BATTLE FOR THE DEEP SOUTH
Just two years and a couple of screen passes ago, Atlanta was like a lot of other American cities. It had a minor league baseball team, the Crackers, which seldom aroused ecstasy among its followers, and a college football team, Georgia Tech, which had lost some of its rambling, wrecking ways. Today, as one looks in on the friendly old southern community, it appears that even the magnolias and juleps are getting a little pushy.
In far less time than it took such cities as New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, St. Louis, Cleveland, Washington, San Francisco, Kansas City, Chicago and Houston, peach-fed Coca-Cola-washed Atlanta has become the 16th to possess major league professional football and baseball clubs.
First, the Milwaukee Braves of the National League decided to move into Atlanta's $18 million stadium, which is located within sight of every downtown office amid a tangle of 32 lanes of expressway traffic. Atlanta would have been more than happy with the Braves alone. But then last week, after a furious 23 days of mysterious maneuverings that only Agent 007 or Pete Rozelle could really clear up, the National Football League swiped the city from the American Football League for expansion in 1966.
Why the rush to Atlanta?
There were several lures for both the Braves and the Peach Pits, or whatever the NFL club decides to call itself. Not the least of these is the new stadium (52,000 for baseball, 57,000 for football). Although it does not have a dome—yet—it is a handsome structure that was built in 51 weeks on property the city did not own, with money the city did not have and for teams that did not exist. A new stadium, especially one as good as Atlanta's, is quite a magnet to a professional sports team.
But more important was Atlanta's potential for television. It is the major city of the Deep South, and will command a sweeping commercial range throughout Dixie, all the way to Baltimore in the East and to Houston in the West. This will mean more instant money for the Braves than for the NFL, where TV revenue is divided equally among the clubs. But it will encourage a higher-priced package when the NFL goes up for TV grabs again after this season.
Next, Atlanta is, and has been, a civilized, cosmopolitan city—a liberal oasis of sophistication compared to such southern centers as Birmingham, Jackson or Montgomery. It has been a growing, progressive-minded city, a place where one could get a drink across a bar and do the frug before that tribal ritual was discovered by the discotheques.
Atlanta also offered the NFL a chance to be the league that took the pro game into the Deep South, a vast reservoir of college talent. The recruiting benefits should be overwhelming.
Most important of all, however, it was a city with a novice politician for a mayor, Ivan Allen, who believed in fairy tales and was either too determined or too naive to be confounded by connivers.