The World's Game In The Heart of the Sun Belt

The second coming of the Atlanta Beat

Within seconds of the logo unveiling on Thursday, that song began playing again. The song I thought I had heard for the last time six years ago.

Yes, you remember the song. The official theme song of the Atlanta Beat during the days of the Women’s United Soccer Association.

“We Got the Beat.”

How could you forget? It was played before, during and after games. It got the kids and their parents off their feet and dancing, clapping and cheering.

It was the sort of environment that T. Fitz Johnson loved for his soccer-playing daughters.

Picture 1

(Being sort of the curmudgeonly type and unable to cheer on press row, I was hoping the Beat event management staff would have rotated “The Beat Goes On” into the mix once in a while. Not only am I dating myself there, I’ve also never been part of that targeted soccer demographic.)

That Sonny and Cher number might be more appropriate now as the organizers of a new Atlanta franchise in the Women’s Professional Soccer league have kept the same nickname and logo, but changed the color scheme.

“We want to put a new spin on it,” said Johnson, the owner and principal investor of what until now had been known as WPS Atlanta, of the red, gold and black color combination that was revealed during a formal press event at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce in downtown Atlanta.

The Beat is back, after public voting narrowed the choices down to three, including the Attack, which was the name of a former pro indoor team in Atlanta.

But in a bow to the familiarity of the Atlanta Beat brand, Johnson and his advisers settled on keeping that name, especially after talking to young girls at various youth soccer clubs around the Atlanta area. Many of them attended Beat games in the past, he said, and still expressed enthusiasm.

Two other WPS teams have remained intact from the WUSA — the Washington Freedom, where former Beat and Japanese national team star Homare Sawa plays, and the Boston Breakers, coached by ex-WUSA commissioner and former U.S. women’s national team coach Tony DiCicco.

The WPS launched this season with seven teams amid an economic recession. The Beat will begin play next spring as one of two expansion teams. The other will be in Philadelphia.

“Nothing’s more indicative of our growth potential than expansion,” said WPS commissioner Tonya Antonucci, who flew in from California for the event.

The WPS business model is pared down compared to that of the WUSA, with player salaries averaging $31,000. But the challenge remains the same — getting soccer-playing youths and their parents to take time out of their busy soccer-playing schedules to become soccer spectators.

Picture 2Johnson (left), a former Army officer and entrepreneur and youth soccer coach, is unremittingly cheerful and enthusiastic about the possibilities. “The standard we have is simple — we want to be the best [women’s pro soccer team] in the world,” he said. “I love this game and I love this city.”

But his advisers say Johnson’s demeanor shouldn’t be confused with naïvete about the task ahead of him.

“He has no delusions of making money,” said veteran Atlanta public relations executive Bob Hope, who’s frequently lent his expertise to women’s sports ventures. “He has a passion for the sport.”

What’s different now, Hope said, is the emergence of social media and other Web communications that can help niche sports entities to hone in on their fan base. “There’s more of a market now than there was for the Beat. You can really play to your base.”

On Wednesday Atlanta hired Shawn McGee, a former business development executive with the Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas) of Major League Soccer as general manager. Most recently he had been and assistant athletics director at SMU, where he was in charge of sponsorships and broadcasting.

The next objective for the Beat is hiring a coaching staff, which Johnson says he expects to name within a couple of weeks.

As for a home venue, there isn’t one now. Johnson’s being coy about all that, saying the major objective is to build a “state of the art women’s soccer stadium,” possibly in conjunction with “several other folks” he wouldn’t identify. An announcement could come by August.

“We’re down the road a piece” in terms of finalizing a location and construction plans that he hopes will make that facility ready for the Beat’s debut. If not, Johnson said, “we’ve got a couple of backup” plans.


The Atlanta Beat, reborn: Atlanta founder T. Fitz Johnson, WPS commissioner Tonya Antonucci, Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin, Atlanta City Council president Lisa Borders and Atlanta Sports Council president Gary Stokan watch as the Beat’s logo is unveiled, Thursday, June 18, 2009:


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