Growing up over the years in the south, watching soccer sometimes seemed a luxury. I recall the beginnings of my U.S. National Team fandom in the early 2000's. Getting access to watch the games was difficult at times, hoping it would be broadcast on Fox Soccer Channel or maybe even ESPN, if you were lucky. There weren't any top-flight local clubs to support as markets in Tampa and Miami folded quickly without success. Finding a fellow soccer fan in the south would lead to conversations about the Premier League or the Champions League. There just wasn't any local connection. In the not too distant past, the closest you could get to Major League Soccer in the south required a minimum of a ten hour drive to either Dallas, Columbus, or Washington, DC.
Major League Soccer, as well as soccer in the south has exponentially grown over the last decade. Last night was different, however. Last night changed the game. This was about Atlanta and how we now had a club to support. All of this culminated in the announcement of Atlanta United FC at a top-class event held by Arthur Blank and company at the SoHo Lounge downtown.
After a solid twenty minute wait outside the venue, attendees were let inside. Immediately, I was blown away by the extent to which Atlanta committed to the evening's program. The red carpet was rolled out. A huge staff awaited us to escort us into the venue. At least fifty of Arthur Blank's personal security roamed around in their blacked out suits and sunglasses. It truly felt like I was stepping into a Presidential event. Private sections for the hundreds of media on hand allowed them to mingle amongst all of Atlanta's finest in attendance. Two complimentary free drinks on the club were granted at admission, while hors d'oeuvres were offered to us at least every five minutes. Every Founding Member in attendance received a commemorative red and black striped scarf.
The stage was set for the grand unveiling of MLS Atlanta's new brand. The venue was truly massive. An indoor/outdoor facility, it featured an outdoor stage with plenty of standing tables and bars available. Walking inside led to at least two or three other large rooms with seating and more bars. Back outside, The Mad Violinist and Symphony Crack Orchestra, an electronic-acoustic instrumental band, fused past and present songs upon a high-rise platform stage. The event felt distinctly southern and I have to admit it was quite charming. The club pulled out all the stops and truly put on a show.
"The Mad Violinist and Symphony Crack Orchestra" playing in front of the media section. The entire front office was in attendance, as well as many others, including MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Ludacris, and former Falcons receiver Brian Finneran.
MLS Atlanta United! Quite the party! Soccer in the A pic.twitter.com/kVnH5IstGg — Brian Finneran (@BFinn86) July 8, 2015
Rachel Bonnetta, an on air host of MLSsoccer.com served as the master of ceremonies for the event. Once introduced, owner Arthur Blank walked on stage to chants of "Uncle Arthur!" Blank's first recognition goes to Terminus Legion, who is out in full force with instruments and scarves. He sets the stage for the three big commitments the club promises to its fans:
- "We're going to make sure we put a winning team on the field in 2017. This is not going to be a situation where we're going to go through a building process and we'll see you in a couple years. We're out to win match one from day one."
- "We want to make sure that you guys have a great match, game day experience, in every sense of the word. We're going to make sure you own it. We're going to make sure you have an opportunity to express yourself and have that emotion, and passion, and honor in a variety of ways."
- "As with all of our family of businesses and really anything we do in Atlanta, we want to make sure as part of our soccer commitment, is giving back. Giving back from the youth perspective, giving back in terms of the youth academy we're going to run."
Blank proceeded to transition to the name of the club and revealed that the Sports Illustrated leak of the name was accurate. He elaborated as to what inspired the moniker. "Atlanta is a great city, for its sense of unity, bringing people together. It's a very diverse city, an international city. So we wanted to make sure that name, that part of the name, was represented in the official name of the Atlanta United Football Club."
Don Garber was next and spoke to the rise of the league from its fledgling roots twenty years ago, to the success it has today. He mentioned that Atlanta "would be the gateway to tens of millions of people that love sport, and that love our country, but also love the sport of soccer."
The crowd was massive, with an estimated 4,000 plus in attendance.
Club President Darren Eales took the podium to launch the official club crest. This was the moment we were all waiting for. We already knew the name and were seconds away from seeing the mark that would adorn our shirts over the heart.
