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Interview: Shawn McGee Part 2

As the conversation with Shawn McGee, Atlanta Beat GM & COO, continued we turner our attention toward players.  I couldn’t help but wonder if after 4 drafts leading up to this season if they were staying in that mode and making preparations for the 2011 draft.  After a few laughs McGee said he’s been able to talk to GM friends in MLS that have been in the role for 2-3 years and discuss how much more experience he has in the last few months than they do in the last few years.

All 18 roster spots have been filled with the recent announcement of Shelley Thompson signing as the first German player to join WPS. The Beat continue to hold the rights to international player Therese Sjögran but as she is still under contract we won’t see her prior to 2011.

The draftee’s will come in and compete to pick up the remaining developmental spots prior to the roster cut down date of March 15th.  Most of those players funneled in over the weekend and began practicing Monday.

We’ll get one of the first looks at the team in an exhibition match against UNC at Kennesaw State Soccer field, not stadium, on Sunday, March 28th at noon. It should be a good opportunity to see how the team is meshing

During one of those drafts the Atlanta Beat had the opportunity to pick up Marta, the four time and reigning FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year.  I asked if it was a difficult decision to pass on Marta?  McGee said it did take a long time to decide.  

“If you state that you’re going to be the best team in the world it’s hard not to say “why don’t we go after the best player in the world?”. We also want to be here for years to come and we had to look at the budgetary side of it, salary cap, and how it would allow us to reach our goals on and off the field. There’s no doubt that she’s the world greatest player currently. We felt she would help from attendance and sponsorship but when you looked at the financials those improvements didn’t justify the decision for [The Atlanta Beat]. Secondly, when we got the offer from St. Louis for Kia McNeill and Angie Woznuk it just made sense for us.”

When asked if he was surprised at the support in the soccer community of that decision to trade vs acquire Marta McGee responded by saying

“I was surprised but at the same time I was appreciative that people looked beyond the Marta factor to say that while the team could be great with Marta we could also be great without Marta.”

One another note we also talked about a former World Great in Michele Akers.  After last year’s floods in Georgia we got word that much of Akers Horse Rescue Farm was destroyed.  Along with the WPS, the Atlanta Beat is auctioning off local sports/event tickets and sports memorabilia to help raise funds to restore Akers Farm.  For more information check out this letter from Shawn.  If you would like to help contribute there are still items being auctioned here.

I hate that I had to boil down my conversation with Shawn to two 500 word blog post. I wish everyone could have the opportunity like I did to hear about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.  I have a feeling the product they put on the pitch will speak volumes.  This is the beginning of a team that is taking steps everyday to become “The Best in the World”.  So join me at a game and in the midst of a resurgence.

Interview: Shawn McGee Part 1

I recently spoke with Shawn McGee, General Manager & COO of The Atlanta Beat, to discuss everything from preparing for four drafts, to Marta, to a jersey sponsor.   One thing that was obvious prior to ever speaking with McGee was how he’s chosen to be accessible to the fans.  While it would be easy to get consumed in the day-to-day activities required to launch a new team, I have seen McGee on Big Soccer forums, twitter, podcast, and even interviews with cheesy bloggers like myself.  Shawn explained that in addition to the desire to be as transparent as possible it is also part of the culture being built within the WPS.  This new media orientation is why they allow players to tweet from the sidelines during games.   You’ll also see a lot of videos and web content on their site .

When asked about building a team in the shadow of the WUSA Atlanta Beat McGee said that wasn’t really a problem.  Regardless of the fact that the Atlanta Beat 1.0 led the WUSA in attendance and playoff appearances the new Atlanta Beat is driven to be the best from their own competitive nature which starts with team owner Fitz Johnson.  Fitz is a major reason for Shawn taking this job and his desire to be the “Best in the World” is what steers their decisions.  One of their goals this year in pursuit of being the best is to have an average attendance of at least 6000 at the new KSU Soccer Stadium.  Though the league doesn’t allow teams to comment on specific numbers McGee did say they’re on pace to hit their goals but in the same breath he mentions that they’re not there yet and are doing everything they can to fill seats in the new stadium.

Speaking of the stadium, McGee was able to elaborate on the partnership with KSU.  While the KSU Foundation owns the land and stadium the Atlanta Beat is the managing partner.  That means in addition to the Beat and KSU women’s team playing at the stadium The Atlanta Beat organization will be arranging additional events and receiving a portion of those profits.  By “will be” I mean they are already in talks with half a dozen organizations to host soccer events.   The Atlanta Beat is working to make this stadium more than their home. They’re working to make it a focal point for soccer in the south.  If you add that to potential naming rights to the stadium you could likely see the first year Atlanta Beat become the highest revenue generating WPS team this year and for years to come.  With regards to the naming rights for the stadium the Atlanta Beat are in ongoing discussions and we’ll have to wait to see what happens.  While we were on the topic I had to ask about a Jersey sponsor.  The good news just keeps rolling as they are in the final stages of working out a jersey sponsorship deal.  We should hear something within the next two weeks.

Part two will be coming soon and we will see if there was ever any chance of Marta coming to Atlanta.  So, do you think the Atlanta Beat will reclaim its place as one of the best women’s soccer teams in the world?

Atlanta Beat Draft Wrap up

Atlanta Beat Owner T. Fitz Johnson with Blakely Mattern

The draft is over and the roster is full.  Now we wait to see how the team gels and if these players can help contribute on the field.  Everyone always talks about not being able to judge a draft until 2-3 years after the fact but that has stopped a few people from trying.  Here are a few reviews:

Dan Lauletta writing for Soccer by Ives gave the Beat a B grade.

 Wound up with the player most likely to make an immediate impact when they took Tobin Heath with the top pick.  South Carolina defender Blakely Mattern could wind up being a pleasant surprise and Gareth O’Sullivan used most of his back end picks on players capable of filling the back of the net.  Internationals aside that appears to be the Beat’s weak point heading to camp.

 Scott French for Daily Soccer Fix gave the Beat a C-

Top overall pick Tobin Heath, from North Carolina, naturally, is a bona fide star. She was the slam dunk first pick in this draft, and she’ll do great stuff in the expansion Beat’s midfield. And Blakely Mattern, from South Carolina, is a defender with promise. But the Beat needed to get more out of this draft than it did.

If you want to know what Atlanta Beat GM Shawn McGee thinks just listen to the podcast he did with Jeff Kassouf and Richard Farley of Set Piece Analysts here.