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.
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.
|Atlanta United FC||46,698||326,884||7||44,938|
|Orlando City SC||25,280||252,797||10|
|New York Red Bulls||20,265||182,386||9||25,219|
|Real Salt Lake||18,505||148,037||8|
|San Jose Earthquakes||18,000||162,000||9||18,000|
Info derived from SoccerStadiumDigest