I came home after Sunday night’s media duties with the U.S. Women’s National Team at the Georgia Dome, sat on my couch and began casually perusing Twitter, as is my custom most nights. It was great to see so many in the Atlanta soccer community enjoying the USWNT. Outside Atlanta, the focus at times centered on the attendance, and how it reflects the number of future empty seats at Atlanta United matches in 2017. Then, I got annoyed.
The USWNT match only drew an official attendance number of 15,652. In a stadium that holds over 71,000 at full capacity, of course the Dome would look rather empty. But, that number isn’t a product of the soccer culture in Atlanta. Unfortunately, that’s a product of the women’s soccer calendar and the state of the Federation. You simply can’t compare Sunday’s attendance with the future turnout of an exciting and brand new soccer club.
Coming off a shocking early exit from the Olympics after being crowned World Cup Champions the year before certainly didn’t do the women any favors Sunday. Add Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo, the start of football and (believe it or not) the Falcons playing at 4 o’clock and it’s easy to see how no one was shocked at the low turnout. While the USWNT hasn’t played in Atlanta in over two years, friendlies on the back of two major international tournaments, with no meaningful games for the next couple of years, it’s understandably hard for any supporter base to get jacked for matches like these. The USMNT suffers similar lulls after the World Cup craze every four years.
It’s a down period for women’s soccer right now. Curiously enough, there was a slightly better attendance the last time the USWNT played in Atlanta, a match that was postponed to the next day because of the ice storm in 2014.
Sunday’s number was about the average attendance when it comes to USWNT matches played in the US. They’ve done better in some cities, but have done so much worse in many others. It’s a respectable showing that looked worse because of the venue. As soon as I say that many will think, “But, Atlanta United is going to play in a big venue.”
ATLUTD will not suffer the same consequences the USWNT dealt with Sunday night.
Here’s the deal: the lower dome to Mercedes-Benz Stadium holds just over 29,000, and the team has already confirmed it’s sold over 22,000 season tickets for 2017. The stadium is built with soccer specifically in mind and includes mechanisms to suppress the cavernous feeling that sometimes accompanies big stadiums.
Additionally, a coach has yet to be officially announced, there are rumors Andres Guardado may wear an Atlanta United kit in 2017 and they’re yet to sign most of the players that’ll make up the rest of the roster. The kit alone may drive people to buy season tickets because it’s finally a physical Atlanta United thing that best allows people to support their new club.
The ATLUTD front office has also helped gather this impressive response without the help of local media. Sure, they’ve done an interview here and there, but none of the local TV or radio outlets have dedicated any substantial coverage to the inception or growth of the club. I’m not knocking them for it, just stating a fact. The incentive to cover the club just isn’t there, yet.
There’s also the reasons people haven’t bought season tickets yet. Because of the lack of coverage, (believe it or not #2) there are people who aren’t fully informed on what’s going on with the team and many who may not know the club even exists yet. At the end of the day, ATLUTD is still soccer in a region of the country dominated by football and baseball. On top of that, there are many people who never became founding members and are waiting for season ticket sales to become available to the general public. And lastly, there are plenty of people who just can’t commit to every home game, but will be dedicated attendees when the opportunities present themselves.
This team is something special and it’ll show whenever Atlanta United play their first game at home. It’ll be sold out. It’ll be Atlanta’s new hotness. It will turn eyes and garner respect from the sports community, specifically, the sports media community. Don’t worry, I’ll hold on to these tweets that annoyed me so much. I hope you enjoy eating your words.