The Soccer Biz: Atlanta United Is Soaring, but Now King Football Intrudes

May 28, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United midfielder Miguel Almiron (10) dribbles past New York City FC midfielder Alexander Ring (8) in the second half at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

By ANDY McGOWAN

downloadATLANTA — It’s been a roaring, successful first half of the inaugural season for Atlanta United, Major League Soccer’s 22nd team.

Awarded in April 2014 to Arthur Blank and his AMB company, which also owns the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, United has made quite a stir in this (most American) football city.

Through the club’s first 22 matches United are 10-7-5 good for fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta is also 6-2-1 at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium and has, literally, rocked the place — and the city. They have sold out every match, averaging more than an astonishing 46,000 a game (No. 1 in the league), and there has been an unmistakeable buzz throughout this Southern city.

As a transplant from New York, I’ve been impressed with the coverage, attendance and fan interaction. Last week, while having lunch at a restaurant in the city’s suburb of Dunwoody, there was a United flag flying outside. On two different match days, I was out to dinner in Alpharetta, a suburb north of the city, and all of the TVs were tuned to the match and the waitstaff was wearing United garb.

IMG_2352Winning six of their nine home matches hasn’t hurt, but it borders on amazing that the team has been so successful. That said, now the hard part comes with the start of the college and NFL season.

That challenging second part of the season looms. United will (finally) move into the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in mid-September, after spending the next five weeks on the road. They will also move from a 46,500-seat environment to the cavernous Mercedes-Benz which will seat 75,000, though the club will make only made 42,500 seats available to start. But Mercedes-Benz is a BIG place. Will they lose that intimacy with the fans that they have been so lucky to develop these first months?

More importantly, will they receive the media attention that they have been fortunate to garner as they have only competed with Atlanta Braves baseball team?

Atlanta is an American football town. The most important part of the Atlanta year is football season – college football season. It borders on religion. And the season is fewer than 30 days away. Blank’s NFL Falcons are also a force in town and will garner more coverage this year after their Super Bowl appearance. 

But its college football. The College Football Hall of Fame is right downtown if you need any evidence. Ask people who they follow? t Georgia or Georgia Tech? And, if it’s not one of those schools, then it must be one of other SEC and ACC schools.

Andy McGowan has spent more than 25 years in professional sports. He worked in communications at the National Hockey League and was the vice president of communications for the New York Red Bulls. He presently, he teaches leadership communications in the business school at Georgia State University and is the founder of Watkins McGowan, a strategic communications agency in Atlanta.