SBJ/May 19-25, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

WNBA campaign stakes its claim to summer

When the Chicago Sky takes the court Wednesday for an 11:30 a.m. tip time, it won’t be the last time the team aligns with kids and schools this year.

Wednesday’s effort officially is a “School Day” promotional game, but the Sky’s larger marketing effort for 2014 calls for the team to partner with a local community group to refurbish an elementary school’s basketball court, build picnic benches and plant trees throughout the city.
  
It’s all part of the WNBA’s official leaguewide marketing effort for 2014, a campaign called “Summer Hoops.”

Elena Delle Donne and the Chicago Sky are working to enhance a local elementary school.
Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES

Whereas the league last year pegged its marketing to three high-profile rookies — Chicago’s Elena Delle Donne, Phoenix’s Brittney Griner and Tulsa’s Skylar Diggins, collectively dubbed the “3 to See” — the focus this year is on each of the league’s 12 clubs. Plans call for each team, similar to Chicago, to create its own grassroots marketing initiative, all done under the banner “Summer Hoops.”

The goal is to further spur leaguewide attendance, which edged up by 1 percent last year from the previous season, to 7,531 fans per game, while also continuing to increase leaguewide gate revenue, which rose 8 percent last year.

“We compete in the summer months, and we saw a really strong connection between the joy of summer and joy of basketball,” said WNBA President Laurel Richie. “We pulled together the initiative at a league level and at the team level under one umbrella.”

Chicago’s effort will extend to using stencils to chalk the league’s logo on city streets as part of the campaign.

“Basketball hits a crescendo in April through early June, when the confetti falls [with the NBA Finals], so this is a way to make sure we are recognizable while lifting awareness in the summer,” said Sky President and CEO Adam Fox.

The 2014 WNBA season began Friday and continues through August.

While the league hopes its new campaign, created in-house, will drive interest in each of its individual markets, ESPN is counting on Chicago’s Delle Donne to help drive viewership nationally.

The network has scheduled the Sky for seven nationally televised games this year, the most of any WNBA team. The hope is to build on viewership numbers that climbed 28 percent on ESPN2 last year and 19 percent on NBA TV.

The league also enters 2014 with a new eight-year collective-bargaining agreement in hand. That deal, agreed to in March, includes a new “time-off bonus” in which players can be paid extra money if they limit the amount of time they play for another professional team to 90 days or less. The amount of the bonus is $50,000 a team, and that amount can be split among the 12 players on a team. The provision is to help the WNBA keep its best players from playing overseas.

“The new CBA definitely provides some stability for us,” Richie said. “For the next eight years, the focus is on the best game on the floor. That to me is one of the single greatest benefits.”

Boost Mobile returns as the league’s presenting sponsor, and the WNBA counts Samsung as its newest marketing partner. Samsung, which signed on as an NBA marketing partner last fall, is assuming title sponsorship of the WNBA’s player awards as part of that larger deal.


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