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Lift off in the MLS


It looks as if MLS in the United States is increasingly establishing a solid following.   Average attendances last year were 21,700, compared with 20,115 in the EFL Championship,   Atlanta United's match against Orlando City last Saturday attracted 70.425.   This broke a 21-year record dating back to the league's first season.  Even more impressive, over 30,000 turned out for a second division game in the United Soccer League in Cincinnati.  

The south of the United States has hardly been a hotbed of support for professional football.   It is claimed, rightly or wrongly, that African-Americans are relatively uninterested.   Admittedly, Atlanta is the ninth largest metropolitan area in the US and is seen as more progressive and cosmopolitan than the surrounding area. Having been in Atlanta at this time of year, it must have been quite humid on Saturday.

Before moving into the Mercedes-Benz stadium this month, Atlanta were averaging about 46,000 a game at the 55,000 capacity Bobby Dodd stadium.    That put them in a position to break the MLS record for average attendance over a season.

Other sports teams have not done well in Atlanta.   The Atlanta Hawks of the NBA rank near the bottom in terms of attendance,  In baseball, the Atlanta Braves failed to sell out play off game some years ago. An ice hockey team, the Atlanta Thrashers, came and went, although to me there is something incongruous about playing hockey in such a warm climate.  The Atlanta Falcons were in the Super Bowl last year, but it is not long ago that they struggled to sell out at home.

Arthur Blank, the owner, also owns a NFL team and some suggest that investing in MLS is a way of spreading the costs around.  However, it is not unusual to own franchises in different sports in the US.

Atlanta have not brought in ageing 'marquee' players, but have emphasised younger, attacking players. Manager Gerardo 'Tata' Martino, the former Barcelona coach, has been given a brief to entertain.  This may have help to overcome the reputation of Atlanta as a city that is not good for sports teams.