Creating a Groundswell-The Success of Atlanta United
St. Louis’ celebration of the Stanley Cup is a reminder of the abject failure of not one, but TWO National Hockey League franchises for Atlanta. When it was announced Atlanta was getting a Major League Soccer franchise, its success was far from certain. So how did Atlanta United succeed, where other pro franchises had failed?
Mike Conti, voice of Atlanta United on radio, Elena Cizmaric, Senior Director of Communications of Atlanta United, and Matt Moore, Director of Digital and Broadcast spoke to Atlanta PRSA to reveal some of their secrets.
First, bringing MLS to Atlanta is something that owner Arthur Blank has thought about for many years. One of the keys to success was timing. He had the new Mercedes Benz Falcons stadium as an ideal new venue. Just as important, the location had perfect proximity to mass transit and downtown Atlanta, which was ideal for the targeted millennial demographic. Market research not only informed the team who their new fans might be, but also how they want to be communicated with. Atlanta United had to build trust to build engagement starting at the grass roots level. That meant the President of the fledgling MLS club was taken on a pub crawl, meeting international soccer fans face to face.
Long before toe met leather for Atlanta United, a marketing, PR and social plan was being carefully crafted. Instead of boring Q&A videos with team members, the digital and broadcast team created hype videos. The social media strategy has been consistent, authentic and diverse, just like the fan base. For instance, the PR team actually courted international media for credibility which many other MLS franchises had ignored.
Matt Moore who came over from the NFL Falcons saw the opportunity to innovate. That means using Facebook live to announce the line up, a step that was popular enough that influencers like Waka Flocka and the Goodie Mob wanted to participate. Soon, the social channels for the team were flooded with influencers, whether it was Millie Bobby Brown in town to do STRANGER THINGS. Jerseys were sent out to local celebrities like Evander Holyfield, Big Boi, Zack Brown and Evander Holyfield. To give you an idea of how out of touch many of the MLS franchises are, many venues don’t have broadband internet and quite a few don’t even have radio coverage for out of town games. Mike Conti travels with the team and the Facebook live platform provides enough revenue to cover the cost.
When the popular TV show ATLANTA needed some sports scenes on monitors in a sports bar, the UNITED team was quick to offer free use of one of their games. It certainly helps that Atlanta United delivered the city its first professional championship since 1995. But the team was already a winner off the field because management made fan engagement a major priority and public relations won a seat at the table early on.