By DREW AMANDOLIA
Contrary to popular belief, soccer is becoming the world’s most admired sport.
When looking at all of the countries on Earth, almost every one has a pro soccer league, as well as a national soccer team. In countries like England and Spain, soccer is the largest sport there is.
FIFA estimates that 270 million people are involved in soccer all across the world.
In the United States, soccer is one of many sports that compete for fans, media attention and air time on television. MLS, the United States pro soccer league, gets minimal airtime. This is due to the lack of interest of casual sports fans.
Soccer’s overall popularity, however, is on the rise in Atlanta. Places where fans can practice their soccer skills, like Marietta Indoor Sports, are proof of that. Soccer enthusiasts of all ages are able to come out and play competitive soccer in a pick-up format.
Nyowo Scott runs the open gyms at Marietta Indoor Sports.
“Atlanta definitely has the potential to be a soccer city. Mexico and Nigeria played a game at the Georgia Dome this year and 68,000 people were there. Indoor Soccer gyms are popping up all around town as well, and people come out to mine for the leagues and pick-up nights,” said Scott. “There are some grassroots organizations and leagues being founded now as well. Once the MLS team comes to Atlanta, I think that the popularity of soccer will follow.”
In 2017, Atlanta will be getting a MLS franchise that will be owned by Falcons owner Arthur Blank. This team will play in the new Georgia Dome. With MLS coming off of its most successful season attendance-wise, Blank’s new Atlanta franchise will hopefully bring people in to watch games.
JR Francis, the Chief Marketing Official for Terminus Legion, said, “Atlanta needs a team at the highest level to give them the option of being a soccer city. Once MLS arrives, we will see how the city responds. We believe we have the perfect owner in Arthur Blank who will assure that the team is in the mix for every player, every coach, giving the team a competitive shot at the playoffs every year. Atlanta embraces and loves success, and with this team’s success, will go the fan base.”
Right now, Atlanta’s only pro soccer team is the Atlanta Silverbacks. The Silverbacks are in the United State’s second division league, the North American Soccer League. The Silverbacks enjoy a high attendance rating for NASL teams with an average of 4,000 people a game at their home stadium in Gwinnett.
“The Silverbacks were a good first step for Atlanta soccer. They get a good turnout for their home games and have a good, but small, fan base. These fans will translate over to Atlanta’s MLS team and it will go from there,” said Scott. “Atlanta already has supporters groups like the Ultras and the Legion who really love the game.”
Atlanta’s two main supporter groups for Atlanta soccer are Terminus Legion and the Atlanta Ultras. These groups come out to the games and start chants, bang drums and other tactics to hype up the crowd. They also work on growing Atlanta’s soccer fan base by holding events and tailgates at Silverbacks’ games. The Terminus Legion itself has 685 members since their debut in January.
“We are excited to partner with MLS Atlanta on their efforts. We have met with them several times and will be assisting in many community outreaches,” said Francis. “We will be increasing our role in the community through our own fundraising and will be organizing world-class game day support for our new team!”
Cities like Portland, Seattle and Kansas City already have soccer teams with fan bases large enough to where they rival their respective cities NFL or MLB teams. Atlanta has all of the intangibles for the same success with MLS Atlanta.
Monique Hollins, a Seattle native, played soccer at the University of West Georgia.
“Atlanta isn’t as good of a soccer city yet as some other places in the U.S. It’s not as popular as it is in Seattle or North Carolina,” said Hollins. “Since I came to Georgia to play, I have seen it get more and more popular, especially with people in college. ”
During the World Cup this past summer, the city of Atlanta really embraced the true culture of soccer. Restaurants and bars in the area showed all of the international games and media outlets focused coverage on the players, games and even some controversy that this World Cup provoked. The city even had a projector screen set up in Piedmont Park for the U.S. versus Portugal match.
Scott said, “Soccer is my business. During the World Cup and other tournaments, almost everyone becomes a soccer fan. I’ll have people come in here and want to play just because they watched Clint Dempsey or Jemaine Jones play for the national team. If the people in the area watched MLS like they did the world cup, soccer would be the most popular sport in Atlanta.”