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July 12, 2006

Donna Orender


THE MODERATOR: Donna Orender, President of the WNBA.
DONNA ORENDER: Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome this evening, a grand evening for the WNBA, our 10th anniversary. Of course, a celebration of our All-Stars.
I know there's going to be a great game tonight. For those of you who weren't here this morning, you missed the real All-Star Game. At 7:30 this morning we had a collection of people play at Madison Square Garden. I happened to be one of them. The last time I played here, the general manager of the New York Liberty, Carol Blazejowski, scored 56 points in The Garden. That did not happen this morning. When it came to choosing sides, I chose her first.
Let me also thank Jimmy Dolan, Chairman of Madison Square Garden Networks, Steve Mills, the President and Chief Operating Officer, and especially Blaze and her staff, Amy Scheer, the entire Liberty organization, who have done a great job in hosting all of you and all of us for this great event.
As I said, it's the 10th anniversary of the WNBA. It wouldn't surprise you because a lot of you have asked me this question often, which is what does the 10th anniversary mean?
I have to tell you that not too long ago, there was a certain president, he happened to be the President of the United States, and his remarks at the Oval Office, I'm sorry, at the Rose Garden, this is what he said, I don't know if you can remember, but I certainly do, when a lot of people were speculating that the WNBA wouldn't last. They couldn't possibly make it, they were saying, while the truth of the matter is the WNBA has not only lasted, it's thrived. American sports are better for it.
I'm going to tell you, American sports are better for it.
Why? Because girls and women are participating in sports in numbers unlike ever before, and excelling on the courts and the fields because before the advent of Title IX, one in 30 girls participated in sports. Today, it's one in two; it's a 12-fold increase. You're going to ask me about my business, I'm going to tell you, but if you were running a business and you had a 12-fold increase, virtually 100% in the population that you could market your product to, would you not be bullish?
Not only is basketball the No. 1 participatory sport for girls in the United States, there are 100 million females playing this sport around the world. It is a global game for women as well as for men.
You ask about our business. We've seen a 20% growth in our fan base in the last year. How do we define that? We define it by people who consume our product, whether it's attendance, whether it's viewership, whether it's buying the product. That doesn't include a lot of our fans who are just so aware of our brand but have yet to taste it. Remember, I just told you, there's a 12-fold increase in that population who have yet on some level to come to us.
In addition, the growth of our TV coverage, ABC, ESPN, we have more games on local television throughout our 14 markets than we've ever had. A record reach overseas where we're now in 198 countries via 79 telecasters in 34 languages. We have a new satellite radio partner, AOL.com, who we recently announced as a major program, elevating broadband programing for the WNBA, unlike any sports league has seen to date.
You ask about our business. After ten years, the influence of the WNBA is profound. It is an iconic brand and it speaks to the possibility and provides much needed role models for youngsters, in particular women and young girls.
It's what Madeleine Albright said today in our All-Star salute luncheon, it's all about inspiration. It's the kind of inspiration that speaks to your soul.
Tonight is a showcase for the WNBA. It's the most successful women's league in the world and it is the destination for the world's best female basketball players, and, yes, they're all playing here tonight. These past few days, obviously and tonight, are obviously a celebration of what they have to offer, and I know that you know that I am very passionate about basketball because, and this league, because of what it represents and what it brings to communities.
These women's hearts are on the floor every single night, and they're also in their communities.
As you know, we changed some rules this year. Let's talk about the game. The most prominent being the 24-second clock. What has that yielded for the WNBA? From a team standpoint, teams are averaging 75.4 points per game, an increase of over 8 points. Currently, all 14 teams are averaging more points per game in the league than the league average last season. It's pretty significant.
We've got four players this year averaging over 20, and if you give me Lauren Jackson at 19.9, let's call it five.
Last year we had two. The number of possessions, the speed of the game, has all increased. Let me just contrast again for those of you basketball purists against a field goal percentage that is above last year's.
These women can flat-out play.
We talk about talent. I'm telling you, this is where the WNBA has had an amazing influence. It is by no accident that we have a 12-fold increase in the participation in our sport. We have veterans like Lisa Leslie. For those of you who have not seen her play, was back-to-back Player of the Week in the WNBA, the league's all-time leading scorer, leading the Sparks to the best record in the West. Obviously, a class act having played in every single WNBA All-Star Game.
Lauren Jackson, she came here from Australia in 2001. She battles injuries but, again, another player who is in the top 5 in every statistical category that we currently track.
Tamika Catchings, who already was Defensive Player-of-the-Year, once again among the league leaders and this year the No. 1 vote-getter for the WNBA All-Star Game.
We have new players who are emerging from the pack, Katie Douglas, averaging a career best 16 points a game and is on pace to shatter the Sun's franchise record for three-pointers in a season.
Alana Beard of the Mystics, one of the best from the class of 2004, is averaging career highs in scoring and rebounding.
