Presumed Top Draft Pick Brittney Griner A Key Cog In WNBA's Rebranding Efforts
Baylor Univ. C Brittney Griner is "expected to be the No. 1 overall draft pick" in tonight's WNBA Draft, and she has “become a focal point of a league that has a new logo, an extended television deal with ESPN and an orchestrated drive to promote three highly visible rookies,” according to Jeré Longman of the N.Y. TIMES. ESPN President John Skipper said that for WNBA viewership and attendance to grow at a desired level, the league “must enhance its marketing efforts." Skipper, "They’ve got to have some players who people really care about.” Longman wrote that is why Griner is “so important," as perhaps no other player “has entered the WNBA with such visibility.” Opponents last season “averaged 3,642 more fans for their home games” against Baylor. The WNBA and ESPN are “hoping that Griner will create similar buzz as a pro.” The Phoenix Mercury, who hold the No. 1 pick in the Draft, are “scheduled to appear in 6 of the 14 regular-season games carried by ESPN and ABC.” Univ. of Minnesota Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport Exec Dir Mary Jo Kane said that it is “rare for female athletes to receive endorsements, especially in team sports, and particularly among those who do not play up their feminine side, yet significant shifts are occurring in the appreciation of women.” Griner said of being central to the league’s rebranding, “I’m up for the challenge. I changed stuff in college basketball, I guess you could say, so I’m up for it.” Meanwhile, the WNBA and ESPN are exploring plans for "innovations like cameras worn by referees, lower camera angles and increased viewer access to practices and locker rooms” (N.Y. TIMES, 4/14).
GOOD THINGS COME IN THREES: In Baton Rouge, Ted Lewis writes the WNBA is counting on Griner’s marketability “to lift the league’s profile.” The WNBA also should “get a boost” from Univ. of Delaware F Elena Delle Donne and Notre Dame G Skylar Diggins, who are “expected to follow Griner in the draft" with picks by the Chicago Sky and Tulsa Shock. ESPN “promoted the trio as ‘3 To See’ throughout their senior seasons.” ESPN.com’s Mechelle Voepel said, “ESPN isn’t telling the league who to draft and when. But I think that’s pretty well known who the top three players were, and getting their name recognition out there doesn’t hurt” (Baton Rouge ADVOCATE, 4/15). Della Donne said, “We have the ability to grow this league. Not just us, but the rest of the girls who are being drafted tonight, have a really big interest in growing the league and getting some more attention on it.” Diggins: “We want to bring excitement to the game and attention. I think we all had great followings (in college), and we want to use that for the WNBA to help promote it and market it. It's such an exciting time, and so much buzz surrounding the WNBA this year and this season that it brings an excitement to us” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 4/15).
MERCURY RISING: In Phoenix, Odeen Domingo wrote there is “a lot Griner can offer” the Mercury. The "buzz and the curiosity factor" around Griner "should make basketball fans -- Mercury and Suns, alike -- flock to US Airways Center." The Mercury's goal is “to sell out the arena’s lower bowl, about 10,000 seats.” All the “TV hype and the praise from NBA superstars and owners have helped Griner’s profile.” Mercury President & COO Amber Cox said, “We’ve been able to maximize (that attention) and cross over some Suns fans into Mercury season tickets for the first time.” The team’s total season-ticket revenue has “already passed last season’s.” The Mercury “look poised to better last season’s average home attendance of 9,167” (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 4/14).