SBD/April 22, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Richie May Be Right Pick As WNBA President, But Did League Wait Too Long?

Writer feels WNBA missed opportunity
with timing of Laurel Richie announcement
The WNBA's introduction of new President Laurel Richie on Thursday was a "missed opportunity" for the league, which made the announcement "two weeks AFTER the women's Final Four (held at a WNBA arena) and a week AFTER the WNBA draft," according to Mechelle Voepel of ESPN.com. Donna Orender announced in early December that she was stepping down as WNBA President, and if the league "wanted to help its new president meet, all in the same place, a lot of people who cover and follow women's basketball, it would have had a timeline that put a president in place before the women's Final Four and the WNBA draft." Three months "should be enough time to interview and vet candidates, make a decision, give the final selection time to decide, and then announce it." But for Richie, the WNBA "waited until a week after its draft -- missing television time for the new president to both announce picks and be interviewed about her job/philosophy in front of the very audience that is most interested in her product -- to make the announcement." In addition, the league's official release on Richie sent out Thursday morning "did not say where she is from originally, how old she is or whether she ever played organized sports -- let alone get into her reasons for being interested in this job." Voepel noted the WNBA president "needs to work with the players and coaches to continue to improve the product," and with the "fans and management of individual teams to make sure the needs of the former are being met by the latter." For Richie's near future, "that means seeing all 12 teams in person and observing how things are handled by each franchise." Richie has "marketed a lot of different products and ideas in her career," but she also "needs to try to forge real connection to the consumer and develop an understanding of the media/websites that actually cover this sport on a regular basis" (ESPN.com, 4/21).

THE RIGHT PICK: SLAMONLINE.com's Ben York wrote the NBA and David Stern "took their time in finding a replacement for Donna Orender, and they got it 100% right." The WNBA is entering its 15th season, and it has a "realistic opportunity to truly prosper and thrive but it needs a solid foundation and developmental plan to get there." York: "Richie’s success both in the for-profit and non-profit world correlate perfectly with the WNBA and its core values." With Richie’s success as Senior VP & CMO of the Girl Scouts of America and "through altruistic passions such as her time with Big Brothers Big Sisters, it seems there is a deep appreciation for reaching children at a young age and inspiring success." The WNBA needs to "grow the game at a younger level and the connection Richie has with the Girl Scouts shows an innate desire to impact young women early on." Meanwhile, York noted Richie does not have a basketball background, but Stern did not either when he became NBA Commissioner in '84, and "look how much the NBA has grown since the time he took over" (SLAMONLINE.com, 4/21). ESPNW.com's Michelle Smith wrote Richie's background with the Girl Scouts "provides a template for selling the concept of the empowerment and capabilities of young women," while her experience with Big Brothers/Big Sisters "will give her perspective on the power of the grassroots experience" (ESPNW.com, 4/21).

WILL HER SKILLS TRANSLATE? AD AGE's Rich Thomaselli noted Richie is credited for moving the Girl Scouts "away from its cookies, craft and camping reputation" by rebranding the organization as being "more forward thinking, including activities such as robotics, fashion design, space camps and more." She also spent more than 20 years at Ogilvy & Mather, but whether her "marketing and brand management skills translate to the WNBA remains to be seen." The most recent agency exec to "make the move to running a league did not have a happy ending." Carolyn Bivens in '05 stepped down as President & COO of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media North America to become LPGA Commissioner, and "her tenure was marked by controversy" (ADAGE.com, 4/21).
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