SBJ/20090316/This Week's News

Starwood checks in with WNBA

The WNBA has added Starwood Hotels and Resorts to its roster of marketing partners as the league prepares to enter its 13th season.

Financial terms of the one-year deal were not disclosed, but Starwood will activate with national promotions of its hotels and its preferred guest program. In addition, all WNBA teams and league personnel will stay at Starwood properties for games and league travel.

No media buy is included in the deal. It is the first time that the WNBA has had a leaguewide hotel sponsorship deal.

“There will be additional joint marketing programs that we are … developing along with some community activation,” said WNBA President Donna Orender.

The WNBA opens it season on June 6, three weeks later than last season to better accommodate players competing in European leagues as well as giving the league more time to sell during the grim economy.

In the first year of a new eight-year TV deal with ESPN, which includes a rights fee, the WNBA also has been cutting costs to lessen the impact of the recession. This year it cut team rosters to 11 from 13 players.

In December, the Houston Comets, one of the league’s original eight franchises, was folded by the league after it took over operation of the franchise. The Comets, which won the league’s first four championships under Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, were sold in January 2007 to local businessman Hilton Koch for a reported $10 million.

Orender would not say what the league’s overall season-ticket renewal rate is and would not disclose the status of any   marketing partners that are up for renewal.

“We have tales of success in some markets and we are lagging in others, but it is still early,” Orender said. “In sponsorships, we are having lots of conversations, but you have to work harder. It is quieter without a doubt.”

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