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How Atlanta United is setting the standard for attendance in MLS

 Atlanta fans are rewriting the MLS record books

New York Red Bulls v Atlanta United FC Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

As anyone who has been to an Atlanta United game can attest, empty seats have not been a concern for the team at its temporary home at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The atmosphere has been electric, and there have been no embarrassing gaps to be seen on TV. Bobby Dodd is now history, of course, and as the team prepares to move into its flashy new digs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, we thought we’d take a look at just how good United’s attendance numbers are. In brief, they’re pretty good:

  • Total home games played. Here’s the first number to bear in mind: because of the wacky scheduling that was necessary with the planned mid-season move and its unfortunate delay, Atlanta has hosted only 9 games this season. That’s 2 less than any other team, and 5 less than our expansion cousins Minnesota United (who have the most home games so far).
  • Total attendance. That Waffle House tifo was a bit short, understating the numbers by nearly 5,000. In 9 games, 416,864 crammed into Bobby Dodd to cheer on the Five Stripes. That’s good enough for #2 in aggregate home attendance behind the Seattle Sounders, who are the perennial league leaders in attendance. Also, Atlanta accounts for 7.5% of total league attendance this season.
  • Average attendance. Atlanta tops the league in average attendance at an impressive 46,318. That is 215% of the league average. It’s 8.2% better than the second-ranked team (Seattle), and—get this—is more than the lowest three averages combined (Columbus Crew, FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids).
  • Average attendance all-time. Seattle has led the league in average attendance every year they entered MLS in 2009. However, the Sounders’ best ever season average, 2015, was 44,247. Atlanta is currently more than 2,000 clear of that number, and Seattle’s average this season is about 2,000 less.
  • Top single-game attendance. The home opener against New York Red Bulls remains the highest-attended game in MLS this year, with 55,297 on site. It was also the fourth-highest official game attendance in the world that weekend.
  • Top ten single-game attendances. Of the top ten games this season, Atlanta accounts for seven, the other three being the San Jose Earthquakes-LA Galaxy game (played at Stanford Stadium, not San Jose’s normal home, Avaya Stadium) and two Seattle games at CenturyLink Field. The other two Atlanta games? Yeah, you guessed it, they are #11 and #12.
  • Low attendance. Atlanta’s lowest attendance was 44,893, in a rain-affected game v. the Houston Dynamo. With the exceptions of Seattle and San Jose, that is still better than any other team’s highest attendance by almost ten thousand.

Now, things will change a bit once the moving trucks are unloaded at MBS. The official capacity at the stadium is 42,500 with the third deck closed and 71,000 with it open, expandable to 75,000 for special events. Two home games this year (v. Orlando City 9/14 and the regular season closer 10/22 v. Toronto FC) will be opened up to full capacity. That’s going to affect the overall numbers. Let’s take a look:

  • If all 8 games sell a full 42,500 tickets (the first game v. Dallas is already long since sold out), the average would drop to 44,521. That would still be just good enough for #1 all-time, by 274 seats. However, with four of the games being mid-week, that may not happen.
  • On the other hand, we can boost those numbers with the two full-stadium games. If 70,000 seats are sold for each of those two games, the average would end up at 47,757, which would be the best-ever season in MLS by a whopping 3,510 seats.
  • With a maximum of 71,000 seats, the best ranking Atlanta can expect for all-time MLS single-game attendance is fifth. However, the top four spots are all occupied by games which shared a double-bill with games involving either major foreign clubs or US national teams.
  • The highest attendance at a stand-alone MLS game is 69,255. That game was, amazingly, all the way back on April 13, 1996 between the LA Galaxy and NY/NJ Metrostars. That was the second weekend of play in MLS’ first season, and the Galaxy’s inaugural home opener. The record has stood for a long time and needs breaking soon.
  • 71,000 would be the 17th best-attended club soccer game in US history. That includes the four MLS double-header games above, four friendly games between MLS teams and foreign big name opponents, and 8 games from the 1970s in the original North American Soccer League (all New York Cosmos games played at Giants Stadium).

This is unprecedented performance for a team with absolutely no history, and that in a city often derided for its support of local sports. We as fans are just as much a part of the new model that Atlanta has brought to the league, matching the excitement on the field with the excitement around it. Keep it up, 17s