Atlanta United are set to unveil their third-ever primary kit ahead of the 2021 season. Based on leaked images, the new design is a questionable decision. Soccer is the only truly global sport on earth. It exists on almost every continent and in nearly every country across the world. Because of its reach, it is also one of the most lucrative businesses in the world. Soccer is everywhere; so is money.
The biggest clubs in the world (think Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool) recognize this, and as a result, branding is often one of the most important aspects of a club and its desire to grow its organization and brand. One of the easiest ways to do this is through kit sales.
That is the real reason these big clubs, along with most of Europe, unveil three new kits every season. Kit sales are a revenue stream on their own, and even with less significance compared to say, TV rights, they are important nonetheless. When it comes to keeping up a unique identity while simultaneously growing said identity, new kits are the best way to do this.
When clubs unveil their new shirts each season, only one remains largely unchanged. That’s the primary kit, which is the design most associated with its club. When you think of Manchester City, you think of baby blue. Real Madrid are always white, and arch-rivals Barcelona are commonly referred to as the Blaugrana (red and blue in the Catalan language).
The new Atlanta United kit doesn’t make any sense whatsoever
Secondary kits and especially third kits allow clubs to expand from their usual identity. Tottenham Hotspur, who are typically associated with a white top and navy shorts, went with a predominantly army green away kit this season. Green is not a color associated with Tottenham, but the shirt is dark (compared to their primary white) and its pink accents are just interesting enough to persuade fans to buy it.
In MLS, clubs are only allowed two kits each season, so their creativity is somewhat restricted. These kits are on a two-year rotation, unlike the European clubs that cycle through new shirts every single season. MLS is also partnered with Adidas as the league’s only kit manufacturer, thus stifling creativity even further.
Atlanta United are set to get a new primary kit ahead of the 2021 season. In fact, according to emails sent to their season ticket holders, the unveiling of the kit will come on February 26th. That didn’t stop notorious jersey leakers Footy Headlines from leaking the new primary kit back on January 12, though.
Initial reactions ranged from disappointment to intrigue, although a quick perusing of Twitter revealed most fans leaned toward the former. Some fans chose to be sensible and patient about the leak and wait to see the shirt on an actual person, or in person instead of a quickly thrown-together mock-up on the internet.
More leaks started popping up; first, there were pictures of replica shirts hanging on racks in a Mexico City retail store, then came pictures of an actual model wearing that same replica shirt. So far only pictures of the replica shirt have appeared, meaning the authentic version could have a few differences. For the most part, however, this is Atlanta United’s new primary kit.
There are plenty of opinions to be had about Atlanta’s new primary kit. But from an objective point of view, these new kits make no sense.
First, let’s review Atlanta’s current kit identity. Since joining in 2017, Atlanta’s two primary kits have featured red and black stripes with gold trim. This is unsurprising when considering the club’s crest contains red and black stripes in the background and gold trim and lettering all over.
The club’s first every primary kit was very popular. In fact, the inaugural shirt helped fans create their team-specific nickname, “the Five Stripes.” When the club unveiled their second primary kit, many fans were disappointed since the new shirt sported more than five stripes. Most people still refer to the team as the Five Stripes however, with plenty of fans quick to point out that the five stripes still exist in the background of the crest.
Despite the initial disappointment, fans moved on rather quickly. The second-ever primary kit was released just as the team began prepping for its first appearance in the Concacaf Champions League, all the while doing so under newly appointed manager Frank de Boer. With so much happening at the time, fans seemingly moved on quickly and complaints about the new shirt gradually waned.
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In the grand scheme of MLS, Atlanta United’s kits are surprisingly unique. As mentioned earlier, red and black are the predominant colors. Despite other MLS clubs sporting some form of red and/or black in their crest and kits, no other team actually has a red and black identity.
DC United are closest, but since the team’s crest and kits are mostly black, and because one of the team’s nicknames is actually “the Black and Red,” it’s safe to say no other team in MLS has the red and black identity as their own.
Even the striped look of Atlanta’s primary kits is relatively unique. Of all the primary kits released in the last two seasons, only four other teams unveiled striped kits. Austin FC, the league’s only expansion team in 2021, unveiled a striped kit that looks extremely similar to Atlanta’s first-ever primary kit.
CF Montreal typically sports a striped primary kit, although their most recent shirt from 2019 showed the club moving away from the stripes and the newest kit leak for 2021 shows the club abandoning the stripes altogether. FC Cincinnati’s first-ever primary kit was also striped, but their second version of the kit moved to a half-and-half look instead of stripes. LAFC are the only other team with stripes on their primary kit, although the striping design is practically nonexistent.
All of this is to say that Atlanta United actually had a unique kit identity in MLS. Their red and black color scheme was unique, and the utilization of those colors in a striped pattern was also unique.
For a club so determined to make itself known on the world stage, this new kit design is perplexing. As mentioned at the beginning, branding is important to soccer clubs. Despite being in North America and in a country where soccer is only the fourth or fifth most popular sport, Atlanta United still have large aspirations. That includes the club’s identity, which can be argued is most rooted in the team’s primary kit.
Moving to a primary black shirt is confusing. Is Atlanta trying to inject more black into their branding? If so, why? LAFC and DC United already utilize black as the main element in their primary shirts. Numerous other teams, including the Columbus Crew, Houston Dynamo, Inter Miami, and Seattle Sounders use black for their secondary kits. Designing a black shirt instead of a red and black striped shirt means Atlanta is choosing to be ordinary.
Another important aspect of the kit design process is just how long it takes. MLS clubs are on an 18-month design cycle with their kits, meaning Atlanta began designing this shirt back in August 2019. Once again this is curious, especially when taking into account the disappointment from fans when the new primary shirt was revealed earlier in the year. Fans called for a return of the five stripes on the kit; it seems the club listened but responded with five strings instead.
Finally, Atlanta’s decision to go with a boring, plain primary kit instead of their red and black striped look is ironic. Of the 29 MLS teams in 2021, only Atlanta United are eligible for a third kit because of their jersey sales over the last few years.
This means the club has the luxury of selling a third shirt only because of how popular their other kits have been up to this point. And remember, the third kit is usually designed to be radically different from the primary, which won’t actually be difficult to pull off because of Atlanta’s new mundane look.