Atlanta United Sets MLS Attendance Record, Gets Lofty Praises From Commissioner Garber
Atlanta United on Saturday "set a new MLS attendance record," as 70,425 tickets were sold for a game against Orlando City at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, according to Doug Roberson of the ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION. That broke the previous record of 69,255 fans in '96 at the Rose Bowl for a N.Y./N.J. MetroStars-Galaxy matchup. MLS Commissioner Don Garber said, "It’s proving that it’s defying everybody’s expectations as to what soccer can be in this market" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 9/17). Garber: "This is a great testament to Arthur (Blank’s) vision, his execution because I think you need to be able to deliver on your plan, not just have a great plan. He’s got a terrific organization." Roberson noted Atlanta United leads MLS in attendance this season and is "on pace to set the league record for highest average home attendance of 44,247" set by the Sounders in '15 (AJC.com, 9/16). Garber: "It’s a good moment for all of us in MLS. I think it says that there are really no limits. We never expected this to happen." Garber: "It’s a great statement about what’s going on in this part of the country. These are cities that have become incredibly diverse, very millennial driven. There’s lots of companies moving down here. There’s just a demographic shift happening and a new energy that you feel in the southeast that’s exciting" (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 9/16). ESPN's Alejandro Moreno said, "The excitement that they’ve been able to generate around that city is outstanding. But it’s a success specific to Atlanta. A lot of people are saying, ‘This is a new MLS.’ It’s a new MLS in Atlanta -- it doesn’t translate into people showing up for New York Red Bulls games" ("ESPN FC, ESPNews, 9/17).
THE DON WILL SEE YOU NOW: The AJC's Roberson noted Garber "seemed to enjoy every minute of the experience." He "did the 'A-T-L' Viking clap" and "walked around the concourse to feel the energy of the crowd." Garber said of M-B Stadium, "It’s awe-inspiring. It’s absolutely spectacular. ... I got in here early. Fans were in here an hour before the game. It’s absolutely incredible. It’s an exciting day for me and for the league." He said of soccer in the Atlanta market, "I have to tell you we were skeptical at first. Arthur kind of looked at us all and said [Atlanta] is going to be a great city, it’s going to be a great soccer market. My city will turn out for a great team with a great brand. He’s over-delivered." As far as M-B Stadium hosting the '18 MLS All-Star Game, Garber said, "Possibly. We have some work to do. We are spending a lot of time thinking about that. It would be a great market to host the all-star game. We sold out Soldier Field in Chicago over the summer. If we were going to hold it here, I would imagine we would break the (attendance) record." He said as to whether Atlanta United is the story of the year in MLS, "It is. It’s the story in pro sports. I’m proud to say that" (AJC.com, 9/17).
ONE SIZE DOESN'T FIT ALL: In Orlando, Alicia DelGallo wrote under the header, "MLS Commissioner Don Garber Open To Modifying Soccer-Specific Stadium Mandate." Garber said of Atlanta's success, "I don’t know that that changes our point of view in any other market, but certainly when I see what’s happening here and in Seattle I’m happy that we have stadiums that can have 70,000 people in ’em." DelGallo noted MLS in recent years has pushed for teams to have soccer-specific venues to provide a "sense of community for the team and fans." The strategy also was to "help teams control revenue and create a better game-day atmosphere." But if ownership groups, like that of Atlanta United, "present a different, viable option, MLS will make exceptions." Building a new venue can be expensive and it "can be "difficult to maneuver the various political hurdles that stand between concept and creation, among other obstacles." Garber: "The good thing about being new and trying to figure it out as you go along is you have a specific plan and then there are times when you have to modify that plan. I think good business leaders and good businesses, ya know, don’t just get stuck in their previous strategies but try to evolve and see how things develop" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 9/17).