SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Other News

Orender: No time for WNBA’s doubters

Donna Orender doesn’t officially begin her new job as president of the WNBA until April, but she was already at work trying to drive interest in the league at the NBA All-Star Game earlier this month. A longtime executive with the PGA Tour, most recently as senior vice president of strategic development, Orender takes over for Val Ackerman, the WNBA’s founding president.

Orender sat down with staff writer John Lombardo in Denver during all-star weekend to discuss the WNBA and her new job.

SBJ: You come to the WNBA after spending 17 years in various functions with the PGA Tour, two very different properties. What convinced you to take this job?
Orender: It was a chance to take a leadership position with the organization and be the person who helps shape the direction of the league. That was very attractive to me as well as the fact that basketball is a sport I love. The process involved several discussions not only about the league and its future, but also about the impact the job would have on my life. I had to be convinced. I love working at the PGA Tour and I wasn’t looking to leave.

SBJ: What was your sense of the WNBA before you were approached?
Orender: I had tracked it since it was launched. I applauded the NBA in taking the initiative in putting their muscle and equity behind women’s sports. I think it’s an important statement that women can be role models, compete at the highest levels, and also make a living doing it.

SBJ: The WNBA this summer enters its ninth season and has yet to make a profit. What do you think the league has to do to break through and make money?
Orender: I can’t tell you right now exactly what that is, but I think there is momentum in the WNBA right now, and the opportunity is to figure out what is driving it and then build on it.

SBJ: What do you think the perception of the WNBA is?
Orender: I’m not exactly sure, but I’m not that interested in what a NASCAR dad thinks of how viable the WNBA is. The fans who come to the games are passionate, and I am very interested in them and I’m excited about a generation coming up that is interested.

SBJ: How has the WNBA been received by the corporate world?
Orender: I’ve been involved in sports for a long time, and you never feel like you’ve sold enough. The truth is that you always try to develop deeper relationships. That is one of my top priorities.

SBJ: The league recently expanded into Chicago with a team owned by a private investment group. How will you keep attracting private equity?
Orender: Any time you are in business and you have people who are willing to back it up with passion with their own hard-earned dollars, then you have the responsibility in creating success for them.

SBJ: What is the plan to get up to speed on specific business aspects of the WNBA?
Orender: I will spend some time with the team in place in New York and I will meet with every single management group and all of our sponsors. I’ll also continue to talk to the players. There is a whole lot of knowledge out there, and I plan to tap into it.

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Basketball, NASCAR, NBA, PGA Tour, WNBA

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