Atlanta identity

Author Emmanuel Barrera, University of San Francisco

Posted: October 8, 2017

Tagged: fan motives

Atlanta United Football Club is currently facing a unique set of challenges as an expansion Major League Soccer franchise. While the club has been able to generate significant interest in its market in the form of high ticket sales (Thomas, 2017, para. 2), one of the challenges it still faces is the lack of established attitudes from its fan base. This is unsurprising given that Atlanta United is such a new organization, but still an issue that needs to be reconciled if it hopes to achieve long term success. To combat this, Atlanta FC is working towards being part of Atlanta fans’ sport identity in order to influence fan attitudes, motivation and identity in hopes of generating long term success.

One of the ways Atlanta FC is attempting to influence social identity is by providing fans with “chant cards” as a means to increase similarities between ingroup members (Thomas, 2017, para. 9). These in-game chants serve to bring Atlanta FC fans together during a game, and endear the fans to the team by promoting cohesiveness. This experience is a unique product that the organization can offer to fans in order to encourage repeat customers to attend games. Through the prism of the motivation model, one of the internal influences a fan may face would be the experience of attending an Atlanta FC game. A possible external influence could be sport attractiveness, particularly as soccer continues to gain popularity in the United States, and especially in light of new research highlighting the increased dangers with playing Football, currently America’s most popular sport (Pons, Giroux & Mourali, 2014, p. 25).

As fans continue to go to games and embrace the in game experience, they will begin to develop associations with the team brand. The club is already utilizing this approach by promoting a “homegrown” player on its roster named Andrew Carleton. Andrew is from the Atlanta area, and as such, the club is hoping fans can make a personal connection with Andrew’s upbringing as a local product. This connection will likely grow even stronger if Andrew develops into a star MLS player. Utilizing the laddering of team brand associations approach, the attribute/benefit would be the endearment of a city to a star player. In this case, this is highlighted by the intense cheering of Andrew Carleton during one of Atlanta United’s games (Thomas, 2017, para. 7). This would lead to the consequence of additional fans purchasing of tickets to see Andrew play. The value of this is that it would produce a feeling of belonging, especially within the Atlanta community, causing fans to want to buy more tickets, securing future demand for tickets.

As fans develop positive attitudes towards the team and continue to associate with the brand, eventually the club has a chance to become part of Atlanta’s sport identity. Ideally, Atlanta residents will consider the club to be part of the culture of living in the area, and this in turn will provide the club with numerous benefits as more sport spectators are turned into sport fans. Expansion teams typically lose a lot of games, which can lead to negative media coverage and this in turn could deter future fans from attending games. Cultivating and developing a strong sport identity among its existing fan base would lead to the rejection of such negative media attention among fans (Funk & Lock, 2014 p. 47) while the organization continues to build its on-field product.

As an expansion franchise, Atlanta United is faced with a unique set of challenges. The team has generated significant interest in its market, but it is aiming to establish itself as a part of the overall culture in Atlanta. The method, by which it is hoping to do so, is by offering a premium game day experience, thereby motivating people to attend games and in the process, influencing attitudes towards the club, leading to long term, sustained success.




Funk, D. C., & Lock, D. (2014). Sport Consumer Attitudes: Formation, function and effects on information processing. In M. P. Pritchard, & J. L. Stinson (Eds.), Leveraging brands in sport business (pp. 37-50). New York, NY: Routledge.

Pons, F., Giroux, M., & Mourali, M. (2014). Consumer Behavior and Motivation: Why are sport event consumers so special? In M. P. Pritchard, & J. L. Stinson (Eds.), Leveraging brands in sport business (pp. 21-36). New York, NY: Routledge.

Thomas, I. (2017, July 10). Embracing United: ‘Feels like we’ve been around for 30 years’.  SportsBusiness Journal, 20(12). Retrieved from


About Emmanuel Barrera, University of San Francisco

Emmanuel Barrera (@e_barrera74) is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz and currently enrolled as a graduate student in the University of San Francisco’s Sport Management Master’s program. Presently, he works as a Traffic Coordinator with the Pac-12 Networks and as a Game Day media relations assistant with Stanford Athletics. This article is an edited version of a paper Emmanuel prepared for Dr. Michael M. Goldman’s Sport Marketing class at the University of San Francisco.

IImage by Atlanta United/MLS, "Supporters Groups", Retrieved from