team history. The following year, they hired head coach Dan Reeves, who led the team to their first winning season in 1978.
The 1980s were a decade of struggle for the Falcons, as they only had two winning seasons during that time. However, things began to look up in the early 1990s when they drafted wide receiver Andre Rison and quarterback Brett Favre. Under head coach Jerry Glanville, the Falcons made it to the playoffs in 1991 and 1992, but lost in the first round both times.
In 1998, the Falcons hired head coach Dan Quinn and drafted quarterback Michael Vick. This combination proved to be lethal, as Vick led the team to an NFC championship in his second season. However, they ultimately lost in the Super Bowl to the Denver Broncos.
The Atlanta Hawks’ history in Atlanta
The Atlanta Hawks are a professional basketball team based in Atlanta, Georgia. The Hawks compete in the National Basketball Association (NBA) as a member of the league’s Eastern Conference Southeast Division. The team plays its home games at State Farm Arena.
The franchise was established in 1946 as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks in Moline, Illinois, a member of the National Basketball League (NBL). The team moved to Milwaukee in 1951, and then to St. Louis in 1955. In 1968, the team relocated to Atlanta.
The Atlanta United’s history in Atlanta
professional soccer team in Atlanta, Georgia. The club began play in 2017 as a member of the Eastern Conference of Major League Soccer (MLS). They play their home matches at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta United FC are the reigning MLS Cup champions, having defeating Portland Timbers 2–0 in the 2018 MLS Cup. Frank de Boer is their current manager.
Atlanta United FC was announced as an expansion franchise on April 16, 2014, by then-MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Arthur Blank, the owner of AMB Sports & Entertainment (AMBSE). The team’s name was revealed on July 7, 2015. The club joined MLS in 2017 as an expansion team, due to open Mercedes-Benz Stadium that same year. Their first game was on March 5, 2017, against fellow expansion team Minnesota United FC at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Atlanta won 2–1 with goals from Yamil Asad and Hector Villalba.
The Atlanta Thrashers’ history in Atlanta
In 1999, the Atlanta Thrashers became the NHL’s 27th franchise, and the city’s first since the Flames left for Calgary in 1980. The team was formed through an expansion draft in which each of the other NHL teams exposed some of their players for Atlanta to select.
The Thrashers made their debut in the 1999-2000 season and quickly became a source of civic pride for Atlanta. The team made the playoffs in just their second season, and reached the Conference Finals in only their fourth season. However, the team struggled to maintain that level of success and was never able to return to the Conference Finals.
In 2011, the Thrashers were sold to a Canadian group who then moved the team to Winnipeg, where they became the Jets. The move left Atlanta without an NHL team for the first time since 1980.
The Atlanta Flames’ history in Atlanta
The Atlanta Flames were an NHL team that played in Atlanta from 1972 to 1980. The team was founded in 1972 as one of the NHL’s expansion teams. They played their home games at the Omni Coliseum, which they shared with the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA.
The Flames were not very successful on the ice, making the playoffs only twice in their eight seasons in Atlanta. However, they were moderately successful at the box office, averaging over 13,000 fans per game during their time in Atlanta.
The team was sold to Canadian businessman Nelson Skalbania in 1979 and relocated to Calgary, Alberta, where they became the Calgary Flames.
The Atlanta Olympics’ impact on Atlanta’s sports scene
The 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta were a resounding success, and they had a significant impact on the city’s sports scene. The games were an opportunity for Atlanta to showcase itself to the world, and it did not disappoint. In the years following the Olympics, several professional sports teams relocated to Atlanta, including the MLB’s Atlanta Braves and the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers. The city also landed an NBA franchise, the Hawks, in 1968.
The Olympics were a boon for Atlanta’s economy, and they helped to put the city on the map as a major player in the world of sports. The games also had a lasting impact on the city’s infrastructure, with many new facilities being built to accommodate the athletes and spectators. The Olympics were a proud moment for Atlanta, and they helped to change the city’s image from a southern backwater to a modern, cosmopolitan metropolis.
The role of Ted Turner in Atlanta’s sports history
Ted Turner, born in 1938, is an American media mogul and philanthropist. As a businessman, he is known as the founder of the cable news network CNN, the first 24-hour cable news channel. He also founded WTBS, which pioneered the superstation concept in cable television. As a sportsman, Turner is known for his ownership of the Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers. He was also the vice chairman of the former World Championship Wrestling.
Turner’s sports teams have brought many championships to Atlanta. The Atlanta Braves have won three World Series titles (1991, 1992, 1995), and the Atlanta Hawks have won one NBA title (1958). The Atlanta Thrashers have not won any championships, but they did make it to the Stanley Cup Final in 1999-2000.
Turner’s involvement in sports has not been without controversy. In 1997, he was forced to sell the Atlanta Braves after comments he made about blacks and Jews were made public. He has also been criticized for his comments about women’s sports. Nevertheless, Turner’s impact on sports in Atlanta cannot be denied.
The current state of professional sports in Atlanta
In the early 2000s, Atlanta was on the rise as a city. The economy was booming, and the city was attracting attention from all over the country. Part of this attention came in the form of professional sports teams. In 2002, the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) joined the National Hockey League, and in 2005, the Atlanta Falcons made it to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. In 2006, the Atlanta Braves won their 14th consecutive division title, further solidifying Atlanta as a city on the rise.
Since then, however, professional sports in Atlanta have been in a bit of a slump. The Braves haven’t made it to the playoffs since 2013, and they haven’t won a playoff series since 2001. The Falcons haven’t been back to the Super Bowl since their loss in 1999, and they haven’t won a playoff game since 2002. The Thrashers left for Winnipeg in 2011, and while there have been rumors of other teams coming to Atlanta (most notably the NHL’s New Jersey Devils), nothing has come to fruition yet.