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July 10, 2010

Donna Orender


DONNA ORENDER: So was that good yesterday? Did you enjoy that practice? There was a moment yesterday, like many of you here, I was at the USAB practice followed by the WNBA practice. I sat up high in the back because I wanted to be in the shadows and take in the scene.
I have to tell you I was very much taken by the amount and level of talent on the floor yesterday. Anybody who dared to come up those couple of steps would say, Wow, take a look at this.
There was a time near the end of Geno's practice, the players all came in, there was spontaneous applause from the crowd. I just sat back and realized I was smiling unprovoked because I thought, That's the way it should be: great talent being recognized by great fans.
I think that's what today is about, that's what this weekend's about: great talent being appreciated by great fans. I think that's what's at the core of the WNBA.
I want to thank personally on behalf of our league of course everybody here at the Connecticut Sun. I said this last night. We wholeheartedly believe they are absolutely a leadership organization. They make so much happen. Their passion, their belief, their ability and desire to put on this event in partnership with the league is unparalleled. Special thanks to Mitchell Etess, Chris (indiscernible), Coach Tebow is always there cheering us on, wanting us to do the right thing. Of course all the fans in Connecticut, many who showed up last night. They do travel. I will find them everywhere.
I never predict games because I can't. I don't want to pander, but if someone said, Who is going to win today, you would have to agree that I say the WNBA wins no matter what, right? Clearly it's the WNBA versus the WNBA.
Then you'll say, What about Maya? Boy, wow, is it unbelievable how the fans here absolutely adore this young woman. Again, more growth. To see an athlete of her caliber, the way she carries herself, the way people are just really drawn to her.
I say, Win again, because this is the future of our league. I look at the present of our league, the future of our league, they're all going to be on the floor. One year Maya Moore will be in the WNBA. I heard a tidbit that she's an WNBA freak and knows all the history. The pieces I'm missing, I will go back to her and she'll be able to fill me in.
Let's talk about our business. Our game is strong. These are hard facts. Scoring is up. As Geno reminded me over and over again, Donna, people want to see people score. I said, Geno, we're up another two points. This is our third or fourth consecutive year of scoring two points, six points per game. Shooting percentage is also up. I think it's really a reflection of our team-oriented game. Our assists are up, three assists as per game, as well.
These are strong facts that speak to the quality of the game we're watching. It speaks to the incredible growth and the interest of the WNBA. The game is just getting better and better. I don't think there's anybody who would disagree with that. I think we want more people to be part of our family so we can have more agreement.
In terms of our business, ratings are up. I just had a meeting, we had a clinic with some of our players at ESPN on Thursday. I had a chance to meet with their most senior leadership on programming. I don't know if any of you follow ESPN, broadcast business, but they are touting the fact they have had significant growth in their business and I'm glad we're part of it.
Because as of Thursday, we're up 30% in ratings, 30% in viewership, and they're quoting an 8% quarterly increase. So the WNBA is definitely fuelling growth in ESPN ratings at a time when they admitted not many properties are up. So we're glad to be part of that. I think it would be us and World Cup soccer. We have done a nice job on that.
A total of more than 70 WNBA games will air on ESPN, ESPN2 and WNBA TV. I get more fan mail and questions about the amount of air that we do have. Interestingly enough, it's not enough. Now, we're doing everything we can to augment that. That's why we have launched Live Access. I think 95% of our games, thanks to two women sitting here, Christine and Hillary, making sure we can get Live Access to be the best possible online broadband product it can be.
The amount of viewership online has grown not incrementally but exponentially. We've had challenges as it relates to upgrading to HD because we do want to be state-of-the-art. We continue to look forward to all of our fans' input as we continue to make this the best possible opportunity.
Three years ago, the amount of WNBA games you could access either by broadband or broadcast pales in comparison to what we can get today. Our fans are happier, yet they still want more. I always take that as a sign of great interest in the league. We will continue to work hard so we will continue to have more games on both television and broadband.
You should also note that last year we had 50 games on local television. This year we have 130 games on local television. That's an unbelievable amount of growth. We see that as a tremendous base in building our fan base, providing the kind of exposure our players warrant, feeding the interest of our fans and building businesses off of that.
I will tell you, because the jump happened so recently, we're at the forefront of building that business as well.
I don't know how many of you have the Smart Phone app. I use mine all the time. Suffice it to say there's been over 600% growth in downloads and views of our WNBA mobile app. For me it works great. I can be up to speed all the time. I really enjoy it.
Our attendance does remain strong. We're up in eight of our markets. The most important number for us is gate receipts, which is a true indication of where our business is, fans paying to see our product. I will tell you, we are up year over year in every single ticket segment. Lots of hard work definitely paying off.
Four teams have signed marquee deals since we've announced this program. Most recently we welcomed Bing, a Microsoft company, they're with Seattle Storm. And of course many people here are aware Foxwoods became the Jersey sponsor and league partner of the New York Liberty.
Team sponsorship has seen a 20% increase year over year. So at the local level we're seeing really good progress made. I have to tell you that globally and digitally nearly 30% of our fans are international. I can't tell you at this moment in time, I'm still waiting to know, I checked the Internet numbers, but I like to know overall where our fans are coming from. I think it's a broad base of interest over many countries. I'm not sure which one is dominating. I do know that China has a big interest in the WNBA.
As we look to 2011, we're looking at obviously our blackout situation as it relates to television. I will tell you the WNBA has been revolutionary in the way it's been able to plan its business to date. Truly crossing out many probably legacy deals in terms of how television has been handled. That said, our national partner, we couldn't be more grateful to ESPN, the partnership they provide, really interesting and innovative ideas we're looking forward to in 2011. They have a national window. We respect that national window. They do have the rights digitally to our rights on ESPN3.
I would like to close remarks where I began, which is the quality of the play. I can tell you that it remains a source of great pride for not only me but for all of my colleagues who are here in the quality of the players both on and off the court.
I don't know if anybody yesterday went to the WNBA Fit Clinic. Was anybody there? I think we should do a fit clinic for the press. What do you think? Friends, family and press. We get you out there, talk a little nutrition, run you through some steps.
I got to do every clinic yesterday. I have to tell you the gleam in the kids' eyes, the chance somehow this league touches them, makes their future a little brighter, have them dream their dreams a little more deeply is truly gratifying. Our players wrap their arms around it. Everybody that works at the WNBA feels that much better about the work that we do.
So with that, I would be happy to take any questions.

