The story couldn’t have been scripted better for the English Premier League.
During stoppage time as the first half wound down, Miguel “Miggy” Almirón netted an equalizer for Newcastle United FC that would make the difference between a loss and a 1-1 draw with Chelsea FC during the Summer Series match in Atlanta Wednesday.
It also completed a story arc for the former Atlanta United star, who was returning to the city and stadium he helped bring a title in 2018, his second year on the team and its second year of existence.
To Premier League executives, Mr. Almirón is an example of how the growth of soccer (er, football) in the U.S. — and the solidification of Atlanta as a bona fide soccer city set to host the 2026 World Cup — can only help the storied clubs in the nation where the sport was born.
Starting in his native Paraguay before moving to Lanus in Argentina in 2015, Miggy was signed by Atlanta United for $8 million in 2017; he fetched £21 million (about $27 million now) when moving to Newcastle in 2019.
For Newcastle FC chief executive Darren Eales, also making an Atlanta homecoming of sorts, the deal for Mr. Almirón shows how talent developed in one league can benefit another — and that global soccer is not a zero-sum game.
“We’re not fighting against each other; the growth of soccer around the world is just good for everybody,” said Mr. Eales, the former president of Atlanta United.
Miggy became a “local hero” after winning the MLS cup with Atlanta, and fans began to follow his exploits across the pond, Mr. Eales said on a panel during business breakfast at the Metro Atlanta Chamber Wednesday morning.
“Even then, when I was still here, lots of people started to get up in the mornings to watch Newcastle play. They were invested in what he was doing,” he said.
That shows how overlapping allegiances are possible and that there’s still room for British clubs to grow their brands in the largest sports market in the world, he added.
“We saw here what happened with Atlanta United, in terms of growth of the MLS, averaging over-50,000 crowds, but it’s such a huge country that you’ve also got fans that can have an MLS team as well as a Premier League team,” Mr. Eales said.
Argentine legend Lionel Messi’s arrival at Inter Miami last month provides another example of how international stars are translating their brand equity into the U.S., he added.
Richard Masters, CEO of the English Premier League, also sees further business synergy between the leagues, as well as between the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
“I think it’s about growing the sport of soccer. If soccer grows in the U.S., we can be part of that, and I think we are a part of it,” Mr. Masters said, pointing to a partnership with NBC that has made EPL soccer “must-watch television” for many in the U.S. on Saturday mornings.
Business-wise, the U.S. continues to be vital for the Premier League, with more than half the teams owned by American investor groups — including some represented in the room at the chamber, Mr. Masters said.
For Atlanta, hosting a doubleheader at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the English Premier League’s first U.S. Summer Series was yet more proof of the city’s ascendancy in the sport and another chance to show how it blends the big business behind major global sporting events with a view toward local impact.
Mayor Andre Dickens pointed to the Premier League players and coaches spending time with Soccer in the Streets, an Atlanta organization that empowers young people through soccer. Supported by Atlanta United, the nonprofit has built a network of soccer pitches within MARTA stations, winning international acclaim in the process.
“We’ve always been comfortable in our role as an international city, but we’re always looking for opportunities that allow our youth to be exposed to global experiences through sports,” said Mr. Dickens, who has made 2023 the “Year of the Youth” in Atlanta. (Newcastle, he noted, is also Atlanta’s sister city in England, though he vowed to stay impartial during the match with Chelsea.)
Last year, the mayor courted an inbound British sports technology delegation, explaining that Atlanta is dedicated to seeing both sports and its burgeoning tech sector both become engines for equity.
As for the game itself, the U.S. has come a long way from the days when professional leagues resorted to gimmicks to boost fan engagement.
Paul Barber, chief executive of Brighton & Hove Albion, one of the teams that competed in the earlier Wednesday match, said awareness and interest in the game has grown tremendously since he ran the Vancouver Whitecaps of the MLS 14 years ago.
That’s evidenced not only by the t-shirts and bumper stickers fans are sporting, but also by other empirical factors.
“I’ve always felt that if the U.S. got it right then not only would they stage a World Cup, but they could possibly win one in my life because of the sheer scale of the number of athletes and quality facilities. With the interest in the game and the opportunity that this country provides for athletes, anything’s possible,” Mr. Barber said.
The World Cup will be key to taking this explosion of interest to the next level, bringing casual viewers and younger athletes into up-close contact with the global game’s excitement and mystique, said Georgia O’Donahue, vice president of business operations for Atlanta United.
“To get some people into that soccer fold, it’s going to take something like a World Cup, something that’s unifying across the world,” she said.
For its part, Atlanta United is working with the Special Olympics of Georgia and working with Local Initiatives Support Corporation, or LISC, on the GA-100 initiative to build 100 mini soccer pitches around the state before the 2026 World Cup, she said, adding that Atlanta will be ready for the world’s biggest soccer stage.
“This is not going to be a pop-up shop for us in 2026,” she said.
In closing the session, British Consul General Rachel Galloway agreed, pointing to the fact that sports — particularly college football — are woven into many of the conversations about economic development and politics in the Southeast U.S.
With its fans, facilities and grassroots organizations like Soccer in the Streets (whose director of special projects was recently named a Member of the Order of the British Empire, or MBE, by King Charles III), Ms. Galloway said Atlanta and the South are primed for even further football fanaticism.
“You see a city that’s ready for more, and more is coming.”
More evidence of U.K.-Atlanta sports ties will be on display in early October, when the Atlanta Falcons go to London to play an American football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.