We would be remiss if we did not mention the WNBA's Fab Four, our Fab Four, our rookie class. We have four rookies playing in the WNBA All-Star Game this evening: Sophia Young, Candice Dupree, and two women I have to tell you I honestly believe have incrementally stepped up the game. They have given notice. They have given notice because we are attracting better talent, more talent and you know what, they've had the WNBA in their eyes from the moment they picked up a basketball, that would be Seimone Augustus and Cappie Pondexter.
Of course, we all bid a fond farewell, we owe a great gratitude of thanks to Dawn Staley, who for ten years has been a leader in this league. At the same time has led our Olympic effort, has been chosen to carry the flag in the Olympic stadium in Athens, not as a basketball player but as a leader of the entire delegation, a tremendous coach and leader at Temple, and of course now finishing her last season for the Houston Comets. Having known Dawn the way I do, what she does in the city of Philadelphia for children, how much she cares, she is a uniquely special person, but certainly representative of the great athletes in the WNBA.
Off the court, we've got some good news there as well. Our 10th anniversary season has given us a really good platform to honor our past, obviously embrace our future, engage our fans in an extremely interactive manner. Our fans will continue to play a significant role. I will submit to you, for those of you who are at our arenas, they are the most avid fans in sports. You know what, they look different than other leagues. Why, it is their favorite league on their scorecard.
We're proud to announce five new WNBA sponsors this year. Five. Our partners utilize the league to reach a strong fan base of women, families, young girls through advertising and WNBA nationally televised games, through promotions and activation.
In addition to long-standing partnerships with international and national brands such as Coke, Gatorade, Nike, Reebok, Spalding, Southwest Airlines, we expanded our relationships with companies like Toyota, who continue to move us forward, T Mobile and McDonald's.
Earlier this year we have announced our relationship with Ocean Spray Craisins and we are proud that they will be activating in over 1,000 grocery stores with the WNBA Shootout promotion beginning, I believe, this week.
We've also announced AOL.com will provide cutting edge video programming, interactive features, contests and promotions online. I believe tonight we launch our Greatest Moments promotion that will take us through the end of this season.
Rittenhouse trading cards, WNBA's business is up 44% over last year, last year was up 30%.
Reebok produced the first ever, tonight we're about orange and white tonight, team. Orange and white. Reebok produced the first-ever specially made custom All-Star uniforms for this game.
Toyota's Heroes Moving Forward program will announce a special citizen who has made a difference in his or her community.
Some of you had a chance to join us earlier at the All-Star Salute presented by the Kohler Company. For those of you who had the chance to hear Mr. Kohler speak, he was inspirational in his own right and spoke about the joining of values of Kohler, a company interested in inspiring gracious living and the inspiration put forth by the WNBA.
Luminari will continue to grow our focus on women's health and wellness issues.
And, of course, Vonage. Tonight's All-Star Game is being presented by Vonage, our first All-Star-presenting sponsor in the history of the WNBA.
Lastly, I'd like to talk to you about Discover Card. It's our new official credit card of the WNBA. Today I am so happy, so happy to spend money on what will be our new affinity credit card produced by Discover. The card will give our fans a chance to gain access to the exclusive Discover Fan Lounge. I have to tell you, I have been to one of them. They are packed in every arena. There's something to be said for that. They feature music, games, food, prizes. Our players show up, coaches show up, it's a great time.
Tonight I'd like to welcome up, if I could, the Senior Vice President of Brand Management and Advertising, Mark Hosbein, as we unveil the new Discover Card affinity card for the WNBA.
MARK HOSBEIN: Congratulations. A big moment. Our child (applause).
MARK HOSBEIN: I'll say a couple words up here.
This week is all about the passion and inspiration of the league. I think we took notice of the WNBA this year thanks to Donna and her leadership, but also just frankly thanks to the passion that we've come out, that we've seen at the games.
We're in the business of trying to capture what our card members are looking for, what their interests are, what they want to do. You don't see a more passionate fan base than this group, frankly.
We are here working together with the WNBA trying to do whatever we can to make that passion come to life. This card design is something that really represents what we see in the spirit of the game. It has the WNBA logo on it. This is a special badge that says, "You know what, I'm a fan." We're looking forward to spending the rest of the season, celebrating it. We want to be here on the 20th anniversary with more cards out there than anybody else. Donna, thank you so much for having us as part of the team.
DONNA ORENDER: Our pleasure, absolutely.
Thank you, Mark. Thank you, Discover Card. For those of you going through Times Square, make sure you look up at that big board up in the sky, it's a Discover Card board, you will see the WNBA and Discover Card's advertisement, I believe, what is it, 23 times a day? It's a huge amount. All I know, I've seen it several times. I stop traffic.
MARK HOSBEIN: Every time someone charges.
DONNA ORENDER: Every time someone charges it will be there all the time.
In closing, let me just say this, the WNBA has built an outstanding platform on believing in women. It's about all those who believe in women. The inspiration that we afford, and the changing demographics of America will allow this league to grow in ways that I know - I know - so many people want us to grow. So I thank you for covering us all season. It's nice to see all of you here. Of course I only want you to have a great time while you work because, after all, if you can't do that, why do it?
I'll be happy to take any and all of your questions.

