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LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN: NBA GETS MOVING ON WOMEN'S LEAGUE
Published April 25, 1996
The NBA Board of Governors approved the concept of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) to begin play as a summer league in '97. NBA Commissioner David Stern called approval a "first step" in an ongoing process, while adding the league's "greatest chance for success" is in the summer when arena availability and TV time are most abundant. Stern also said the new league is "dependent upon cable and over-the-air network arrangements." The number of teams, cities, and TV arrangements are likely to be announced in early July (NBA). The league would have a 25-30 game schedule from mid-to-late June through August. Players would "be encouraged" to play in European or South American leagues during the regular winter season, "opening the door for marketing of WNBA merchandise abroad." A TV deal "would not be limited" to current partners NBC and TBS, and Stern said the TV response has "been gratifying." Player compensation has not been set. The league would draw on college stars and women who play overseas, who would be assigned "on the basis of geographical consideration, as well as through the draft." At the Governors meeting, "many NBA owners lobbied to have teams among the first eight" (Cawthon & Greenberg, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 4/25). ESPN noted teams are expected to be placed in cities which already have NBA franchises ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 4/24). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand notes the NBA would own all the teams, perhaps as many as eight. NBA VP Val Ackerman, who has been overseeing the league's effort at marketing the U.S. Women's National Team, said the WNBA won't distract college programs by tempting undergrads to turn pro early. Ackerman: "There'll be restrictions" (USA TODAY, 4/25). RIVAL PIONEER: The WNBA follows a February announcement by the American Basketball League that it would begin a 40-game season in eight cities next October. ABL co-founder Gary Cavalli could not be reached for comment. It was "unclear what impact the NBA's decision would have on the ABL's plans" (Mike Reynolds, INSIDE MEDIA, 4/24). GONE GLOBAL: CNN's "Moneyline" reported the formation of the WNBA comes as the NBA is putting a "full court press" on its international audience in the hopes of "evolving as a global entertainment company, much like Disney." NBA Properties President Rick Welts: "The NBA is in a position that no other league has ever been in. If you ever look at that other world game, soccer, if you're Brazilian, you think the world's best soccer is played in Brazil. If you're English, you think it's in England. But no one disputes the fact that the 350 best basketball players in the world all play in one league." Last year, overseas sales of NBA licensed merchandise reached $400M, or 10% of the league's total consumer products sales. Meanwhile, since the '92 Olympics, the NBA has "nearly doubled" its global TV audience. Games are now broadcast in 175 countries and 40 languages. Michael Levine, Dir of Marketing at Athletes and Artists, says the NBA's global approach is much the same as a movie studio's overseas strategy. Levine: "They see their players just like movie studios see their hot ticket stars, as superstars who can be translated into hits overseas much the same way they're hits here in this country" (CNN, 4/24).