July 22, 2022 

As attendance doubles, it’s clear the vibes are shifting in Atlanta

'I hope the future of the Dream looks lit'

ATLANTA — There’s something happening in Atlanta. It’s quantifiable, yes, but also: it’s the vibes.

Continue reading with a subscription to The Next

Get unlimited access to women’s basketball coverage and help support our hardworking staff of writers, editors, and photographers by subscribing today.

Join today

In a calendar year, the Atlanta Dream have more than doubled their 2021 average attendance records, and two-thirds of the way into the season sold out five of their 11 home games reported (one game no data available). And beyond just the sellouts, the vibes in Gateway Center Arena are immaculate.

“It’s a party. For people who have been there, there’s going to be a singalong, there’s definitely going to be dancing, you’re going to swag surf, and hopefully you cheer,” Dream part owner Renee Montgomery told The Next.

Every game in Gateway has a level of palpable energy from top to bottom. It’s loud, the fans are excited, there’s fun singing, dancing, and the vibes are simply top-notch.

The Next, a 24/7/365 women’s basketball newsroom

The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff and dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.

“The energy, man, it’s great. It’s always great being home. It’s like day and night, like last season we had fans, but it’s nothing compared to the fans this season. They’ve been immaculate,” forward Cheyenne Parker told media.

But as Parker said, this energy is new. Anyone following women’s basketball these past few years, they’d know times have been tumultuous.

To briefly summarize, the Dream used to play downtown at State Farm Arena, a colossal arena shared with the Hawks and dozens of other folks coming to town. In 2019 the Dream announced their move to Gateway to establish a stadium of their own. Many fans cited this move as a positive, loving the consistency home Gateway allows.

But the stadium is just the tip of the iceberg for change in the A. Through early 2021, their owner was Republican senator Kelly Loeffler who spent much of her short term in the Senate backing President Trump, denouncing Black Lives Matter, and disrespecting her own players. In response, Dream players, along with the league, dawned “VOTE WARNOCK” shirts during 2020 Wubble games in support of Loeffler’s opponent. In early 2021, news broke that Loeffler had sold the team to a new ownership group led by former Dream player Renee Montgomery.

With a fresh ownership group, the Dream would go through a similarly rocky 2021 season. Highlights include three different coaches, no GM, the future of their franchise being indefinitely suspended, and losing their star player to a public fighting scandal.

So with a pandemic, ownership change, racists at the helm, insane turnover, and more, things have not been so easy for the Dream.

Yet in 2022 they’re riding six home wins already into playoff contention. What’s changed?

“It’s the vibes… It’s been consistent fans showing up, and fans being here, and fans enjoying themselves,” guard Tiffany Hayes told The Next.

“Good vibes,” fan Asia Flynn concurred.

First is the most straightforward explanations. For much of last season, COVID-19 restrictions artificially decreased ticket sales, and so part of this year’s increase was expected with rules dropped. But it’s more than just that.

Many fans told me there is something special about the team, and they simply love watching them. And this is true; Atlanta is statistically blowing their last three years out of the water.

“The energy is different,” fan Andrea Wright told The Next. “There’s more support from the community.”

In the 2021-2022 off-season, ownership hired a new coach, All-Star GM, and a seasoned sports president. The Dream set themselves up for success. And to top it off, just hours before the 2022 draft, Atlanta made a last-minute trade with the Mystics to snatch the number one draft pick, bringing generational talent Rhyne Howard to the Southside.

“We came in with an idea of how we wanted things to be. Every coach is different, every organization is different,” rookie Head Coach Tanisha Wright told The Next. “For us, the way it looks now is what we envisioned: not really focused on the past but really focused on the future and how we can continue to build and make Atlanta a destination people want to be.”

Wright and GM Dan Padover have constructed an exceptional roster. It’s a beautiful mix of seasoned vets, fresh rookies, and mid-career winners. There’s a lot of love in Atlanta, and it translates to winning or at least good basketball. This success surprised many but illustrates a dramatic culture makeover from top to bottom.

“The home court advantage this year has been amazing. These fans rally behind us, so when we’re down… hearing them cheering for us helps a lot and makes us lock in even harder,” guard Aari Mcdonald said.

But in conjunction to logistical increases and a team that’s more fun to watch, the most unique and impactful change to the Gateway experience is the Dream have captured the spirit of Atlanta.

Whether it’s the different Atlanta celebrity sitting courtside each game (Recent sightings include Dikembe Mutombo, Clint Capela, 2 Chainz, Tamera Young, Kenan Thompson) or the Atlanta rapper ad-lib for every single court scenario (Lil Jon somehow headlines this), or the fourth-quarter swag surf, the spirit of Atlanta is in the building.

“[We’re] showing them what Atlanta really means, and what the culture really represents,” In-Arena Host Bria Janelle told The Next. “As a kid from here, I feel Atlanta here, even though we’re 20 minutes outside the city.”

Atlanta is a cultural Mecca in itself, and the Dream has made a conscious effort to make their arena reflect that, making it its own Atlanta Mecca.

“They’re making upgrades to get the crowd more involved,” season ticket holder Kamarco Warren said.

Montgomery said that it’s a conjunction of many things: strategy to increase ticket sales, word of mouth city interest, and a group of staff extremely passionate about making it the best experience ever.

Janelle echoed some of my theories and also emphasized that people are starting to get what’s happening on the Southside.

“People are understanding what the Atlanta Dream culture is all about. Going through a rebuild, it starts from the top down,” Janelle said.

And others don’t have a theory.

“I don’t know,” forward Monique Billings replied to a question about why the change is happening.

And although Billings and others may not have a theory on why the franchise is immensely grateful for the energy fans bring.

“Our city comes out and supports us. It’s a really good feeling, it’s a really gratifying feeling,” Billings said. “I feel like they’re behind us 100%.”

It makes Wright’s job easier, too — a home crowd juicing the energy of her overachieving roster.

“The fans have done a good job of really showing up for us, especially with all the newness and everything from the past,” Wright said. “The fans have done a really good job of coming in, feeling the building, and giving the girls people to play for and go out there and play well. Really excited about our fan base and them showing up for our girls.”

And it’s all cyclical; as fans show out, players feel a responsibility to show out for them.

“We really wanted to get this win, not only for our team morale, but also just to win in front of our fans. We take that personal,” forward Naz Hillmon told The Next after a June win over Dallas. “We want them to continue to keep coming, so you know, winning games in front of them is super important.”

On and off the court, a brighter future is constantly being spoken about and feels near on the horizon. A culture of responsibility, toughness, and good vibes have taken over this Dream team, and the organization wants Atlanta to feel like a league destination for both players and fans.

“[I want to] get the type of culture that you see with the Golden State Warriors where there’s a waiting list to get in the building,” Montgomery said. “I hope the future of the Dream looks lit, looks sexy.”

Written by Gabriella Lewis

Gabriella is The Next's Atlanta Dream and SEC beat reporter. She is a Bay Area native currently studying at Emory University.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.