Ryan Keesee, an Atlanta United season ticket holder since the team’s first season, says he’s still getting used to being pictured on a billboard.
“It’s kind of surreal and it’s really cool,” Keessee said.
Keessee is part of a campaign by Atlanta’s Major League Soccer team to mark Atlanta Pride month.
The billboard features a rainbow flag in the background and the words “United and Proud” as the tagline. Keesee says professional sports teams can play a huge role in supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
“There are folks out there who don’t feel safe being in an athletic atmosphere because of their identity,” said Keessee. “Having individuals that are seen like this in the community, it says that ‘you’re safe here, you’re welcome and you have a place here.’”
Keessee grew up in Atlanta playing soccer but then moved away for college and his first job. When he heard Atlanta was getting an MLS team, he decided to return to the city.
“Partially for family, partially for soccer,” he said with a laugh.
It was actually in 2016 – before the club played its first match – when the franchise began its support of Atlanta’s Pride Parade.
“This year, unfortunately, for the second year in a row it was canceled,” said Mike Summers, who heads marketing and digital for Atlanta United. “And therefore instead of figuring out where to put those dollars elsewhere within the business [we] figured out how to re-allocate that support to focus on the community.”
The campaign includes four digital billboards in Atlanta, including one near The American Hotel on Ted Turner Drive.
Summers says Atlanta United’s marketing efforts are always two-fold: promoting the team and its players and focusing on Atlanta’s culture.
“It’s very difficult to talk about the culture of Atlanta without acknowledging about the LGBTQ+ community and highlighting that community,” said Summers.