This journey started in 2011 with an empty table at a sparsely-attended MLS exhibition game and culminated in 2018 with a sold-out raucous crowd of over 70,000 watching their hometown team win the MLS championship. It had a lot of ups and downs, countless frustrations, and literally changed my life in so many ways.
- Focus on your supporters first, and forget the rest (including naysayers)
- Empower your evangelists
- People love to feel like they are a part of something
In March 2011, a preseason exhibition tournament featuring MLS teams was held in Kennesaw, Georgia and both the organizers of the event and MLS officials were quoted as saying they were using the event as a barometer of support for an MLS team.
I looked for a group that was organizing support, similar to Sons of Ben in Philadelphia, but there was none.
So I created it. I showed up with a name, a table, a clipboard, and some pens and started asking everyone who attended to sign the ATL wants MLS petition. Out of a few hundred attendees, I received 122 signatures.
I organized volunteers and together we created a website, social media campaigns, and went to every beer festival and soccer event in the Atlanta area. We even flew a plane with a banner above the MLS Cup that said “Dear Don: We want #20! www.atlwantsmls.com” (the #20 was in reference to being the 20th team in MLS).
Fast forward to 2014, and we had over 10,000 combined email addresses and social media followers. It was then that I met with representatives for Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, the potential team owner. Once we learned that a team was likely announced in the near future, we created the first supporters group, Terminus Legion.
Terminus Legion launched on Terminalia (a Roman holiday on 2/24) with 2 types of membership: Founding Members ($30) and Primus Centuria, which meant First 100 in Latin and cost $100 and was limited to the first 100 members. We were concerned if Primus Centuria would be successful. It sold out online in 2 hours.
On April 14, 2014, the team was announced and we were given special access to invite 70 of our most passionate supporters to the announcement. We had a table outside for new memberships. The line stretched around the block.
For the next 3 years, Terminus Legion and hundreds of our passionate supporters were at every event, from the name announcement to the jersey reveal to the first exhibition games. At the sold out inaugural match at Bobby Dodd Stadium, I had the ultimate honor of carrying the very first Golden Spike, which is a tradition that lasts today.
Although I have stepped down from my leadership responsibilities the last couple of years, the organization still thrives today with hundreds of passionate supporters bringing a gameday atmosphere that is unmatched.
Focus on Your Supporters First
One of the biggest lessons I learned in this process was to focus on the biggest supporters and fans first. We created an avenue where our most passionate supporters could connect, meet, and engage with each other. If you came to one of our events, you KNOW you would be surrounded by other fans and supporters.
Empower Your Evangelists
This is an addition to the first lesson and focusing on our biggest supporters. Our group was like a virus and we spread more from our existing supporters sharing our group than any direct marketing or engagement. This is a formula that is hard to master, but if you get to the point where people are getting their friends and family to join, it leads to a quickly spreading, growing group. I try to replicate this in marketing and anything else I do.
People Love to be a Part of Something
This is a psychological driver that I’ve learned powers a lot of what we do as individuals. You see this in cults, groups, teams, and memberships. People want to feel like they are a part of something bigger. Our membership was comprised of a diverse group of individuals of different ages, races, backgrounds, and beliefs, but together, we united with our love of soccer. People would go around telling others “I’m a part of Terminus Legion” and it meant something.