Q. Madam President, it's apparent that you've had a big drive of building up the corporate sponsorship base for the league. Now that seems to be in place, what is next on your agenda, either building up more the fan base or again providing profitability for all your teams?
DONNA ORENDER: I wouldn't say that we're there. I say that we have started. I think we have a good start. I think what's going to happen, more and more companies join us, and they activate in places where our fans can be. I think what's going to happen, everything will lift up. We're focused, obviously on our fan base, our arenas, on the quality of our presentation. We are focused on every aspect of our business because we are about delivering the best.

Q. Good evening, Commissioner. One of the things, with the league growing, now better players, first off, will we see anything like the dynasty that the Houston Comets had in the beginning? Secondly, there's been a lot of talk about what the players of the All-Decade Team have done on the floor. Talk about the impact that they have had away from the floor and the impact they've had on young kids, especially this All-Star Week.
DONNA ORENDER: Okay, it's a two-part question, can I predict a dynasty? I can't. I can't. There's so many great teams who are playing really well, and, you know, our season is such that it's so tight, every game matters. Things can flip like that.
What's great is we're seeing a great, I think, distribution of talent. As it relates to the All-Decade Team, I think we're really very, very proud of the WNBA in ten years of caring. These women, I think I've said this before, we have about 166 athletes in our league. They make over 2,000 community appearances during the course of our season. They support the American Cancer Society, Heart Society. They're very focused on kids, self-esteem, achievement. I mean, you can pick any kind of community cause, and they are very involved.

Q. I read about how ratings are down on ESPN, I read about a decline in average attendance per game. There haven't been too many inspirational moments around this arena this year. You grew up in this area. You know the New York market. You know the networks in corporate America. How concerned are you about the Liberty tanking this year?
DONNA ORENDER: First of all, let me say this, I've been to almost every Liberty game other than when I'm somewhere else. I find being in this arena, watching that team play, inspirational. Because you know what, I'm a fan, like many fans of the WNBA. I want my team to win, but I take great joy and pleasure in watching their effort, the entertainment product that's delivered. I'm sorry if that's not what you want to hear. But that's who our fan is. When you begin to understand that, Lloyd, you won't be shaking your head.

Q. The fans are energetic. I admire their enthusiasm, too. I'm talking about the business model.
DONNA ORENDER: In terms of our business model, I would tell you in terms of our attendance, it's a rounding era for us. The scale we're talking about, any one market can throw the numbers three to five percent.
I would tell you that we have a lot of success stories in a lot of markets. We have a lot of them trending up. We have a lot of positive things happen. You know what, we're just going to continue to build on it.