Q. Donna, on attendance figures, there are some franchises, for instance, Connecticut, whose number seem reliable and pretty good. There are other franchises where we actually have our local correspondents in there. They're off by as much as 20% to 30% quite often. What are they actually counting when they count attendance? Are we talking about bodies in the building, gate receipts, what?
DONNA ORENDER: The gate receipt number is a gate receipt number. We don't announce gate receipts. I'm here to tell you gate receipts are up. That's a hard number that goes back to the economics across the board.
I don't have the every franchise number. I can tell you the overall league number is up, which is the aggregation of all of our teams.

Q. (No microphone.)
DONNA ORENDER: I think they count. We just were out in L.A. talking about their attendance numbers, how they account for it. They definitely account for all tickets sold, whether they're in the building or not in the building. People bought those tickets. Sometimes people are not there. So there's definitely that.
There's a gate count. Anybody that comes through the gate, however their ticket was gotten, that's also included.

Q. (No microphone.)
DONNA ORENDER: You know, I can't answer that question. That I don't know. Are you counting janitors? We'd have to add more cleaning up.

Q. Two things, Donna. Can you tell us what the status of the New York franchise is in terms of relocating during the renovation of the Garden? Secondly, with the fact that the Garden is out of play probably for the next three years, would the league consider making the Mohegan Sun its place for the All-Star Game for the immediate future?
DONNA ORENDER: Two good questions.
One, I will defer to the Garden as to how they want to communicate what their efforts are. They have a very avid fan base. I know there are plans ongoing to announce what is going to happen in the future. Clearly they're not going to be at the Garden. But they are having negotiations of where they will be playing. I'm going to leave that to them, if that's okay with you.
As it relates to the All-Star future, where it will be, we are in the process of talking about what works best for all the constituents engaged in the WNBA All-Star showcase. I don't have any answers for you today. But clearly Connecticut works well. If you look at all the different check boxes for the All-Star Game, you can check a lot of them right here.
That said, we have a very strong West Coast fan base. I can tell you I'm besieged when I go west. We're sensitive to want to be able to showcase this there.
This is about business. We have to be able to put together the best business deal. That's going to make a difference in terms of where we go.

