A delegation of 12 sports technology companies from the United Kingdom was assured this week that Atlanta was an unrivaled sports hub where they could make not only a buck, but also an impact.
Known as the cradle of the civil rights movement, the city now blends its expertise in hosting high-level competitions with grassroots efforts to use sport as a driver both for equity and international engagement, city leaders said.
“We see sports as a platform to amplify our vision of an inclusive, equitable and diverse city,” Atlanta’s new Mayor Andre Dickens said in kicking off a breakfast panel discussion at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home to both brands of professional “football”: the Atlanta Falcons and the Atlanta United Major League Soccer franchise.
Mr. Dickens added that the city also aims to use sports to build bridges around the world, especially as it bids to host matches in the 2026 World Cup, a campaign in which competition heating up since the joint bid of the U.S., Canada and Mexico was selected. Some 60 matches are to be hosted in the United States, including the final, and Atlanta is awaiting a decision as to whether and which matches will be awarded to the city.
“We see this sports diplomacy as a tool that will help us strengthen relationships with other students outside of the United States and to expose our youth to global experiences through sports,” Mr. Dickens said.
He spoke just before Mike Freer, the U.K.’s visiting minister of exports and equality, who noted that both of his areas of responsibility — trade and equity — were underpinned by sport.
“Sports connects communities, it connects people and it can act as a champion of diversity, equity and inclusion,” Mr. Freer said, noting that the most famous export from the U.K. — Premier League Football — has generated $2.7 billion in export value in the last six years while also spearheading campaigns against racism and for social integration.
He said the 12 British companies were innovators in their respective fields, like marketing, sports betting, gamification and more, and that they were keen to forge partnerships with counterparts in Atlanta and beyond.
A former financial services salesman, Mr. Freer exhorted the companies to take advantage of the openness and dynamism of the U.S. market.
“If you can’t sell it in the United States, then you’re in the wrong job,” he said.
After his speech, a discussion moderated by Grant Wainscott, vice president of ecosystem expansion at the Metro Atlanta Chamber, featured Atlanta Sports Council President Dan Corso, who recounted Atlanta’s successes in attracting major events like the Super Bowl (three times), the NCAA Final Four, and, of course, the 1996 Olympic Games. That event spawned a slew of sports consultants who helped London carry off its own Olympic moment in 2012 with an eye toward sustainability in the reuse of venues and infrastructure.
Mr. Corso also pointed to the city’s burgeoning position in the world of E-sports — competitive video gaming that has led to franchises like the Atlanta Reign Overwatch team, major conferences like Dreamhack and big paydays like the million-dollar checks taken home by winners of Smite tournaments.
The fact that the sports council is under the chamber umbrella, rather than a tourism organization, keeps the city focused on both traditional and new opportunities, Mr. Corso said.
“Our mindset is more on long-term economic development, not short-term gain,” Mr. Corso said.
Allie Young of Atlanta-based Axis Replay — which she called the “Top Golf of E-sports” for the digital gaming experiences it launches and curates — credited the city for her company’s growth, which somehow rose even amid the pandemic. She was awakened to opportunities in Manchester, England, thanks to both the chamber’s U.K. focus and the country’s Department of International Trade office at the British Consulate General in Atlanta. She noted that she’ll open an office in the northwestern English city soon.
On the flip side, Sanjit Atwal of London-based Halfspace, a digital agency using deep data analysis to provide teams and venues with actionable insight to fuel creative marketing and branding content, said Atlanta is now on his list for potential across-the-pond office locations.
“We’ve tripled our growth in the last 12 months, so we’re absolutely flying. Now is the time for market expansion, so I’m looking for a U.S. HQ. I need to put it somewhere,” he said, noting that he had many questions for Mr. Corso on the upcoming events set to be hosted in Atlanta. So far, Mr. Atwal liked what he was hearing. “This is the kind of place we want to be.”
The delegation was to head to Los Angeles after their time in Atlanta.
Perhaps the most vocal cheerleading for the city’s sports bona fides came not from Atlanta leaders, but from Andrew Staunton, the British consul general in Atlanta, a confessed “sport-a-holic” who called the Atlanta Braves World Series victory one of the highlights of his diplomatic career. He praised both the chamber’s professionalism and the economic impact and fan enthusiasm that underpin Atlanta United, whose soccer matches fills 70,000 seats regularly. Mr. Staunton also joined Atlantans for a Falcons football game played in London last year.
After the breakfast, the visiting British companies stayed on for a tour of Mercedes-Benz stadium and a lunch meeting with Darren Eales, president of Atlanta United. The former Tottenham Hotspur executive is an example of the already-strong sports links between Atlanta and the United Kingdom.