HAMMOCK: New Major League Soccer team can create Atlanta fans from the start

Sports Editor Will Hammock 

Sports Editor Will Hammock 

Atlanta professional sports fans get a bad rap, some of it deserved and some of it unfair.

Have we lost two NHL hockey franchises? Yes. Do we leave seats empty at Braves playoff games? Absolutely. Is that disappointing? Certainly.

But Atlanta fans can be passionate, too. Despite last year’s rough season, the Falcons still create buzz and excitement, and the Braves also have had their moments of heavy fan support over the years.

The challenge for both, in a city loaded with transplants from elsewhere, is building a base of homegrown fans. People move to Atlanta, but their sports allegiances don’t change. It’s why you see tons of Chicago Cubs or New York Mets fans at Braves games. And why you get lots of Green Bay Packers or New Orleans Saints fans in the Georgia Dome for Falcons games, and New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons fans at Hawks games.

Those types of obstacles hopefully won’t affect Atlanta’s new Major League Soccer franchise, which was announced officially Wednesday. The MLS isn’t even 20 years old, so there isn’t the type of generation to generation history that exists in older pro leagues. You may see a few Houston Dynamo fans at Atlanta games, but the vast majority in attendance should be fans of our team.

For soccer fans in this area, or this region, Atlanta should be your team. As of now, there isn’t a MLS team in the Southeast (at least until Orlando joins next year) and the closest options are teams in Texas.

Atlanta also has an enthusiastic soccer community with rapidly expanding youth clubs all over the metro area. The growth of the soccer-loving Hispanic population also should be a great boost for devoted home fans. Locally, the Atlanta Silverbacks have fared very well in their latest reincarnation, too, another positive sign.

That type of energy, and a supportive, soccer-friendly owner like Arthur Blank, should give the MLS team a chance to turn Atlanta natives into fans, but just as importantly make some of the transplants into Atlanta soccer fans from the start.

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.