It was finally draft day. In New York at the Nike NYHQ and around the globe, the top athletes are all waiting to hear their names called. Back here in Atlanta, you have Chris Sienko, Nicki Collen and company viewing which pieces will help take the Dream to the next level and compete for the WNBA Championship. Staff, press, and everyone else involved is waiting for the draft to start.
The Draft begins, and with the first pick: Jackie Young to Las Vegas. The room lets out a huge “WOW!” Fast forward to pick 11, and it’s Brianna Turner to the Atlanta Dream. In draft day trade news, it was reported that the Turner would be dealt to the Mercury in exchange for second-year player, Marie Gülich. The Dream would then select Maite Cazorla and Li Yueru in the second and third rounds respectively.
I think at this point, it’s time to utter the famous words of Jermaine Dupri and Ludacris, “Welcome to Atlanta.”
Yes. Welcome to Atlanta. A place where the summer months breathe new energy into the city. There’s a festival every weekend, and there’s a concert within the walls of every venue. There’s the ubiquitous brunch culture with bottomless mimosas followed by the endless selection of rooftop day parties. Then – you have Atlanta’s sports teams.
It’s no secret that sports in Atlanta haven’t been kind to its fans in recent years. Before Atlanta United’s MLS Cup win in 2018, the city had been without a major title since the Braves’ World Series win in 1995. The city did not lack chances for a title, though.
With so many “almost” moments, a lot of those memories are still etched firmly within the hearts of fans. The Falcons made the Super Bowl in the 1998 season before falling to the Broncos. Then you have their infamous crumble to the New England Patriots after leading 28-3 in Super Bowl LI – which still seems to be a meme favorite. You have the Hawks being swept in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015 as a No. 1 seed after winning a franchise record 60 games.
You also have the Dream making three trips to the WNBA Finals in four seasons and being swept in each visit. All of the losses by each of those teams have come in gut-wrenching fashion. With each passing season, it’s a quest to redeem.
Since its last Finals appearance in 2013, the Dream have won just four postseason games in five seasons and have failed to qualify twice. After a temporary displacement to McCamish Pavilion, the Dream return to a newly-renovated State Farm Arena (formerly Philips). It’s a totally new arena with a visibly new attitude to the tune of $200mil in improvements and it certainly looks to usher in a new era. State Farm Arena boasts free wi-fi, new gameday fan experiences, friendly concession stand pricing structures and a plethora of local favorite restaurants. You can even go for a couple of rounds at the TopGolf Swing Suite.
So what does this mean for the Dream? More activities and amenities can translate to higher ticket sales. Higher ticket sales mean more fans in the seats. More fans in the seats will mean an even heightened sense of home court advantage and exciting atmosphere for all involved. When it comes to league attendance, the Dream have been in the bottom two for the past three seasons – two of which were at McCamish with most recently averaging a mere 4,194 per game.
Exposure for the league and its players has long been a concern, and rightfully so. Dream veteran point guard, Renee Montgomery, aims to change that. Entering her 11th season, she acknowledges that the level of play is currently at its best. The task now is to promote the league and create awareness. Montgomery is doing her part both on and off the court. In a recent interview, she informed me of some initiatives that are in place in order to not only promote and increase attendance for the Dream, but the league as a whole.
“With the Renee Montgomery Foundation, we will cater to the new fan experience,” said Montgomery. She added, “We’ll take groups of new people in the community that have never been to a game and introduce them to the league and its awesome players.”
Not only will she help locally, but she’s going the extra step and showing her hometown some love. Montgomery said, “We will also charter a bus multiple times from West Virginia for about 55 people and give them the chance to attend a game. The product is good. Let’s get them here.”
It’s understood that the energy level will be quite different in SFA than that of McCamish which makes an even more compelling case and reason to attend games. When asked about what she’d expect in the new arena, Montgomery pointed out the fan energy and support during the Dream’s semifinal playoff series vs. The Mystics.
“During those playoff games the fans were unbelievable. They were really going at the refs and we fed off of that,” said Montgomery. “It’s nice to have fans to fight for us while we’re in battle. That’s what we’d like to see. Day ones and bandwagoners are more than welcome to attend. I don’t care why you support. JUST SUPPORT!”
At the conclusion of the draft, Coach Collen was also excited about the return to State Farm. “They’re going to be overwhelmed at just how nice it is and the experience.” She addressed the differences in travel style between the NCAA and WNBA but then was firm in her stance with, “There isn’t a team in the country that plays in college in a facility as nice as State Farm Arena. I think it makes them feel like they’ve made it and offers a true pro experience.”
The pro and fan experience can work together. State Farm being more accessible compared to McCamish eliminates a big hurdle as well. Collen stated, “It’s fan friendly, and I think we’re excited about what that means for our fans being able to take MARTA (the city’s public transit system) right in. At this point, there’s no more excuses. No more it’s raining. No more parking problems. They can find their way to State Farm pretty easily.”
For a growing city that’s constantly looking for entertainment and success stories, the Dream are actively working to bridge the gap between the team and community – the latter whose involvement will play a big role in any of the team’s success. Merchandise sales are up. Coming fresh off of the NCAA Women’s Final Four which featured seven first round draft picks, viewership and ratings for women’s basketball as a whole are up. The fans are there. The venue is there.
Rebounding from a 12-22 season in 2017, the Dream bounced back to 23-11 in 2018 with Coach Collen being named Coach of the Year in her first season at the helm. The best remedy for easing the memories of previous shortcomings: To compete and produce.
The Dream will tip off its 2019 season against the Dallas Wings on May 24th at its new home, State Farm Arena. I hope to see you in there. If you build it, they will come. Once again, WELCOME TO ATLANTA!