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Volume 21 No. 43
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Consultant to review WNBA business practices

Areas of study include a shift in schedule to fall/winter and engaging younger, female fans.
Photo: Getty Images

The WNBA has hired innovation and brand design consultancy Sylvain Labs to study an array of potential business changes to attract younger, female fans as well as a potential shift of the league’s season away from its current summer schedule.


While the WNBA has used consultants before, league President Lisa Borders said New York-based Sylvain Labs will undertake the deepest and broadest study of the WNBA’s business, with recommendations expected by July. The company began its work with the league last month. It is the first professional sports league client publicly listed for Sylvain, and Borders said the league was attracted to the firm because of its reputation for developing creative business plans.


“We are evaluating our business from top to bottom and left to right,” Borders said. “Sylvain Labs has a creative bent for finding solutions that have not been necessarily unearthed.”


The move to hire Sylvain Labs comes as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said last month that the league would consider shifting the WNBA schedule, which has been held during the summer months since the league was created in 1997. Any alterations in the league’s schedule would depend on arena availability, but Silver said a shift to a fall/winter schedule could boost attendance.


“We want to make sure that the summer is the best place for the business,” Borders said. “Everything is on the table.”


Sylvain will also address the WNBA’s in-game experience and other business aspects, including efforts to attract a younger, female fan base.


“We will be evaluating all aspects of the operations from game day to marketing and digital,” said Ann Rodriguez, chief operating officer of the WNBA. “We want and we need to engage more women that are the age of our players.”


The WNBA is the latest league to bring in a consultant to address business operations. Last year, Major League Baseball conducted a full-scale review of its headquarters and MLB Advanced Media operations with the aid of management consulting firm McKinsey & Co.


Hiring Sylvain comes as the 12-team WNBA tips off its 22nd season on May 18 looking to build on last season’s gain at the gate. Last season, the WNBA averaged 7,713 fans per game, the highest attendance figure since the 2011 season.


This year, the league sees a potential attendance boost from entering Las Vegas with the relocation and rebranding of the San Antonio Stars into the Las Vegas Aces. The franchise was sold to MGM and will play at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.


The WNBA also is set to roll out a new advertising effort that includes custom spots featuring a player from each of the league’s 12 teams. The Marketing Arm is the agency of record on the new spots.


“We are trying a new approach with a variety of content that helps us sustain story lines,” Rodriguez said.


The ad campaign looks to counter last year’s 24 percent drop in TV viewership on ESPN and ESPN2.


“It will be player centric,” Borders said. “We recognize that we hear fans asking us about the players.”


Like last season, the WNBA this year will have 20 games streamed live on Twitter. ESPN and ESPN2 plan to televise 33 games, including regular-season action and every postseason game, as well as the WNBA All-Star Game on ABC. Last year, ESPN networks televised 32 games during the full season.


NBA TV televised 51 games during the full season last year and the network is expected to broadcast the same number this year, but the schedule hasn’t been announced.