On one of the good days inside State Farm Arena this season, Atlanta Dream guard Tiffany Hayes celebrates during a victory over Indiana. (HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Dream owners look to future that doesn’t include State Farm Arena

One of the first chores facing the Atlanta Dream following Sunday’s conclusion of a disappointing 2019 will be to find a new place to show off a hopefully improved product in 2020.

In an interview Monday with the WNBA team’s co-owners Mary Brock and Kelly Loeffler, it was confirmed that the Dream will no longer be sharing the Atlanta Hawks home court, State Farm Arena.

While the owners said they had hoped to remain at State Farm, there has been no deal worked out with the Hawks, who operate the big downtown arena. The Dream has spent all but two of its 12 seasons there, housed at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion in 2017 and ’18 while the Hawks home was being renovated.

“Playing at State Farm was a tremendous opportunity for our fans to experience really a world-class arena,” Loeffler said. “We’re really grateful to have been able to offer that experience to our fans. But we unfortunately won’t be able to return. We understand that’s a business decision. The good news is there is a lot of venues interested in hosting the Dream – that’s our focus right now.”

“There are a lot of options, a lot of people out there who would like to have the Dream. We’re in the middle of the decision-making process right now,” Brock said, adding that the decision remains weeks away.

Just one year after finishing a game away from the WNBA Finals, a season in which rookie coach Nicki Collen was named coach of the year, the Dream finished with a league-worst 8-26 record and missed the playoffs for just the fourth time in team history.

“You can look at a lot of different reasons,” Brock said, pointing to the season-long absence of star Angel McCoughtry, a lingering ankle injury to the next highest-profile player, Tiffany Hayes, and a significant drop-off in scoring. “Sure, we were disappointed. Nicki was disappointed. I’m sure our fans were disappointed.”

“Next year it will be 10 years for Kelly and me as owners and we certainly know that it is cyclical,” Brock added. “You can have expectations and it can turn out to be very different. We remain very positive about where we can go from here.

“We are committed. We do have confidence in our coach. And we have confidence in our management. We appreciate our fans, we appreciate our sponsors. We need fans and sponsors to be sustainable and we need to create a good experience for them. That’s our job and our management’s job.”

In looking to 2020, the owners touched on a variety of topics including:

The owners’ continued sense of mission and commitment to making the Dream relevant in a very competitive sports market.

Loeffler: “I think our commitment to this team has been unprecedented for women’s sports, not just in Atlanta but really in the southeast. In the dozen-state region that covers the southeast we’re the only female team owners of a professional sports team. 

“The focus that we have on diversity and inclusion and the importance of that within the Atlanta community makes the Atlanta Dream such a great community asset. Mary and I view our commitment to Atlanta in that regard and we hope that others will increasingly see how important it is that we’re only one of 12 cities in the United States that has a WNBA team.”

Rebuilding, in light of the franchise’s position in the WNBA draft lottery and the assurance of getting one of the top four picks in the March draft. Not a familiar position for this team. 

Loeffler: “We’ll have a strong draft pick going into March, in addition to player personnel moves that we can make. We’ll be looking very quantitatively and strategically at the roster and what we can do.

“We have an incredibly strong roster. This team is athletic, experienced, there’s a great mix of youth and experience. It’s a matter of people hitting their marks when it matters.”

The top need for the team, made obvious by the fact it finished last in the WNBA in shooting percentage and scoring.

Loeffler: “No. 1 priority – shooting. But a close second would be defense. Our defense was really not at the level we played in 2018 and the level I think this team is capable of.”

The future of McCoughtry, a free agent after this year, who’s had a sometimes tempestuous and oft-interrupted career in Atlanta.

Brock: “We certainly need Angel, or someone like Angel. Most teams have an Angel who you know can score 16 to 30 points on any night.

“The question is her health. She will play, I’m sure, overseas and she’s a free agent at the end of the season. Nothing would make us happier than for everything to work out for Angel and that she’s healthy again and she can be a part of the Atlanta Dream. Certainly, every team needs someone like an Angel.”

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