Bruce Seaman, associate professor of economics at Georgia State and whose consulting clients include the Braves, the Falcons and the Atlanta Sports Council, foresees that emerging trends in population, technology and other factors will force significant change in Atlanta’s professional sports by 2038.
Predicting changes over 25 years is a fool’s game, but despite an economist’s inherent wariness, some predictions seem defensible.
Metro Atlanta’s population growth will make the biggest problem facing pro sports here become less severe. As our population growth has steadied at 6 million plus, we are seeing many more homegrown fans stay here, and they will become some of the first generations with true loyalties to Atlanta teams. College teams here already have fans that live and die by them. This type of loyalty can develop only when you’re a kid.
The continual internationalization of Atlanta — assisted by the new Falcons stadium — will draw a major league soccer franchise, and this will surprise people. This team will be a regional draw, like the Atlanta Braves. By hosting preliminary round games in the FIFA World Cup, Atlanta will become an even bigger draw on the international stage. We are already seeing other pro sports branch out with international dimensions, and that will increase. This trend will leverage Atlanta’s ongoing effort to become a truly respected host city for mega-events.
Another important trend for pro sports is competing with the incredible quality of the home experience of watching sports, which has caused a fragmentation of the fan experience. The ongoing challenge for teams is making the fan experience more dramatic, so expect to see stadium upgrades and interior renovations become even more common.
Another factor in attracting fans is the conference realignments that are changing some rivalries. There is real change afoot there, and some people think that this kind of change is real heresy. Where that will go in 25 years is a very risky prediction.
Pro sports will continue to change how they are played, just as we’ve seen the past 25 years. In pro football, dealing with concussions will continue to influence changes in the rules. You’ll also see an ongoing tinkering of rules to make sports more fan-friendly. Pro basketball better do something to make their regular season more interesting. It’s a snore.
The Beltline is a huge issue for Atlanta’s ongoing development of participant sports at the nonprofit level. The city is going to thrive by doing this, after many years doing a miserable job — Atlanta has not been pedestrian or bike-friendly. Biking, walking, running, and increasing our parks and recreation makes the city more accessible and attractive and makes the metro area less fragmented.
As told to Michelle Hiskey, for the AJC