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An MLS Story: Cultural Openness Central To Atlanta United’s Rapid Growth

The development of soccer in American in recent years has been particularly evident in Atlanta, where Atlanta United and their fan base continue to produce record-breaking attendances.

Thousands flooding through the turnstiles, a city captivated by soccer. This type of hype didn’t appear overnight. 

Football is often seen as a sport that bridges all cultural divides, regardless of the colour or nationality of an individual. Atlanta, one of the most diverse melting pots anywhere in America, continue to develop its burgeoning soccer community.

The culture of football within Atlanta United FC is as diverse as anywhere in America, with the cultural awareness work of the citizens of Atlanta, earning recognition in particular from the city’s black community.

With the highest population of black people outside of New York City, Atlanta holds a significant cultural influence for the entire country.

A recent video by COPA90 US explores this ‘Black Soccer Culture No One Knew Existed’.  In the mini-doc, Aaron Dolores, the founder of Black Arrow FC, speaks about setting up the cultural brand in an attempt to create an impact on the correlation towards black culture and soccer. 

Dolores understood the potential the city and its community had in creating something unique and special. 

“Football and Atlanta have been a perfect fit for a long time, even without an MLS team.”

Black Arrow FC is the first lifestyle brand focused on the intersection of soccer and black culture. The community tries to capture the essence of soccer through black culture and bring peoples of all ethnicity together.

It also looks at providing untold stories about the impact of the black community on football, as well as introducing concepts of art and couture.

The documentary looks into the black soccer culture no one knew existed through the lens of the Black Arrow FC community, Atlanta soccer fans, and Aaron West. 

“We really felt like there was already a lot of black people into this sport, or intrigued about the sport, but they just needed a space to come together.”

“So much of the culture exists here already. You have the team, you have hip-hop, you have the clothing, and we just wanted to kind of like put all that stuff in a pot and stir it together and get some black gumball.”

“It’s not specifically about black culture. It’s the idea of having a curated space that we can connect in with all cultures. We just brought together different brands that kind of represent the culture in Atlanta.”

“Soccer is just bubbling in the United States and it needs these types of platforms to take it to the next level.”

The introduction of Atlanta United FC in 2016 and their subsequent arrival in 2017 has begun an evolutionary period for the MLS franchise; an upwards spiral with a seemingly unlimited ceiling for growth, evidenced by its surge in popularity in recent years. 

The supporters groups have been invaluable to the success and growth of Atlanta United FC, and it has set a high bar for the future of soccer in the MLS. 

Transit stations throughout the city are trying to enhance the diverse culture and subsequent mix with soccer and provide a home for youth to be exposed more to the sport. 
Aaron West further explored the growth of soccer in the United States, and in particular the change of culture regarding soccer in Atlanta.

“Soccer is like the newest skateboard. You go to the herd, you see people wearing the jersey. That was the issue before, a lot of people were not exposed to soccer and now you see the growth coming.”

The positive effect soccer is having in Atlanta on the black culture is becoming increasingly noticeable, and the growth in Atlanta is providing an opportunity for a brighter future for some of the kids in Atlanta.

“You can tell when you see middle school soccer, when you see junior varsity and varsities soccer, the interest has gone up. The black kids are now interested in being part of the soccer team.”

“A city that exemplifies Black people. To be a soccer city I think is amazing.”

Soccer never really took off in America, and has always struggled to permeate the incumbents of basketball, baseball, and American football. However, the tide is turning.

The club has captured the essence of the city with the construction of their new stadium, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

The cutting-edge curtaining system creates an intimate, high-energy setting for soccer matches. 

 The capacity can be increased to over 70,000 due to the flexibility to expand the soccer configuration into the 300 level. This allowed Atlanta United to break Major League Soccer’s single match attendance record in October 2017 when they housed 71,874 for their first match of the season against Toronto FC. 

The record was broken once again as Atlanta’s crowd of 72,035 entered the stadium in a 3-1 victory over D.C. United on March 11, 2018. 

For perspective, the meeting of Manchester United and Liverpool back in early March 2018 occupied just over 74,000 fans.

Just to put into context the shift in popularity, more fans are entering the stadium for the Atlanta United soccer matches than their Atlanta Falcons’ American football counterparts – a further change in American sporting culture in the region.

Atlanta are taking soccer culture and putting their own spin on it. They have embraced the new club and made it their own, willing the fans and community to define the club’s culture allowing it to evolve organically. 

People in the area that typically concentrated on traditional American sports are now looking to play soccer at youth level. 

There is no doubt that the Atlanta United FC’s expansion will continue, with its black community playing an integral part in providing a cultural home for an ever-growing sport nationwide.

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Author: The PA Team

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