SBD/Issue 164/WNBA Season Preview

Atlanta, Colorado Leading Way In Quest For Expansion Team

Groups in Atlanta and Colorado are among several markets actively campaigning to land a WNBA expansion team for the ’08 season. WNBA President Donna Orender said talks are also in “various stages of development” with groups in the Bay Area, New Mexico, K.C. and Arkansas and added, “Our objective is to add one (franchise) in ’08 and we’re working towards that.” Orender would not reveal who the frontrunners are or a definitive timetable for a decision, but admitted there is a “lot of momentum” behind both the Atlanta and Colorado efforts.

Atlanta Group Creates Web Site In
Efforts To Land WNBA Franchise

GOOD MANAGEMENT: Orender said strong management is key when evaluating potential expansion markets. “Having the right ownership and financial commitment behind that team is certainly one of the top indicators of whether we will be able to proceed with the franchise in that market,” she said. But she added, “We look at the whole package — the arena proposal, sponsorship proposal, business plan, how they’re going to end up marketing and promoting the team — those are all things we will engage with with the proposed ownership groups.”

ATLANTA: The Atlanta group, consisting of local officials and business execs, has centered its campaign around a season-ticket pledge and has created a Web site, WNBA-ATL.org, where fans can track the group’s progress, pledge for season tickets or sign a petition in support of the franchise. The group has also sent out e-mail solicitations, campaigned at local softball games and held mixers at local restaurants twice a week to sign up potential season-ticket holders. Thus far, the group has received more than 1,000 pledges, well short of the 8,000 it projected at the onset of the campaign. However, Bob Hope, President of Atlanta-based PR and marketing firm Hope-Beckham and a member of the committee, conceded the 8,000 number was far-reaching and said he expects the team to surpass 3,000 pledges by the time the league makes a decision for ’08. Hope said the committee has also compiled a short list of potential owners and expects to make a recommendation to the league by the end of the month. “We want to make sure we have the right owner and that we also are getting the right base of sponsor commitment and season-ticket commitment so from day one we’re a pretty representative team,” Hope said. The committee has tentative plans to host 70% of the team’s games at Philips Arena, with the remaining games being played at The Arena at Gwinnett Center. But Hope said, “With the deal Philips has been willing to put forward it may be that all of (the games) are played there.”

COLORADO: Triple Crown Sports (TCS) is leading the effort to land an expansion team in Colorado and has primarily focused on lining up investors for its bid. TCS has owned and operated the women’s NIT since ’93 and also owned the Colorado Chill of the defunct NWBL for three seasons. Former Chill GM & coach Kelly Packard, who is working with TCS on the bid, said, “We are solely focused on procuring the ownership structure.” TCS has not actively solicited season-ticket pledges because Packard said the group was able to gauge the area’s interest from its ownership of the Chill. “We’re in a unique situation in that we have had a team before and the awareness is there,” Packard said. “We have a pretty strong foundation of fans already.” Packard said the group would prefer to retain the “Chill” moniker for the team, but final approval on a name would rest with the WNBA. She also said the majority of the team’s games would be played in the 7,200-seat Budweiser Events Center in Larimer County with two to four games per season being played at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

MOVING FORWARD: The WNBA’s expansion plans come less than a year after the Sting, one of the league’s founding members, folded following last season. However, Orender said the Sting, which were owned by Bobcats Sports & Entertainment, had “management issues” and the shuttering of the franchise could be a positive for the league. “You want to be able to move on and be stronger without a team that’s not performing,” she said. “It helps solidify our business base and points us in the right direction.” Both Hope and Packard were also unfazed by the fate of the Sting. Hope said, “We all are realistic. We realize women’s sports have not had the tradition of team success. [But] women’s sports can work, there are places that have cracked the code.” Packard added, “We believe in the product.”

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