SBJ/May 2-8, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

New WNBA chief’s goal: Make money

Laurel Richie has no professional sports management background and has never attended a WNBA game, yet the newly appointed WNBA president is charged with bringing to the league what it has yet to accomplish in its 14 years: profitability for all of its teams.

Richie
“No special goals other than a simple one,” said NBA Commissioner David Stern. “It’s Laurel’s job to make all of our teams in the league very profitable. We gave her the plan, which is these guys break even this year or come much, much closer than they ever have before.”

Richie begins her job with the WNBA on May 16, taking over for Donna Orender, who resigned in December after having worked for the league since 2005. The 12-team WNBA begins its 15th season June 3.

Before joining the WNBA, Richie had been chief marketing officer for the Girl Scouts of America since 2008, and she previously spent two decades working for Ogilvy & Mather, where she left as a senior partner.

“Both the [Girl Scouts and the WNBA] are well-loved brands in need of a little bit of refreshment, with their DNA strong and solid,” she said. “I would never at this juncture put forth a concrete plan of action. But I think the places where I want to put some great thought are in how do we communicate and demonstrate the quality of the game so people truly understand that.”

Richie was approached by the WNBA after a February speaking engagement in Seattle where an award was being given to the owners of the WNBA Seattle Storm.

“We made a terrific connection there,” she said. “Coming out of that meeting the league actually reached out to me and we started the process.”

Richie said while she has watched the WNBA on television, she has never attended a WNBA game.

“I think it was a combination of not necessarily being approached,” she said, when asked why. “So 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.”

Richie will begin visiting WNBA teams as she learns league operations, one of her first big challenges.

“There are plenty of resources to get her up to speed,” said Chicago Sky President Adam Fox. “Clearly she has been involved in grassroots marketing efforts and with major companies in branding their products, so that will be of great value.”
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