As a sports news junkie, I couldn’t help but be amused by The Boston Globe column last week that mocked Atlanta sports and accused our fans of being apathetic and unsupportive. It runs parallel to the perception vs. reality debate that we frequently discuss with clients and as any Atlanta sports fan will tell you “that take” couldn’t be further from reality.
For those that missed it, the Globe published an article about Super Bowl LI with the understated headline, “It’s hard to get pumped up about a Super Bowl against… Atlanta.” Instead of focusing on the “X’s and O’s” of Super Bowl LI, the columnist laments the fact that “the final chapter of the most passionate and hate-fueled mission in the history of Boston Sports” – referring to the Deflategate saga – will conclude against the Falcons and their carefree fan base, rather than a more “interesting” team with loyal followers. I doubt Atlanta sports fans felt deflated by those comments…
The only whiff of truth in the column is that at one time Atlanta sports fans were perceived as band-wagon fans, a dated perception that no longer fits the bill. In reality, the attendance for Falcons games, dating back to 2010, home or away, exceeded the attendance for Patriots games. To use the Falcons as a bridge to make a larger point about the Atlanta sports scene or lack thereof as the editorial claims, is to be expected by a rival columnist, but in reality it’s simply not true. Several prominent Atlantans, including the Mayor and Director of the Atlanta Sports Council, felt compelled to quickly clarify the record about the city’s fans and its vibrant sports scene.
An additional falsehood peddled by the columnist is the idea that there will be a lack of interest in Super Bowl LI because the Patriots aren’t playing a storied franchise. Despite the Falcons’ lack of a championship pedigree, the NFL will have no trouble selling a story line that features the likely MVP, Matt Ryan, and the historically great offense of the Falcons, pitted against one of the best quarterbacks of all time, Tom Brady, and the NFL’s number one scoring defense of the Patriots. If the NFL could engineer Super Bowl matchups at the beginning of every season, they would pick that type of matchup every time, even if the two teams were the tortured Cleveland Browns and the hapless Detroit Lions.
And for anyone that still judges a city’s credibility as a sports town based on professional sports championships, Super Bowl LI is a unique opportunity for the Falcons to officially shed that perception. A Super Bowl title on Sunday, ahead of the much-anticipated openings of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and SunTrust Park this year, would announce to the world what everyone in Atlanta already knows – Atlanta is a world class sports city. Irrespective of the final score, no other fan base will question the enthusiasm of Atlanta sports fans.
Whether in sports or business, you can solve any perception problem if you live by the motto of former Oakland Raider’s owner Al Davis, “Just win, baby.” Rise up, Falcons!