That the WNBA is not only around sixteen seasons after its inception but continues to thrive and serve as a showcase for some of the best basketball on the planet is a victory for American sport and its followers. That my hometown of Atlanta has a great team playing in this league is just icing on the cake. Formed prior to the 2008 season to share Philips Arena with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and already a two-time Eastern Conference champion, the Dream is just another reason to be proud to live in Georgia’s capital.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
For Dream games, the third-floor concourse is closed, as tickets aren't sold for the upper bowl (300 level). More on how that impacts other areas will come in later sections; when it comes to food and drink choices, this is of little to no detriment. By the top floor having only generic stands - the most pedestrian fare of pretzels, popcorn, hot dogs, sodas, and perhaps one or two varieties of domestic beer - one is not constricted much by a lack of access. You can find all of those items plus way more amongst the 100 portals.
Hawk Walk is where it's at: Between Court Side Grill, Frybaby, Three-Point Play Pizza, and a handful of others, you can get almost anything a typical sports fan's palate desires. Prices are high but not unreasonable ($10 for a burger and fries of better-than-average quality), until you reach the liquid libations, of which the cheapest (bottled Amstel Light at $7) still stings the pocketbook.
Finally, and as with each review I have done of my fair city's Philips, I will mention the adjoining CNN Center, where one can grab grub at the food court (options of Wendy's, Chick-fil-A, Moe's, Taco Bell, Arby's, etc.) for cheaper, then head in to the Arena without even setting foot outside.
With the crowd confined to just the lower bowl, a far more intimate and basketball-appropriate atmosphere is created. Even in the least expensive seats, you get the feeling that the players can hear your cheers and boos (and that, in my opinion, is the way it should be). As for the production values and general vibe, the word is "professional." Many are fond of bad-mouthing the WNBA, favoring the men's game at any level, but I have never been a part of that group; I love the sport of basketball more than any other, and to see athletes so talented and dedicated that they are paid to play the game is a treat, no matter their gender.
More on this in 'Fans' and 'Return on Investment,' but I should mention here, as well, how great it is that the focus is on the action of the game. That isn't to say that Philips quits entirely with the silly stuff on the jumbotron or fan contests, but the respect due the teams on the court is thankfully given in full.
As Atlanta's MLB, NBA, and NFL teams are all within a little more than a mile of each other, I've mentioned in those reviews a number of my restaurant picks for the area, so this time, I'll reach a little further out of town for some variety....
A bit to the East, in an area of town known as Grant Park, is Six Feet Under Pub & Fish House (437 Memorial Dr. SE), which has a spectacularly varied menu and some of the fairest-priced fresh seafood in the city. The crowds on Fridays and Saturdays can be pretty tremendous, but assuming you want to eat before the game and then head over, you should beat the biggest rush.
Then, a bit farther in that direction, now approaching the Edgewood area, is Fox Brothers BBQ (1238 DeKalb Ave. NE). Take it from a fan of the genre that this is some of the best in Atlanta - or that I've had, period. Again, crowds here can sometimes be a deterrent, particularly on the nights for which the special is the beef short ribs; just make sure you come back for that when you don't have somewhere to be later.
The fact that the Dream can pack the open seating sections pretty well at their games can't be understated. For the tilts I've most recently attended, I can say that the proportion of seats filled to empty is higher than that at your typical Hawks game; in fact, I wouldn't be all that surprised to hear that the percentage of total tickets sold is higher for our WNBA tenants than their co-tenants.
What's just as important, however, is that the folks that do show up are highly invested in the game, and a number of them are fairly serious fans of the team and the league at-large. Once more using my experiences at games of the Arena's other basketball team for comparison, I'd venture that the average attendee's knowledge of the game, players, and league is higher at Dream games - and not by a small amount.
Lastly - and I bring this up only because of a misconception that I've perceived in my own dealings with the 20-something male-sports-nut population - while it is true that the crowd is pretty homogenous in terms of demographics, that does not take away one bit from one's potential for enjoyment of the proceedings and fellowship in the stands. If anything, the friends I've met at WNBA games are some of the best random acquaintances I've made.
What hurts the most here is that, since the Dream aren't quite the "big deal" that the Falcons, Braves, or Hawks are, signage and parking choices decrease in number relative to what's offered for your typical downtown Atlanta sporting event. Of course, prices stay the same, so expect to fork over $10 at minimum if you don't want to make a fairly decent hike.
The good news is that, before you reach the surface streets, your interstate approach should have less-than-average traffic, what with the WNBA season played in the summer and weekday games played in the evening, putting you against the flow of rush hour traffic. From the northwest, north or northeast suburbs, you're coming in on Interstate 75, State Route 400, or I-85, respectively, and then riding just a little south of the I-75/85 juncture to the Spring St. exit; from the east, ride I-20 to its Spring St. exit and approach either the Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. or Marietta St. intersections, turning left at either.
Now, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention the Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) as an option, but let a lifer tell you out-of-towners this: The system does not cover anywhere near all of "metro Atlanta," will get you places at a rate startlingly slower than "rapid," and thus is far from an "authority." If you have a decent sense of direction or are familiar with the tracks, it might save some hassle if you're coming from the Buckhead or Decatur areas - and maybe even a little money, too, if your party's two or less - but otherwise (and especially for such a comparatively low-key event), driving will be easier (though not "easy," mind you).
As you might have gathered, any ticket for a Dream game is a "good ticket" in terms of sight lines. The only exception here might be those furthest back in the 200 sections; it's not that they're much farther back or higher up than the rest, but the front-most rows of the upper bowl hang over, casting these seats in darkness and giving their occupants an odd sense of claustrophobia.
Prices are extremely reasonable; avoid the $7 option, as that would likely get you stuck in the aforementioned "cave", and pay a perfectly-fair $12 (lower-level, behind-the-basket) to $28 (club). Seriously: Even if the competition is less than stellar, this is a bargain for being so close to professional ballers doing their thing.
Philips always has an air of class. Between its overall snazzy appearance, general cleanliness, and typically great staff, you can more or less count on feeling like royalty from the time you step inside its doors.
Also top-notch is the branding that the Dream marketing team presents. If there's any scrimping relative to what their Hawks counterparts put on, it's not noticeable at all. Between the seating sections labeled for individual players (i.e., "Ketia's Krew," named for point guard Ketia Swanier), the mascot Star, and worthwhile promotions, this is every bit a women's basketball fan's dream come true.
Photos courtesy of Lauren Volkerding.
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437 Memorial Dr SE
Atlanta, GA 30312
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