Last week we ran a column titled, “Yes, Atlanta is a woeful sports town,” and understandably I received more emails than usual this week.
What was evident in the enthusiastic responses to the article was the fact that Atlanta sports mean a lot to our generation—all of the 20-something-year olds and below.
Honestly, our generation hasn’t had it that bad, and I think that’s why we’re beginning to see the cementing foundation of Atlanta being a great sports town dry before our very eyes.
Mike Lewis and Manish Tripathi, professors at Emory University in Atlanta, published a study on Aug. 15 that ranked Atlanta Falcons fans as the 31st worst fanbase in the National Football League, trailed only by the Oakland Raiders.
That study’s results went viral, and sparked a state-wide conversation: is Atlanta really that bad of a sports town?
It should be noted that the same duo also ranked the top Major League Baseball fans, and the results were even more puzzling. They ranked the Astros fans sixth in the majors, while the Braves fans placed 20th. Somehow, the Detroit Tigers ranked two spots behind the Miami Marlins. That was all I needed to see.
Numbers aside, I’ll make my retort. No, Atlanta isn’t that bad of a sports town. In fact, it’s beginning to become a great one, and it’s starting with the younger generation.
The Atlanta Braves are actually 14th in the league in attendance this season. Considering the population desperity between Atlanta and places like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, it’s understood why that number is near the middle of the pack.
The Atlanta Falcons season tickets for this coming season sold out in 24 hours. Falcons fans have done a great job of making the Georgia Dome one of the toughest places to play in the NFL for the past five years, and surely the energy surrounding Falcons football will get a boost when Atlanta gets the fanciest stadium in the entire country in 2017.
The only team that has suffered has been the Hawks, who got handcuffed by despicable management and draft choices during the Rick Sund era. But, man, was the Philips Arena the place to be when the Hawks took the Celtics to seven games in 2008?
My point is this: Statistics aren’t going to tell the story, but, nevertheless, it’s so easy to understand fanbases in professional sports that no study needs to be done.
Here’s the answer: Winning teams draw crowds; Losing teams play in front of empty seats. Sure, the Green Bay Packers will probably have capacity attendance at games, even if the team is having a bad year. There are a select few great sports towns that have that unrivaled fan commitment.
But, outside of that, most other sports cities are all just as good as one another. If you are forcing yourself to stack those teams into a ranking system, you’re going to skew the image of the team just by putting a high number (say, 20-32) next to the name.
Atlanta is building winning tradition, and with that is coming an interested, engaged and enthusiastic fan base.
We need to remember that professional sports in Atlanta—the college football epicenter—are young. The Braves, Hawks and Falcons all arrived in the late 1960s. And, of course we lost two hockey teams—not because we’re a bad sports town, but because we don’t have any clue how to even watch the sport.
The Falcons were miserable in their first 20 years, as were the Braves. In fact, the first team to really make a splash was in fact the Hawks. But, how many of us have grown up knowing nothing but Braves baseball? The 90s were the decade of Braves baseball. They earned the title of America’s team and won pennant after pennant. As far as I’ve grown up, the Braves fans have been the greatest in the country; they just really hate traffic.
Furthermore, Falcons football has caught on very well. Every gameday my Facebook and Twitter feeds are blown up with nothing but talk about the game. We finally have a franchise quarterback, as well as an owner that truly cares about the team in Arthur Blank and fantastic management and coaching.
This is a football-loving town, and the Falcons have been welcomed and cherished by our generation. Growing up, my father would always kind of bug me for being so obsessed with the Falcons. That was because he never grew up with a team good enough to root for, and thus never invested himself.
It’s simple. Sports fans love good teams. Atlanta is just now seeing stable success within its professional franchises, and the fanbases have responded accordingly.
Yes, Atlanta is a “transplant” city, if you will, but we still have natives too. The natives just took a few decades to wake up.