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Why is Atlanta drawing such massive crowds?

A few weeks ago, I took on Atlanta’s rush hour traffic to go enjoy a night at SunTrust Park to watch the Braves. About a 30 minute drive up I-75 from Bobby Dodd, lies the Braves’ brand new home, a state-of-the-art baseball stadium which is undoubtedly one of the biggest attractions in the metro area.

The controversial move out of the city limits has lifted the political and economical shackles off the Braves and in doing so, they built the Atlanta Battery, a year-round entertainment district which encompasses the new stadium. The Braves are the Braves and have a lot of history and championships to back up their ‘Team of the South’ claim. Geographically speaking, Atlanta United and the Atlanta Braves share the same boundaries. The Washington Nationals are the closest team to the Braves from the North, and the Miami Marlins are the closest in the opposite direction. The same could almost be said about Atlanta United with their DC and Orlando rivals.

Back to my story, it was about the third inning and after making the mistake of purchasing some vastly over-priced cotton candy, I noticed that the stadium, on a weekend night, was at around half-capacity.

Alright, fair. There are baseball games almost every night while in soccer, much like the NFL, you have to wait an entire week or more. So maybe the ‘product’ is over-saturated. But, Atlanta United in their first season are breaking records and well on-track to more than double the league-average in attendance by the end of the campaign. All this while being in a temporary home at the old-school Bobby Dodd Stadium at Georgia Tech.

So, the famous Atlanta Braves are averaging a little over half capacity while the newly conceived Atlanta United have yet to not sell out a game. How on Earth could that be? In a previous article, I hinted at the way the set out the construction of the roster as a possible explanation, but even that doesn’t fully explain it. I think you have to go deeper to understand.

When you take a look across the stands at Bobby Dodd, the stadium is packed to the brim with fans on their feet, chanting, singing, fully immersed into the game. The crowd is young. Much younger than other sports, such as baseball, NASCAR and arguably the NFL. After all, it is in Georgia Tech. The stadium is surrounded by sorority and fraternity houses, that in itself should provide a good mental image of the atmosphere around the stadium. There are bars, restaurants, public transportation stations within walking distance of the gates.

Unlike at Turner Field or other parts of Atlanta, you feel safe walking out of the stadium after dark, this was a major problem for the Braves when they played downtown as the location was far from ideal. Georgia Tech is well-secured due to past security problems and the university’s fear of losing potential students due to safety concerns. For your average fan, you can go down to the stadium and tailgate a few hours beforehand (if it’s not raining), enjoy the game and then go to a bar or club all within walking distance. It’s ideal, and United hit a home run by choosing Bobby Dodd as the temporary venue. Will Mercedes-Benz be the same? Only time will tell.

Atlanta United supports unfurl a tifo before Atlanta United vs the Colorado Rapids.

On the other hand, Atlanta has been begging for the better part of a decade to join the MLS realm. With Arthur Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons and United opting to ditch the Georgia Dome and build the new mega-stadium, the opportunity to bring Major League Soccer to the biggest city in the southeast finally seemed obtainable, and it happened.

So, in the end, why does Atlanta United attract such a wide variety of fans and in numbers, week in and week out? There’s simply too many ingredients in the recipe to say which one is the definitive answer. For me, it’s a combination of the soccer sensation sweeping the nation and because Atlanta hasn’t experienced this massive of a sports movement in generations. The level of enthusiasm from the locker room to the tailgate parking lot is off the chart. You can see it everywhere across the metro as “A” bumper-stickers are the new trend, signifying Atlanta United.

While a title hasn’t come to Atlanta since 1995, it appears Atlantans are claiming United as their own. Another American sport has its team of the South.

 

Team Average Total Matches Week 17
Atlanta United FC 46,698 326,884 7 44,938
Seattle Sounders 42,628 341,021 8 42,333
Toronto FC 26,765 240,889 9 27,261
Orlando City SC 25,280 252,797 10
LA Galaxy 22,666 158,665 7 20,140
NYC FC 22,559 180,471 8
Vancouver Whitecaps 21,724 195,516 9
Portland Timbers 21,144 190,296 9 21,144
Montreal Impact 21,132 126,792 6
New York Red Bulls 20,265 182,386 9 25,219
Minnesota United 20,115 181,038 9 18,442
Sporting KC 19,511 156,085 8
Real Salt Lake 18,505 148,037 8
San Jose Earthquakes 18,000 162,000 9 18,000
Houston Dynamo 17,759 159,831 9 22,115
NE Revolution 17,054 136,433 8
Philadelphia Union 16,578 149,198 9 17,656
DC United 16,469 148,225 9 14,594
Chicago Fire 15,990 143,909 9 20,000
Colorado Rapids 15,303 137,729 9 13,496
FC Dallas 15,195 121,559 8
Columbus Crew 13,444 120,994 9 16,592
TOTALS 21,294 3,960,755 186 340,947
WEEKLY AVERAGE 22,730

Info derived from SoccerStadiumDigest

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Dan

    June 30, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    Soccer is the perfect mix of a better product than baseball and a shorter, more meaningful schedule. Hockey is also a better spectator sport than baseball, but there are 41 home games. Just too many to commit. I also feel that the area around BDS is a contributor, but I don’t see the crowds waning at MBS, even on fall Wednesday nights.

  2. Dax

    July 7, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    Atlanta is a city of transplants. When the Cubs come to town, it’s not uncommon for Cub fans to outnumber Braves fans at a game. The same goes for the Yankees and Cardinals.

    MLS is a younger league and so many of these transplants don’t have an MLS team from another city. This makes Atl Utd unique because all of the soccer fans are banding together around the team and aren’t as splintered. I think this is a large part of why Atl Utd is doing so well with attendance and has become such a huge part of the sports landscape in Atlanta.

    It also helps that you can easily take MARTA to a game at Bobby Dodd and that won’t change at all at Mercedes Benz. Getting to a Braves game is a nightmare.

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