Q. (Question regarding having the game at the Staples Center.)
DONNA ORENDER: Listen, would it make sense to have the game at the Staples Center? It's one of the great world venues. That said, the Staples Center is very expensive and they are also very busy in the summer. While I'm sure Tim would like to have another premiere event at -- actually I've talked at some point about bringing the All-Star Game there. I think it has been there once maybe. I know the NBA will be there in the winter.
It's certainly within the realm of our discussions.

Q. I asked you earlier this year about having watched Live Access. In the middle, you get stopping, staggering. Since the last time I talked to you, it hadn't improved that much.
DONNA ORENDER: It had not improved?

Q. Had not improved. The second part to that is in New York a number of the Liberty fans get confused because they think the game is going to be on either ESPN. When they go to look for it, it has been blacked out.
DONNA ORENDER: Two good points.
One, let me say this on Live Access. Christine is 100% focused on delivering the best quality we can. We are 100% focused. As a matter of fact, a couple weeks ago, because we had some issues, we opened up our website. Hillary as well. We said, Everybody here that has a problem with access, let us know. There are some individual computer data rate issues, processing issues that we've identified. So your computer may not be as fast as mine. That could in some way impact how the signal flows. We're working on it every single day.
I am happy to have the signal. I want it to be the best we can be. I'm watching it. I want the best quality. All I can tell our fans is we're working on it.
We will continue to use WNBA.com as our mechanism to communicate with our fans to tell them exactly what's going on. If it is not clear when we're blacked out and when we are live, you know what, we will take care of that immediately.

Q. Is it the grid?
DONNA ORENDER: Sometimes the it's grid. Sometimes it's traffic. It could be a lot of things. The things we can directly impact, fair to say, we will directly impact. Thank you for watching Live Access.

Q. Here we are 14 years later; the league is doing better than ever. Again, I'd like you to comment on those naysayers, those articles that are constantly written about the league. They always seem for some reason to want to bury the WNBA. There's been many leagues in the last 14 years that have come and gone, folded, yet people in the media can't accept the WNBA and its success. Talk about how the league has done well and maybe even much better from a financial standpoint than people want to give the league credit. Your financial model maybe should be looked at from a successful standpoint.
DONNA ORENDER: Wow. You know, it's funny. In all this preparation that I did for this, sitting down with you, I never asked if somebody would ask me to talk about the success of the league. I'm always preparing for those other questions, to your point.
I honestly don't know how to answer that. All I can do is I walk into a room and I'll say, Here are our real numbers. We are a business that's asked to deliver a real business model in order to succeed, which really, when you look at all of our other contemporary businesses, don't necessarily do that. We're working really hard to do just that.
We're asked to show trend growth. We are showing trend growth. This is our fourth year of positive trends. I'm not sure what more people are asking for. You're asking for a better product year in and year out. We have a better product.
To your point, we create a great entertainment experience at an unbelievable price point at a time when people genuinely have less money. So you have a major league experience at an approachable point for your family. You have athletes who are everything we say they should be. They are role models. They care about their community. They play because they love to play. It is not because they're going to have seven zeros at the end of their contract.
Yet - and yet - I have to always read these articles about the whatever it is. I am stumped by that. I think we're all stumped by that.
We are big people. We run a big-time business. We stand up; we're happy to answer any questions people have. But that said, to your point, quality business, positive business trends, role model athletes, geared to families, active price point, major league entertainment. I think everybody in every community should be throwing their arms around us and giving us big bear hugs - after they've bought their 10 family season passes.

