SBD/April 27, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Laurel Richie Formally Introduced As WNBA's New President

Laurel Richie formally introduced
as WNBA President

NBA Commissioner David Stern formally introduced new WNBA President Laurel Richie via a media conference call yesterday afternoon. “We think Laurel is going to be a person who will not only bring marketing skills but bring team building skills and be able to move the W to new heights,” Stern said. The WNBA begins its season on June 3 and Richie will begin her new job as WNBA President on May 16. She joins the WNBA after working as Girl Scouts of America CMO since '08. Prior to the Girl Scouts, she spent more than 20 years working at Oligvy & Mather. She has no previous professional sports background. “My eyes are wide open to the challenges ahead, but I don’t feel daunted by it,” she said. “I have been a viewer of games, not necessarily an attender of games. That’s something as I take on the marketing portion of this work I think we are going to have to address, converting the interested to the actively engaged.” Stern said that he expects the WNBA to break even this season. “Our teams are doing better than they’ve ever done” (John Lombardo, SportsBusiness Journal).

TAKING THE REINS: In Hartford, John Altavilla notes Richie will try to "use her business initiative and acumen to take the league to more secure financial ground," and she is "expected to lead the effort to secure more corporate sponsorships." Richie said, "Working with iconic brands has been a passion of mine. And I have a track record of re-energizing and revitalizing them. I love to wrap my brain around complex businesses, as I would characterize the WNBA." Altavilla notes Richie is the "first African-American, male or female, to assume the presidency of one of the nation's premier professional sports leagues." She was "first identified as a candidate after serving as a keynote speaker for an event in Seattle in February" (HARTFORD COURANT, 4/27). Stern yesterday said, "We found somebody who was ... culturally adept at understanding what impact the game and the players could have on the community, the global community. My own basketball background was ripping up my ACL in a lawyers' league. So I don't think it's essential to have played the game at a high level at all" (TULSA WORLD, 4/27). In Connecticut, Joe Perez notes with an "eye toward increased ratings and attendance as well as international growth, the WNBA wants to forge its own identity, one that’s not seen as the NBA’s pet project." Stern said, "I think that for the early years, the women’s game was measured against the men’s game. That was something we struggled against. What we have here is the best women’s basketball in the world." He added, "No one usually compares (tennis’ Caroline) Wozniacki against Rafael Nadal. She wouldn’t do that well" (NORWICH BULLETIN, 4/27).


COURTING FANS: ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel noted Richie "did not attend WNBA games" before taking this job, so as president, "one of the types of people she'll be looking to attract to the league is … someone a great deal like herself." Richie said, "What I want to think about is, how do we reach out to people and engage them? Versus assuming or putting the burden on them to come and grab us." The "methods that Richie might implement to better reach potential fans are likely similar to things that need to be done for current fans, too." Those who "buy or have bought WNBA tickets don't need to be sold on the product, but do need to be cared for as consumers." Richie's "highest priority is helping the bottom line of the league and every franchise by increasing sponsorships and ticket sales." It seems "unlikely that Richie, at least this year, will have a great deal to do with the overall administration of the league from a strictly basketball perspective, leaving most" of that to WNBA Chief of Basketball Operations & Player Relations Renee Brown (ESPN.com, 4/26).
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