Is Atlanta Transforming into the South’s Sports Capital?
When it comes to sports, Atlanta isn’t just one of the South’s greatest hubs; it’s also one of the country’s best. The Georgia metropolis is home to major league teams from all of North America’s top leagues aside from the NHL, including the NFL, MLS, MLB, WNBA and NBA.
There’s even the Georgia Swarm and Atlanta Blaze, teams that compete in the National Lacrosse League and Major League Lacrosse, respectively. They’re joined by the Atlanta Rhinos and Rugby ATL, which compete in the North American Rugby League and Major League Rugby, respectively.
Other Southern hubs like Miami and Houston have a comparable spread of major league teams, but they can’t match the passion and devotion of Atlanta fans. Typically, fan passion is gauged by season ticket sales and broadcasting statistics. However, Atlanta sports fans can be measured by the uniqueness of their devotional practices.
After all, a group of hardcore, knowledgeable fans is usually more meaningful than a mindless group of screaming spectators. Sure, the loud hype is a plus, but a dedicated fanbase has likely invented its own chants, helped create unique halftime shows and knows how to get the team’s mascot going.
Atlanta United Driving Interest in Soccer
Though the MLS is growing in popularity and size, soccer teams haven’t usually drawn in major crowds around the U.S. and Canada. In fact, even major brands like Caesar’s Sportsbook haven’t always offered odds on the league. Though a Caesar’s Sportsbook review highlights the company’s lucrative odds, they’ve only recently branched out into smaller markets like the MLS.
However, Atlanta United FC has quickly become one of the city’s most popular sports teams. Since setting up shop in 2017, Atlanta United has shared a homefield with the Falcons NFL franchise. They’ve taken home one MLS Cup since then, though most of the club’s fame comes from its diehard fanbase.
Their first regular season attendance set records in the MLS, which has contributed to the team’s growing worth. This year, they were listed as the second-most valuable club in the MLS. So far, the club has amassed four distinct groups of fans that are acknowledged by the club, along with multiple traditions such as the signing of the Golden Spike.
Atlanta Dream Leading the Way for WNBA
Before Atlanta United brought soccer to the city, the WNBA expanded with the Atlanta Dream franchise. Unlike other cities around North America, Atlanta’s WNBA franchise isn’t a partner team to the city’s NBA Hawks team. Instead, they’re privately owned and run, with their own arena and a new head coach in Tanisha Wright.
Just like Atlanta United helped introduce soccer to sports fans, the WNBA brought competitive basketball back to the city. Despite the Hawks’ presence in Atlanta since 1968, the franchise has only taken home two division titles since 1994 (2015 and 2021).
So far, the Dream hasn’t taken home a championship title, but they have qualified for the playoffs eight times since being established in 2007. In 2010, 2011 and 2013, the Dream also brought home conference titles. Angel McCoughtry, one of the WNBA’s premier talents of the last decade, helped popularize the team during her 10-year stint from 2009-19.
Diversifying Options for Sports Fans
Clearly, Atlanta is a major hub for all sports fans—the more diverse their interests, the better. Not only is the city home to rugby and lacrosse teams, but its large stadiums also make it the perfect place for tournaments and exhibition matches from around the world.
The Mercedes-Benz Stadium has hosted huge events, such as the 2020 NCAA Final Four and the 2018 MLS Cup. Outside of the realm of traditional sports, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium has also welcomed the AMA Supercross Championship (2018), the Drum Corps International Southeastern Championship (2018) and the Club América Campeones Cup, which saw teams from the La Liga MX face off against MLS teams (2019).
In the future, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium will continue to be an important venue for the MLS, as it’s one of the largest and most technologically advanced in the league.