CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The first thing you notice at an Atlanta United game is the intensity.
- The team plays inside the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which opened in 2017. The stadium was built for football and American soccer
- According to Soccer Stadium Digest, the team averages more than 52,000 fans a game. It’s the highest attended team in Major League Soccer
- Doug Roberson covers Atlanta United for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He says the Queen City’s most significant challenge in forming a team will be time
For 90-plus minutes, almost no one sits down as fans are led in song by a fervent group of supporters. There is no need for cheerleaders or music blasted over the intercom.
The team plays inside the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which opened in 2017. The stadium was built for football and American soccer.
When the crowd doesn’t fill the stadium, the team puts down curtains to make it feel more intimate. The United also has dedicated locker rooms and a separate entrance where players meet the fans before they get to the field.
Just like during the game, the passion leading up to it is just as strong.
Thousands of fans tailgate outside the stadium.
“This is my sport,” United fan and The Faction member Joel Diaz says. “I’ve been waiting for this all my life.”
But, the writing on the wall wasn’t always visible.
“There were some skeptics that said Atlanta wasn’t a sports city and soccer wouldn’t work in the south,” United President Darren Eales says.
Doubters and even those close to the team were surprised by what happened.
Eales says they expected a max of 29,000 fans when the team started in 2017.
Instead, according to Soccer Stadium Digest, the team averages more than 52,000 fans a game. It’s the highest attended team in Major League Soccer. However, Atlanta is an outlier in MLS.
The Orlando City SC, which plays in a soccer-focused stadium, started five years ago. It ranks seventh and averages under 23,000 fans.
The Chicago Fire, which is at the bottom, averages around 12,000, and the league average is around 21,000.
“I think there was a lot of hidden support for soccer that perhaps went under the radar,” Eales says.
Atlanta Falcons Owner Arthur Blank paid an expansion fee of around $70 million for the franchise, significantly less than the $325 million Carolina Panthers Owner David Tepper is paying.
What is similar to Charlotte, Eales says, is how many transplants there are.
"No one had built up those soccer allegiances, so I think what happened with Atlanta United is it became the team you could identify with the city regardless of where your background was,” Eales says.
Doug Roberson covers Atlanta United for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He says the Queen City’s most significant challenge in forming a team will be time.
While Atlanta was given three years to build an MLS team, Charlotte only has one.
“It’s a suicidal trek. One year to hire an entire front office, put a roster together, get a training facility set up. That’s a lot to ask. It’s a monumental challenge,” Roberson says.
Eales says Charlotte must build a fan base as soon as possible.
“You’ve got to know your supporters because every city is different and that authenticity, that way of connecting to fans, is what makes you a success,” Eales says.
Success also comes from winning, which is something Atlanta has done a lot of. In just its second year, it won the league championship.
With only a year to build a team, the best advice for Charlotte supporters may be a plea for patience.