WPS, Atlanta set to open first women’s soccer stadium

WPS Logo

by DAN LAULETTA

One week shy of 11 years since Columbus Crew Stadium ushered in a pivotal era in the history of American soccer, a smaller stadium opening in Atlanta has the potential to carry the same significance for women’s soccer here that Columbus Crew Stadium did for soccer in general at the end of the last century. 

Indeed, if we are fortunate enough to still be talking about WPS in another 11 years, Saturday night’s stadium opener for the Atlanta Beat against Sky Blue FC will certainly rank as one of the most important moments in the history of women's soccer in America.
 
“Sunday’s home opener in Atlanta is one of the biggest moments in the development of our league since we launched last March,” WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci said this week.  The match will be broadcast by Fox Soccer Channel Sunday at 7pm as the WPS national game of the week."

Soon after the Beat was announced as an expansion franchise for this the second WPS season, owner T Fitz Johnson announced a partnership with Kennesaw State University in nearby Kennesaw, GA to build an 8,000 seat stadium (8,306 to be precise) specifically for women’s soccer.  The Beat will share the stadium with the soccer teams at Kennesaw, but they will be the controlling tenant.
 
“A huge credit,” Antonucci said, “to Beat owner T Fitz Johnson, Kennesaw State University, and the Atlanta Beat organization for their accomplishment in getting this new stadium built and ready for this weekend.”
 
Atlanta Beat general manager Shawn McGee has been steadfast in his belief the club will sell out Sunday’s opening match—the first home game in the history of the modern incarnation of the Beat.  The team does not release numbers, but earlier this week approximately three-quarters of available tickets were said to be sold.
 
“We’re still shooting for a sellout and we believe that we can get there,” McGee said.
 
Crew Stadium was built privately by Lamar Hunt only two years after the devastating rejection of a public finance bill left the franchise in limbo.  In the decade since, seven stadiums have popped up with two more on the way (including PPL Park in Philadelphia set to open next month). 

Meanwhile, Chivas USA shares The Home Depot Center with the Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC caught an unprecedented wave of fan support that has filled the lower bowl at Qwest Field and superceded the need for a soccer specific venue.  MLS teams that once played in front of three-quarter empty football stands are now controlling revenues and dates.  The smaller seating capacities have created intimate atmospheres and in Toronto, a demand for tickets.
 
“Make no mistake, it’s still the first soccer specific stadium at the pro level in the nation,” McGee said of Crew Stadium, that remains popular for its historical significance even as newer buildings have topped it for bells and whistles.  “I think it’s important that we have a stadium built for (WPS).  Others will come along that will probably be bigger or nicer or whatever.  I don’t think they will come along in as rapid succession as the men’s league did, but the exciting thing for us is that it’s becoming partnerships.”
 
WPS has established what appears to be a sound business model for gradual growth.  While attendance is down early on in 2010, all-important sponsorship dollars are up.  But if WPS is to know long-term stability, its clubs are going to have to follow the lead of the Atlanta Beat and if not construct their own stadiums, gain greater control over scheduling and revenue.

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29 Responses to WPS, Atlanta set to open first women’s soccer stadium

  1. Cabrito says:

    This does not mean that Atlanta is ready for MLS.

  2. sleepyjean says:

    Someone please find a GIF version of that WPS logo. Sorry.

  3. WiscFan says:

    I’m looking forward to many more SSS in the future. Even sharing with MLS clubs helps the greater cause of developing the game in North America. Also I wouldn’t be surprised if Vancouver would be the first WPS team in Canada (I don’t know any rumors to that effect though).

  4. Rob says:

    It may just be semantics, but I don’t see how Atlanta is the first. It’s the first SSS to be built for women, but the Washington Freedom are already the primary tenant for the Maryland SoccerPlex SSS in suburban DC.

  5. RK says:

    What, we didn’t have enough threads about MLS expansion today?

  6. RK says:

    SoccerPlex has been around for a while. The Beat stadium was built for them.

  7. WiscFan says:

    Is the SoccerPlex expandable? Could United find a home there?

  8. ericJ says:

    Yes Shirtees,

    Nothing else goes into that equation you just built.

  9. Josh D says:

    Fantastic news! Glad to see the women’s league doing well, wonder what their cost figures look like..

  10. drewcore says:

    why dont they just play at the stadium that was built for the silverbacks and isnt being used????

  11. WiscFan says:

    I thought the same thing when I first heard they were building it. But the Silverbacks organization still own it with their W-League, Jrs., and NASL’s 2011 entry as main tenants. I am a little surprised the folks behind the Beat didn’t work with the Silverbacks though.

  12. Cabrito says:

    You can’t mentioned expansion or SSSs, without someone bringing up the “need” for MLS to go to the Southeast. Just heading it off, that’s all.

