Atlanta has a culture problem.
Okay, maybe that’s an overreaction, but Atlanta is seriously lacking a dedicated sports culture. Despite the city’s great facilities like Mercedes-Benz Stadium and teams like the Falcons, Braves and Hawks, the sports community’s presence in Atlanta is surprisingly small, which was a big culture shock for me when I moved here from Philadelphia.
To make one thing clear, I am an obnoxious Philly sports fan. I’m not saying I would pelt Santa Claus with snowballs, but I would definitely direct a few boos and jeers his way. One could say that the lifeblood of Philadelphia is its sports teams, so when I came to Emory last year, I was disappointed by the lack of excitement native Atlantians have for their teams.
The Hawks have consistently ranked near the bottom of NBA attendance for over a decade. Even when they won an NBA-best 60 games in 2014-15, the Hawks were 27th in total home attendance. The Braves play in a brand new stadium but have trouble cracking the top-10 in total attendance despite having won two consecutive N.L. East division titles. Meanwhile, the Falcons and United fudge their attendance numbers. Although, the United do have one of the largest fanbases in Major League Soccer, so they’re not the main issue here.
Sports just doesn’t seem to be a part of people’s daily lives in Hotlanta. Meanwhile in Philadelphia, one good Samaritan fan took the time to insult Eagles’ wide receiver Nelson Agholor’s catching skills while saving young children from a burning building.
Buffalo Bills fans, collectively known as Bills Mafia, are notorious for jumping through tables and drinking alcohol out of bowling balls at tailgates. It’s an extreme example of fan behavior, but it just goes to show the passion people have for their teams. You just don’t see that much dedication in Atlanta.
I can understand not being excited about the Falcons after they came so close to winning their first Super Bowl in 2017, only to choke away a 25-point third-quarter lead before losing in overtime. But the Braves are one of the better teams in the National League. The Hawks are a young team with a really bright future (and cheap tickets), and the Dream, aside from this season, are usually very competitive. United just won the MLS Cup in their second season of existence — need I say more?
Still don’t believe that Atlanta has a sports culture problem? Well, Atlanta was the first (and so far, only) city in the NHL’s modern-era to have two teams to relocate to different cities. The Atlanta Flames moved from Atlanta to Calgary, Alberta in 1980 and became the Calgary Flames, while the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba and became the Winnipeg Jets in 2011.
If Atlanta’s teams wish to see their popularity increase, they must win more. The Braves haven’t won the World Series since 1995. The Falcons have never won a Super Bowl. The Hawks haven’t been a serious championship contender since the 1960s. Winning a title made United the most popular soccer team in the United States, it’s about time Atlanta’s veteran sports franchises do the same.
Atlanta is a weird city. It has great food, people and places to explore, but this city lacks a sports culture worthy of its size and reputation. I’m not sure where it is, or if it has ever existed, but I hope it returns soon. Sports have the power to invigorate a city and excite its fans in a truly special way. It’s high time Atlanta starts to recognize that fact.