It’s time pro women’s soccer teams felt the love

Atlanta hasn’t had a pro women’s team since the Atlanta Beat folded in 2012
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Kelly O'Hara
Atlanta native Kelley O’Hara (#5) celebrates with her USA teammates after scoring a goal against Germany in the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 Semi-Final.

Photograph by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

When a reporter in 2003 told Atlanta Beat coach Tom Stone that young girls in the metro area were crying because the team was shutting down, his was a caustic response. “If more of those girls’ parents had brought them to our games,” he said, “they wouldn’t be crying today.”

Attendance is, indeed, a big part of Atlanta’s problem with women’s professional soccer. The Beat, which came to town in 2001 as part of the Women’s United Soccer Association, saw attendance drop by about 40 percent from its first year to its second. In its third year, the league dissolved and took the Beat down with it. The second coming of the Beat, this time with the Women’s Professional Soccer league, drew even fewer fans before dying along with its league in 2012.

“I think it’s important for teams to continue to develop strong fan bases,” says Kelley O’Hara, a 28-year-old Atlanta native, 2012 Olympic gold medalist, and member of the United States National Soccer Team. She played with the second Beat for just a few months before it shuttered. “If you have people invested emotionally in the success of their team, that usually translates to strong attendance.”

Trey Brantley agrees and believes he can help change the sport’s fortunes in Atlanta. The former tech executive was part of a group that proposed plans for a National Women’s Soccer League team in 2014 called the Vibe, which would have played at Grady High School Stadium in Midtown starting in 2016. Last year the group shifted their efforts and dollars to a proposed multiacre, multimillion dollar soccer and sports facility that they want to build somewhere east of the city. The facility would, ideally, be home to a new professional women’s soccer team, as well as a professional men’s team that they say wouldn’t draw fans away from the Atlanta United FC. At press time, Brantley and his associates were negotiating with local development authorities.

“I’m not worried about how a new team would be received,” he says. “Right now we’re feeling pretty good.”

Says O’Hara: “I would love to see Atlanta have a team. It has always been a dream of mine to be able to represent Atlanta [again] at the professional level. I am hopeful that before I retire that might become a reality.”

This article originally appeared in our March 2017 issue.

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