Q. Donna, you said earlier you always are trying to get more people involved in the WNBA family. With all the marketing and promotion, everything you're doing now, what more can the league do to increase those numbers?
DONNA ORENDER: I'm glad you asked that. I'm glad you asked that. If we sat back and we said, You know what, Chris, we've done everything we can do, and okay. The reality is the upside is so huge 'cause we have so much that we haven't done that we can still do.
I think I am stunned in every market when I get there when there's a whole pocket of people we have not spoken to yet or haven't really heard the message. We have this whole incredible base of young athletes who we really haven't connected with yet.
I am always buoyed by the fact that there is such an upside in what can be by virtue of the fact there's a lot of marketing yet to be done. I know that Hillary, as our lead back there, is going to continue to lead us in those right directions.

Q. Do you think the league schedule will shift every year because likely next year will it start earlier and then move again the year after because of World Championship, Olympic things?
DONNA ORENDER: Here's what we're trying to do. We're trying to look at our schedule in a four-year, what's the right word, quadrennium, knowing that we have the Olympics. We love the Olympics. Obviously it's a great showcase. We did a 5.3 rating at 5:00 in the morning from Beijing, China, without any promoting. That shows a great platform for the WNBA and our athletes. We say how are we going to create the other three years to create continuity and consistency? Next year we will start late.
Last year was the first year we started late. It proved to be very, very positive. Players got some rest. We were able to come to training camp. We had real training camps that were very productive. Teams had the right time to prepare. We felt better within the ticket-selling cycle. All those things are positive.
Our goal would be continue to do that, other than that in Olympic years.

Q. (No microphone.)
DONNA ORENDER: Three weeks. We look at about the first week in June.

Q. Two questions. You mentioned that local TV coverage is up. In Minnesota, it's not changed.
DONNA ORENDER: So you and I got to go back there together and fix it.

Q. Secondly, you discussed ESPN. You talked to them. The discussion came up that they want to show more highlights or act like they want to show the highlights quicker than the Brett Favre highlights?
DONNA ORENDER: As a matter of fact, that discussion did come up. Yes, we did talk a lot about highlights. We talked about we have a game on ESPN2 Tuesday night. Diana Taurasi scored I think 30 that game. On ESPN local L.A. I see some highlights. That's great. Turn on national, it's not there. I don't understand that.
To their credit, we had a very positive, productive discussion. Let's all monitor together.
I would also say this: if there's something that you don't like, send them a note. I do. Help me out.

Q. Is there anything you can tell us about plans for expansion? In the off-season there was talk about the Bay Area getting a team when the Sacramento situation came up. Also last off-season you lost Sacramento, Detroit was sold and moved. Can you tell us about the health of the teams now and if you've heard anything about teams looking for moving.
DONNA ORENDER: I didn't hear the second part of your question. Let me see if I can answer the first part.
In terms of expansion, people love to talk about expansion. They like to slam us, then they want to talk about us growing. We can do both, right?
In terms of expansion, I think our focus right now has really been on developing and strengthening the business model of the teams that we have. That does not mean that the door is not always open to people talking about investment. That continues. Bay Area discussions continue.
I cannot tell you there will be a team in 2011. I would tell you I'd rather have a team when it's ready, properly funded, properly staffed, ready to go, than at this point rush it, and continue to have the numbers that all of our current teams continue to improve. So that's where we are.
I'm thrilled with Tulsa and how they're doing. I mean, they won three games early. Of course, the owner would love to win. We would love every team to win. We're in a business that's defined by only certain teams are allowed to win. The way that community has embraced that team and continues to show its support is good indication as we look at other markets.

Q. The second part of my question was, is there anything else you can tell us about the 12 teams existing now going forward? Have you heard of rumblings like Detroit last season wanted to sell, Sacramento.
DONNA ORENDER: No. We're in touch with all of our teams right now, working with them diligently, all of their business staffs. Things are moving in the right direction.
That said, you should know about Sacramento. There are no rumblings with Sacramento. Two weeks before there was a situation and there was a reaction, so...
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, everyone. Appreciate your time.

End of FastScripts

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