Most teams in MLS offered something unique to the league upon entrance. Portland introduced everyone to Timber’s Army and the ravenous Rose City fan base. NYCFC showed MLS and the world what the beautiful game looks like when played on the outfield of a baseball diamond. Orlando City afforded the league the opportunity for Disney jokes. As you can see, when it comes to expansion teams, there are visible long-term hits and huge short-term fails.
Thinking about this begs the question: What can Atlanta United (the team and the supporters) offer MLS?
Like most of you, my mind immediately began looping soccer highlights with Atlanta-based hip-hop music. If that’s the identity we want, that’s what we’ll get. That’s what President of Atlanta United Darren Eales told Dirty South Soccer after the training ground rendering reveal event on Monday.
"I think anything like ‘identity’ we are going to take our lead from the fans. We did well with our hype videos with hip-hop behind it and it got a really good number of views, a really good response rate. Clearly that’s something that some of our fans, they really identify with that," Eales told DSS.
Hip hop culture is so noticeably absent from MLS and soccer culture, it gives Atlanta United a unique opportunity to present it to the US soccer fanbase. We all saw the "It’s Time, Atlanta" video where MLS goal highlights and Mercedes-Benz Stadium construction clips were spliced together under a hip-hop music bed. Just about everyone thought it was awesome. (Maybe Orlando didn’t find it so awesome, but they’re probably just jealous.) I think that’s when everyone outside Atlanta took note of how AUFC could really influence and introduce a different flavor to MLS.
Truth be told, that was just a left-over crumb of the whole sweetness Atlanta and its hip hop culture could inject into the league. Imagine the AUFC supporter section singing and chanting modified rap lyrics, shouting the same beats and rhymes that you blared on your way to high school. A supporter section that breaks away from the generic soccer chants everyone repackages for their team. Combine that with the growing excitement of soccer in Atlanta with minimal grassroots marketing, no manager, two non-DP players and the thought of uniting the Southeast youth soccer environment with a world-class training facility and you suddenly realize the potential San Andreas fault-like shift within MLS.
But it has to start with the supporters. You have to come up with the chants, songs and phrases that’ll be used in games and soccer bars. You have to create the epic hype videos with hip-hop music beds underneath. The supporters have to start the rap version of "Georgia" by Field Mob and demand the infusion of hip-hop culture into Atlanta United.
This idea of allowing the fans to influence aspects of the club is nothing new. Begrudgingly to some of you, the Atlanta United name was partially fan picked. The club has already expressed how they hope the mascot or nickname comes about organically through the fans as well.
"Anything that makes Atlanta, Atlanta, we want to try and think of ways we can draw that into our story, into our club," Eales said.
"My big thing about this is we’re not going to dictate how the Atlanta fan base grows, how they decide what is going to be used. If I were to sit here and try to predict to you these elements, I’ll get it horribly wrong. What we need to do is get an understanding of what resonates with our fan base and be ready and quickly adapt to those things that work."
Eales finished his comments to DSS by saying that ultimately, the club will find things that become a part of the Atlanta United experience, but promises that it will ALWAYS be fan led.
Imagine 30,000 packed in The Benz for a Childish Gambino/Ludacris/Jermaine Dupree halftime show, a sight that not only keeps people in their seats, but also keeps eyes on Atlanta United’s specific game on MLS Live. Keep in mind that this wouldn’t just be a tool for ratings, but would greatly increase the team’s marketability within the states and worldwide, something Arthur Blank and Darren Eales are very cognizant of for future planning.
Personally, I'd love to see the supporters chanting a soccer-modified version of Jermaine Dupri's "Welcome to Atlanta" whenever we play rival teams like Minnesota FC and Orlando City SC. I'll always believe we should all lock arms and sing Ray Charles' "Georgia on my Mind" when Atlanta United plays anyone else. I know it's not hip-hop, but, man, what a sight it would be to see that.