"The name Atlanta United is the foundation for what's going to come. The word 'united' has long been associated with the beautiful game but it has particular resonance for us here in Atlanta, for a number of reasons. Firstly, as you know, Atlanta started as a transport hub...it's always been a transport hub. It was the 'Terminus' to start with, hence the name 'Terminus Legion' for our supporters group...and it's now the world's busiest airport. So it's had that history of connecting people. Secondly, it's a diverse, multicultural, international city. It's got the young, diverse, growing population that the commissioner is talking about, and it's proving to be a dream location for an MLS club."
Eales further explained that Atlanta is well-known as a transplant area. He said many fans continue to be fans of the teams they left behind in their old cities. "The difference with MLS is it's a younger league and people haven't got those historical ties. We're really fortunate; we've got a clean slate. So we've got a chance to make Atlanta United 'Atlanta's team'. It's the team everyone can support." He finally offered up the opportunity for the supporters to mold their own nicknames, mascots, chants and tifos. The moment we were all waiting for was seconds away.
There are five takeaways from the design, as described by AUFC:
- Circle- Inspired by the city's seal and the city's Olympic heritage. It is a symbol of unity and globalization. It represents the never-ending passion for this city and for this club.
- The "A"- The bold "A" at the center of the logo puts the focus on the enduring strength of Atlanta. The "A" is anchored to the circle symbolizing its connection to the community.
- United- Atlanta is a modern, international city that embraces all its citizens. We have an inclusive fan base that is progressive and passionate. A fan base that is becoming one voice. We all gather together and stand United.
- Stripes- The 5 stripes represent the pillars of our character. Unity. Determination, Community, Excellence and Innovation. The black stripes are also a nod to Atlanta's history as a railroad town.
- "FC"- We are called a Football Club because we are more than just a team. We are the fans, we are the community, we are Atlanta. Taken from the voices of the citizens. This is your city, this is your club. We are Atlanta United FC.
Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra walked the crowd through the goals of the club, referencing how drastically the league has changed since he first joined in the early 2000s'. The academy will be a top priority of the club and will allow youths to play alongside the full squad. They'll have access to nutritionists, sport scientists, game film, and other resources to give them one of the best academies in the world.
In closing out the brand reveal program, Rachel Bonnetta introduced the crowd to the first tifo display, which turned out to be a massive canvas of the club crest. Drones from above filmed and shot photos.
Underneath the large tifo displaying the brand new AUFC crest. Aerial view of the AUFC tifo, taken from this Atlanta United FC video.
Rounding out the night's events included merchandise sales and the USA versus Honduras Gold Cup match. Everyone made a mad rush to grab tees, hats, hoodies, and of course, scarves bearing the new crest. Meanwhile, a brace from Clint Dempsey was just enough for the USA to edge out Honduras and secure three critical points in the opening fixture of the group stage.
My thoughts on the club's brand? Was I in love with the club name? No, I was not enamored by it at first. However, after hearing the marketing speak and attending the event, I have definitely come around. Atlanta United is classic and stripped of the mistakes of MLS 1.0, such as the "Wiz," "Mutiny," and "Fusion." It's not necessarily unique, but nor are DC United and Minnesota United FC. The crest is powerful and strong in appearance. Those red and black stripes will look absolutely fantastic on a future kit! Do I think they knocked it out of the park? Not necessarily, however, I think there's so much more good than bad and particularly the ambitions of this club are looking to be top class. They aren't just striving to be an MLS power, they are aiming for global recognition.
I've seen soccer rise from a niche sport to becoming quite mainstream. Folks I never would have expected to have an interest are talking to me about AUFC and the National Team. It all comes full circle for me as I've never had a club of my own and strictly been a fervent National Team supporter. Traveling to Columbus, Washington, DC, Nashville, Philly, and Tampa, I've seen plenty of USA matches and will continue to do so. However, there's just something so appealing about finally having a top-flight club of my own miles up the road bearing the name of the city I'm from. I can finally say Atlanta United is my club. I'm looking forward to 2017 and can't wait to see where this club goes in the future.
Continue on for more pictures in this photo essay. Club President, Darren Eales, with Master of Ceremonies, Rachel Bonnetta. Right after the unveiling of AUFC's new crest. The new crest is projected all across the SoHo Lounge. After the event's conclusion, the new crest backed each bar. Meeting the Captain, any red-blooded American's hero. Sport-inspired paintings bearing the new "A" and AUFC stripes. Sport-inspired paintings bearing the new "A" and the city