After ‘Honeymoon,’ Can Atlanta United Maintain Popularity? | WABE 90.1 FM

After ‘Honeymoon,’ Can Atlanta United Maintain Popularity?

Aug 22, 2017


The Atlanta United soccer team had its first practice at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium this weekend. Its first game there is coming up in just weeks.

 

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With an average of more than 46,000 fans turning out for home games, Atlanta United topped the league in average attendance this year.

"It's very hard to even get a ticket now," Kennesaw State University economist J.C. Bradbury said.

"Well, you haven't had a large city like Atlanta in the Southeast -- there hasn't been soccer in the Southeast since the Atlanta Chiefs left, many, many years ago," he said.

That was back in 1972. He said the fan base has matured since that earlier wave of interest in the U.S.

"Now, all those people who grew up playing soccer, the first generation -- you have people who are fathers and grandfathers. And so you have a lot more people who understand the game, who are willing to watch it," Bradbury said.

As a new team, he said Atlanta United has definitely been enjoying a "honeymoon effect," one that will only magnify with the appeal of a new stadium.

The team has sold out 55,000 seats at its temporary home in Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium. The team made its MLS debut in March.

At the time, team owner Arthur Blank said the plan for moving over to Mercedes-Benz had been to curtain off the top seating levels, to keep the soccer games more intimate.

"However, we have the capacity to go to the upper deck and host as many as 71,000 fans. We may have that chance, we'll see," Blank said.

But Bradbury says when it comes to predicting Atlanta United's future, there's not much to go on.

"MLS hasn't been around long enough for us to do really good, comprehensive studies of major league soccer in America," Bradbury said.

He said check back in about 10 years for a better idea of how sustainable the sport is, when that new team smell has had time to fade.