Atlanta United has a plan for the big tournaments coming to the city

Sarah Kate Noftsinger once was part of the team that cultivated the Atlanta United fan base. Their grassroots work helped the franchise become the envy of MLS with records for attendance, kit sales, season-ticket sales and social-media metrics.

She left to join Adidas in 2020, but returned in October as vice president, chief business officer.

She and her family went to Atlanta United’s last home match last season. She got goosebumps walking around the stadium and hearing the different languages and feeling the energy of the victory.

That feeling she experienced in the first match at Bobby Dodd Stadium in 2017 and the last match of 2023 is what she wants soccer fans from around the world to feel about Atlanta United, Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Atlanta when they visit for the SheBelieves Cup, the Copa America, the World Cup in 2026, or when visiting the U.S. Soccer Federation’s new headquarters and training center in Fayette County. Her task is to figure out how to make that happen.

“For us, it’s about more than just match day,” she said. “So while those are important, you want to get them in the building, you also want to bring people into the community and the culture of Atlanta United because it’s a club for a reason. It’s more than just what happens on the field. And those soccer matches, those are just an opportunity for us to get people excited about the sport and unite people together on certain days and throughout the year.”

Atlanta United is in a unique position as one of the professional franchises in the city. There aren’t a lot of international-equivalent tournaments in basketball, baseball or football, much less the three scheduled to be held here in the same stadium in which Atlanta United has established one of the best home-field advantages in its league. The closest may be the Tour Championship at East Lake because it features an international field in a high-stakes setting with a global audience, depending upon the composition of the field. Of course, individuals, not teams, are the franchises on the PGA Tour.

“To have those tournaments come here is massive,” Noftsinger said. “And we we believe that hosting those major global moments, whether it’s one of our matches, or whether it’s SheBelieves or Copa America or the World Cup, when that’s coming here, it’s only going to benefit the club and the city, as well.”

Other than it being a multi-platform approach, Noftsinger didn’t want to share the club’s plans as to how it is going to share its brand with people who may not know the Five Stripes when they walk into the stadium to support the four women’s teams competing in the SheBelieves, or the four teams that will compete in the Copa America, or the 16 teams that will compete in the eight matches in the World Cup.

Noftsinger said that how a fan who may be coming here to to support the Japan’s women’s team, or Argentina men’s team, who may not have heard of Atlanta United, is welcomed to the airport and their experience in the stadium will be important. She said a first-class experience is the expectation, as the club will try to build a relationship with that potential new supporter.

There will be the obvious things such as Atlanta United signage at the stadium. The club also will be dipping into the grassroots playbook it used after the club was founded in 2014 to connect with the community at events around the city and surrounding neighborhoods.

Some of that approach will be tailored to how the club and the city have evolved, combined with lessons Noftsinger learned while with Adidas. She said part of the plan will be about the intersection of the sport and culture, which is something the club has leaned into since its founding. Its name was unveiled at a party at a venue owned by rapper Ludacris, an Atlanta native. Its Unity third kit three years ago was designed to reflect the city’s cosmopolitan mix of citizenry and its important history within the civil rights movement. Its third kit last year was designed to reflect the city’s rap history. Its secondary kit this year was designed in a partnership with the city and reflects its seal. The team has had dozens of famous actors, athletes and musicians from the city at games participating in its pregame ceremonies.

“I think we’ve only scratched the surface here in Atlanta,” Noftsinger said. “And Atlanta has got so much similarities to soccer as well, in the sense of it’s like an underestimated and undervalued place. People don’t realize how incredible the city of Atlanta is, the culture, the diversity, the influence that it has. Whether it’s in the business world, or the fashion world, or music world or art world, people realize the power that it has.

“And so it’s part of our mentality. It’s got that grit to it. And it’s, we know we can harness those two things together.”

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Atlanta United’s 2024 schedule

Feb. 24 at Columbus, 2 p.m.

March 9 vs. New England, 7:30 p.m.

March 17 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1

March 23 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

March 31 vs. Chicago, 3:30 p.m., Fox

April 6 at NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

April 14 vs. Philadelphia, 2:30 p.m., Fox

April 20 vs. Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

April 27 at Chicago, 8:30 p.m.

May 4 vs. Minnesota, 7:30 p.m.

May 11 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

May 15 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

May 18 at Nashville, 1:30 p.m.

May 25 vs. LAFC, 7:30 p.m.

May 29 at Miami, 7:30 p.m.

June 2 vs Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., Fox

June 15 vs. Houston, 7:30 p.m.

June 19 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 22 at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m.

June 29 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

July 3 at New England, 7:30 p.m.

July 6 at Real Salt Lake, 9:30 p.m.

July 13 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 17 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

July 20 vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Nashville, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18 vs. Miami, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Orlando, 6 p.m.