When people think of soccer, images of the World Cup are usually not far behind. Granted, right now the World Cup might be at the top of sports fans’ minds since sports and news channels are continuously filled with updates from Russia, but even so, not everyone is paying attention.
While Uruguay was sweeping the field against Portugal and France defeated Argentina, Atlanta was quietly filling its Mercedes-Benz Stadium to capacity. In fact, despite the international fight that was happening in Moscow, Atlanta welcomed 71, 932 people into its stadium as the Atlanta United, the city’s major league soccer team, took on Orlando City. In contrast, neither World Cup match topped 45,000 fans, though to be fair to Russia, their stadiums would not even be able to accommodate such a crowd as the one that arrived in Atlanta.
However, this chart-topping attendance is not even the largest that the Georgia team has seen. The team now has the four highest single-game attendance marks in MLS history and last Saturday’s game was easily the most-watched-in-person soccer game in the world. The next best-attended game would be the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. where the average attendance was 68,991 people, which is still three thousand fans less than Georgia managed to bring out.
Still, for only being in its second season, it’s not a bad turn out. This overnight appearance of a soccer culture may seem a bit strange until you dive into the statistics. According to CNN, Atlanta has topped Penske’s top-moving destinations list for the last eight years, and 37% of the city’s residents are not native to Georgia. With residents from all over, it’s no surprise that the worldwide, fan-favorite sport is serving as a unifying force within the city.
Wisely, Atlanta planned ahead. Already, games average almost 50,000 fans and could easily seat more but the stadium’s upper deck is closed for some games. Good thing, the $1.5 billion arena opened last summer and has 71,000 seats but can expand to 75,000.
So while we all keep an eye on the World Cup, make sure to keep another one over on Atlanta. This kind of traffic speaks volumes about a burgeoning soccer culture developing right here in the South. We’re going to need all the soccer-watching fans we can get come 2026.
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