Q. First of all, I have to ask the question, do you foresee expansion any time soon? Maybe to Philadelphia perhaps?
DONNA ORENDER: I absolutely see expansion. I do see it soon, yes.

Q. Another question that I had is the fact that when you, I guess, listen to sports talk radio --
DONNA ORENDER: Why would you do that?

Q. Why would I do that? But the thing is, though, are you concerned about pulling in more, you know, of that population, the male audience?
DONNA ORENDER: With all due respect to your kind reporter next to you, sports talk radio is this code name for all of the male sports reporters who choose to cover what they choose to cover.
I will tell you this, the WNBA has a unique fan base. It is different than Major League Baseball. It is different than the NFL. As I just said to you, the amount of women and young girls playing sports and embracing the sports market place is growing exponentially. We see them as our future. As our talent continues to grow and our product continues to develop at the pace that it has, all those who want to be inspired and engage in that entertainment will come.

Q. We at WBAI do expand that and hope that the fan base and everybody listens to and sees women in sports. What I wanted to ask you, do you foresee with the new stadium coming to Brooklyn, there possibly could be a subway series of the WNBA?
DONNA ORENDER: I'll tell you what, the new stadium in Brooklyn certainly offers a lot of possibilities. At this point in time, uncertain whether there could be a subway series. That could be fun, couldn't it?

Q. We could use a team in Brooklyn.
DONNA ORENDER: I'm taking notes, a team in Philadelphia and a team in Brooklyn, okay (smiling).

Q. Talking about franchise, how, on a business aspect, does a team like the Chicago Sky doing this year, your new franchise team, especially in a basketball city such as Chicago?
DONNA ORENDER: Chicago came in with a three- to five-year plan of development. They are committed to that plan. I think that they are probably behind in some aspects, and I will tell you they set the standard in the league in other business elements. Michael Alter is a tremendous, committed owner. I think they continue to do well. They have very favorable press there. They have to build a young team. I think they've captured the heart of Chicago.

Q. Your motto this year has been, "Have you seen her," about getting people into the arenas, especially Washington in particular. They completely cut down on giving away tickets. Do you feel that hurts the league when you can't get people in the arena or happy it's paid attendance?
DONNA ORENDER: I don't think -- I guess -- I think there's going to be a huge growth in the city of Washington under this new ownership. You always ask about business models. We need a business model that can sustain itself. Usually business models that sustain itself thrives on paying customers. They are doing a great job in terms of their metrics in having paid customers. It takes time to do that, but they're doing it the absolute right way.

Q. Seeing with the way things have gone now, what is the next step for the WNBA to continue to rise and continue to be the growing expansion that it is now?
DONNA ORENDER: I think we continue to sign partners that activate and market with us. I think we continue to showcase great talent. I think we continue to develop our stars. We continue to bring more fans into our arenas.

Q. As you look towards expansion, do you also look to encouraging more minority and women ownership as well?
DONNA ORENDER: Charles, you and I have had this discussion many times. I will tell you again, I take an extreme amount of pride in the record the WNBA has in diversity, both in our front office and on the court.
So, to your question, absolutely.

Q. Last March, you saw one of the greatest NCAA tournament games in the final, what have you, a lot of talent. Do you foresee that next generation, Dawn Staley was telling me that the game is going to be played above the rim. What do you feel about the future, the players that are coming out of college now?
DONNA ORENDER: Have you seen Candace Parker play? Have you seen Paris play? Have you seen this 15-year-old kid in Baltimore play? I am telling you, the level of the game is continuing - continuing - to rise. It is exciting. It is exciting.
Without a doubt, the WNBA is a big part of developing this game, expanding the opportunities for young women both on the court and helping them realize their dreams.
Do I see it happening? I do. I do.

Q. Speaking of the future of the game, how thrilled were you to see two rookies so high up among the scoring leaders? To see Cappie and Seimone, what does that say about the future?
DONNA ORENDER: I think what it says is the future is incredibly bright. For all of you who have been following Seimone Augustus at LSU the last two years, you all know she was special. The first time I saw her play, in the WNBA, I knew she was really special. She represents, I think, great, great talent that's about to come behind her.
Cappie, same thing. What a great star she was for Rutgers. Really, I think she's growing and developing right before our eyes.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone, and thank you, Donna.

End of FastScripts...

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