  13. CSD says:

    “Saturday night’s stadium opener for the Atlanta Beat against Sky Blue FC will certainly rank as one of the most important moments in the history of women’s soccer in America.

    “Sunday’s home opener in Atlanta is one of the biggest moments in the development of our league”

    Dan it’s their big moment let’s not confuse anyone and have them show up the wrong night.

  14. Tom says:

    And you’re still wrong. The same way that American football supporters kept saying that soccer wouldn’t work in this country, certain soccer “fans” treat the southeast the same way – looking for ways to mock and disrespect the region.

    The failed experiences in Florida have NOTHING to do with the viability of soccer in the southeast. Florida south of I-4 is a different universe. Alabama, Tennessee, both Carolinas, and Georgia would feed an Atlanta franchise easily. It’s just easier for some individuals to try to protect their turf or advance their own interests by ignoring the facts.

  15. Dainja says:

    Yea I’m really surprised with that. And as ATLien who also plays at Silverback stadium…Kennesaw is far, shawty!!! At least Silverback stadium is right at the perimter. They should now change the name to the Kennesaw Beat. See how that goes over!

  16. RK says:

    I am going to support the Beat because I want to support soccer in Atlanta…and maybe, one day, it will help MLS to come here.

  17. Cabrito says:

    Really? Nothing to do with it? Face it, the Southeast doesn’t support professional sports as well as the rest of the country does. Marlins, Rays, Dolphins, Silverbacks, Panthers, Lighting, Thrashers, Fusion, Mutiny, and whatever Miami NASL they’re propping up this week. Look at the average attendance numbers for those teams, compared to league averages, and then we’ll talk.

  18. alex says:

    MLS is only men. WTF

  19. jim says:

    I live in Atlanta and I am quite annoyed and tired of telling people that the city and the area would support a team here! All these people on this board who have never been to Atlanta and don’t live here constantly taking out of their ….. about things they know nothing about. Atlanta nearly had a team a few years ago so I don’t know why people are acting like it is so out of the question.

    Whether you haters like it or not Atlanta will be the 20th MLS team. Aurthur Blank wants to make it happen and won’t let the opportunity pass him by again. so you haters just keep on hating, in a few years Atlanta will have the only team in the region and will have support from many states as a result with the largest fan base. this is the last time I will address you …….. who nothing about the region and sports here.

  20. Erik says:

    Being a Kennesaw state Alum, this is an awesome little stadium. The Atlanta Thrashers also practice at times across the street at the Ice rink.

    Congrats to Atlanta and thank you KSU for helping out!

  21. Cavan says:

    No on both counts. It’s very remote and there is no public transit out there (ok, a bus that only operates every half hour on weekday rush hour). The road infrastructure can’t handle 20,000 people to the SoccerPlex. It’s also way out in northwestern Montgomery County. It’s a 45 minute drive from where I live, in southeastern Montgomery County on a Metro station. I can’t think how many fans in the whole region, including in Maryland that United would lose out there.

  22. CSD says:

    Dan, the game is Sunday not Saturday. Fix it please.

    WRONG:

    “Saturday night’s stadium opener for the Atlanta Beat against Sky Blue FC”

  23. CSD says:

    I live in Atlanta (have for a long time). Atlanta is not a good market for MLS.

  24. r.benjamin says:

    How does the quality if play of the WPS rank compared to the English womans teams?
    For example the womansFAcup final that just occurred

  25. Andy says:

    Yeah, it’s a horribly out of the way location and barely has the parking to support its capacity of 5000. Living in Baltimore, it’s easier getting to RFK than the Soccerplex.

  26. Rob says:

    Hardly remote. It’s in a very quintessentially middle to upper-middle class suburb of DC, not the middle of nowhere. The drive times that people mention are not because it is out in the country, but because of notoriously congested Washington traffic.

    The WPS team appeals to the minivan-driving youth soccer crowd, and is well situated to do that. I can’t imagine they would fare as well in a more urban environment, whereas DC United appeals to a more urban, diverse, and public-transport-taking crowd, and would not fare nearly as well in the suburbs (FC Dallas, anyone?).

    DC United has played some US Open Cup games at the SoccerPlex, which have appealed to some of the curious suburbanites, but I don’t think the location would be a good fit for them even if it could be expanded.

  27. Rob says:

    My guess (and it’s only that) is that WPS is stronger. Top players from the England National Team, such as Kelly Smith, Alex Scott, and a striker for St. Louis with a completely unpronounceable – to me – name have made the move to WPS.

  28. Daisy says:

    “Seattle Sounders FC caught an unprecedented wave of fan support that has filled the lower bowl at Qwest Field and superceded the need for a soccer specific venue.” –> When Qwest was built, Paul Allen designed it for BOTH soccer and football. Not only is there no need for a soccer specific stadium in Seattle, there is no place to put one. And they do a decent job of having the majority of the season with no football lines on the field.