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Making sense of the booming Atlanta United scarf market

Why are people spending ridiculous amounts on money on some yarn sewn together?

SOCCER: AUG 06 MLS - Atlanta United FC at Sporting KC Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Atlanta United fans like to spend money. MLS’ highest ticket sales, merchandise sales, even concessions sales belong to Atlanta fans. No one is keeping track of the soccer scarf resale market, but it’s hard to imagine any other fan base can claim the top spot.

Check Ebay for “Atlanta United Scarf” and you’ll see bids over $300 with buy-it-now prices even higher. For a scarf. And those aren’t even the high-end, lucky ones deemed ultra rare by collectors.

Current scarf prices on Ebay

Initially, it seems insane that someone would spend that much for a scarf. And it might be. Figuring out why these people are handing over hard-earned cash is tough because most of them don’t want you to know who they are.

All but one collector interviewed for this story requested some form of anonymity. Each had their reason (“I don’t want my wife to see.”), and each had more scarves than you.

“Robinson” owns 86. Jonathan has somewhere over 40. Amy estimates she’s spent well over $1500 on her 62 scarves, including one that cost $700. “Carleton” owns between 100 and 150 scarves. Ryan had around 60.

“I’ve driven all over the city tons of miles to get scarves. I’ve searched continuously online to buy them,” Robinson said. “It’s too hard to get them online now because of how big a price tag people are putting on them”

Robinson’s Collection

The thought of missing out on just one rare scarf keeps collector’s like Jonathan up at night.

“There’s always one more,” Jonathan said. “Someone posted a picture — one picture, mind you — of a kid wearing an AT&T sponsor scarf. That’s the only time it was ever seen. But now you know it exists, and you gotta find one.”

Jonathan’s Collection

The reasons for getting the scarf itch may vary. For Carleton, it came from a desire to support the club.

“Once ATL was announced; and I made the personal decision to devote my entire being to ensuring that our city had the greatest fan support in the sport; it became more than that. It became a point of pride for me to have any and all of MY club.”

Ryan just thinks they’re cool.

“I didn’t have an Atlanta team until United. So in the midst of the season I saw the cool looking styles and I just figured why not waste all my money of them,” Ryan said. “They are cool to display and for a collector they have special meaning. Some people do it to sell them but I do it because I think they are cool. I wore a scarf to every game last year and I’ll continue that this year.”

Whatever the reason, collector’s are dedicated to gathering as many scarves as possible. They say many of their scarves are acquired through trades or giveaways, but if that’s the case, then what’s pushing scarf market pricing to unheard of levels? Is it an underground shadow organization that meets once a month to discuss battle strategies because they’re hellbent on acquiring as many scarves as possible? Actually, maybe. No, seriously, maybe. But if it is, they certainly aren’t going to tell you. They might hint at it though.

“Unfortunately [the prices] are our own doing. By publicly posting on Facebook how ‘rare’ this particular scarf is deemed — mainly by the members of ‘the group’ — and by posting amounts we would be willing to pay; those who have them have seized the opportunity to make a higher sale. There is no published account of what scarves are ‘worth’ since most of it, if not all, is based on personal opinion,” Carleton said.

Though prices are high, collectors have no regrets about forking over cash for scarves.

“Everybody has a hobby. It’s not illegal, it’s not harmful, and I don’t buy scarfs at the cost of any bills or my mortgage. I don’t see it as hindering anything,” Carleton said.

The only problem for collectors is finding places to keep all their scarves.

“The ‘curtains’ in my home office are all scarves,” Amy said. “I joke to my fiancee that if the things are worthless you’re called a hoarder, if they’re valuable, you’re a collector!”

You may never be convinced that buying and selling soccer scarves is something worthy of anyone’s time. But there are added benefits to being a collector beyond having a way to fill wall space. The closed door meetings lead to friendships. The adults trading and selling scarves like kids with Pokemon cards create relationships with people the collectors may not have interacted with otherwise.

The addiction is palpable. But so is the community.

“I have met some amazing people that have become what I look forward to being lifelong friendship,” Carleton said. “Our family has representation from all SGs, multiple EPL teams, and every social and ethnic walk of life. But we all come together, have tons of fun, buy/sell/trade scarves and stories and jokes with each other.

We are a perfect microcosm of the soccer world in Atlanta.”