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October 14, 2012

Laurel Richie


LAUREL RICHIE:  I arrived in Minnesota earlier today to 50 degrees and fall has clearly arrived in the Midwest.  So I thought that would be a great opportunity to reflect back on the summer of 2012, which I think was just a terrific summer for women's sports, for women's basketball, and for the WNBA.
You know, we began with the 40th anniversary of TitleIX, and I was very, very happy and proud to see so many women who have played a role in the development of the WNBA and the continuation of the WNBA featured in the coverage of TitleIX.
So from Annie Meyers Drysdale to Lisa Leslie to Maya Moore and even our Rookie of the Year, Nneka Ogwumike, they were featured very prominently in the press and on many lists about the greatest women athletes.  So that was a great way to kick off our summer.
We then went over to London and I know the storey has been told, but I think it is worth repeating; that the women of Team USA basketball team brought home their fifth consecutive Gold Medal which set a record for traditional team sports.
We at the WNBA were very, very proud that all 12 members of that team are currently on WNBA rosters and that 38 women who competed in the Olympics playing basketball were either current or past members of WNBA teams.  So a great, great summer for women's sports.
We at the W also had a pretty good season.  This was a really interesting one.  There are some real breakout stories:  Kristi Toliver was just on fire this season.  It was terrific to see her as our most improved player.  I think we all got to see what it looks like when Candace Parker is 100 percent healthy throughout the entire season, and we saw that both on behalf of the Sparks and Team USA; Tina Charles, who began her summer by building a school in Africa for young kids then went on to become our MVP.
So just some really terrific stories about individual players.  And then some terrific team stories; you know, Chicago, who in the off‑season added Ruth Riley and Swin Cash to their roster, came close, closer than they have ever been I think, to making the Eastern Conference playoffs.
And Tulsa I think is another team who really performed well this year and I would argue that their team performance really exceeds their record.  I mean, they just had a terrific second season, second half of the season, with Glory Johnson Riquna Williams.  Lots to talk about in terms of the on‑court performance.
From a business standpoint, we were focused on three things.  We were paying attention to attendance and our goal here is really to build a sustainable fan base.  We have seen an up tick in season ticket renewals and in our group sales, groups being a pretty big driver of our business.  So we are encouraged by those two results.
Exposure was another area of focus for us.  We have 75 games during the regular season and the playoffs on national TV, ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and NBA TV.  So we have seen the bulk of our games are on NBA TV, and we have seen an increase in viewership on NBA TV; in fact, the highest‑ever viewership for the WNBA on that network.  Admittedly we were a little softer than we would have liked to have been on ESPN and ESPN2 during the regular season, but across our national presence during the playoffs, we are seeing that we are currently up 13 percent.  So for us, that is good news.
And beyond the games, I think this year we were absolutely thrilled when ESPN made the decision to cover our draft lottery live for the first time ever.  They have covered our draft twice live, but this was the first time they had covered the draft lottery for 2013.  So very happy about that.
And then the last area of our business, the partnership front, this was our first full season of activation with our league‑wide marquis partner in Boost Mobile, and we are thrilled with that partnership.  We saw them as Presenting Partner of Draft, of our Performance Awards and Playoffs and the Championship.  They produced a terrific commercial that carries the line, "It's all about the W."  
So we are thrilled to be in a full season of activation with Boost.  When you look at league and team combined, we are up seven percent in sponsorship, and two new partners that have come and joined us this year, Anheuser‑Busch and SAP.
But today is actually less about the regular season and more about the point that we are at in terms of the playoffs and sort of heading into the Championship.
And I think we all know the story of Minne, their road to repeat.  This is a team that continues to amaze and dazzle, and I think it is the breadth and depth of that team.  We have the three Olympians in Seimone and Maya and Lindsay, and then you add into that mix Rebekkah and Mama Taj, and they are just clearly, clearly a force to be reckoned with.  They had the best record in the league and at home I think they were 16‑1.  So we know what's on the court from Minne.
They are up against the Indiana Fever who are going for their first ever championship, led by Tamika Catchings, our reining defensive Player of the Year, and I don't think anyone in this room ever questions the heart, passion and drive of Tamika, joined by Katie Douglas and Briann January.  I just think this is a team that we have seen never, ever gives up.  They have gone all three games in the series, three‑game series against Atlanta and Connecticut.
So I am probably as excited as the fans outside my hotel when I arrived in Minne to see what's going to happen when we tip off tonight with Minne and Indy.  So I think there's a great show ahead for the fans of the WNBA.

Q.  Do you think it's about for the league, the WNBA, to have a dynasty‑type of a team, a team that does win multiple championships in a row and maybe can capture some attention that way?
LAUREL RICHIE:  I think so.  You know, I think behind a dynasty is a team that is showcasing the best of the best.  So I'm excited about the possibility for Minne and any other team in the league.

Q.  This year Lapchick again gave high marks to the WNBA for their the racial and gender hiring, but there was still some down points, black coaches, went down ten percent, there's still not a lot of trainers, so if you can comment on that as well as some of the initiatives that the league is looking at, especially at the one partnership you joined recently with the hundred black men of America.
LAUREL RICHIE:  As you said, we are thrilled with our rating and that's something that the WNBA and the larger NBA family is very committed to and takes very, very seriously.
And the beauty of doing a study like the one that Dr. Lapchick does is it shines a light on where we are doing well and where we need‑‑ where there is room for improvement.
What is terrific is we have a wide network of folks, and being the premiere women's professional league in the country, that helps us in our efforts to attract talent, so we take that data and immediately start taking action.

Q.  I believe I read this was the lowest average attendance that the league has had; wondered how concerned you are about that, and also if any other cities have expressed interest in having a WNBA franchise in their city.
LAUREL RICHIE:  So I spoke earlier about our real focus in on building a sustainable and strong and robust fan base for the W.
So while we are not at all pleased with where our overall attendance ended up, we are really focusing in on some of the key measures that help tell us that we are building a strong and sustainable fan base.
I'm sorry, I can't remember the second part of your question‑‑ oh, expansion, yes.  One of the joys of my job is answering the phone when folks call and express interest in bringing a WNBA team to their city.
So I would say over the last year, I have had a handful of calls with preliminary screening suggesting that the owners and those expressing interest have the resources and the connections and the passion to own a WNBA team.
So it's nice to have them in the hopper and in queue.  At this point in time, we do not have plans to expand, but that's the beauty of the off‑season when we get to take a step back and take stock of where we are. 

Q.  On the note about attendance, where do you focus your efforts to bring in more fans, as a lot of folks have talked about the high draft class and compared to the lackluster playoff run by some standards.  How do you bring in more people to get into those seats in 2013?
LAUREL RICHIE:  Yeah, one of the things we have been focusing in on is really looking out to form strategic alliances with organizations that share our values, share our fan base or potential fan base.
So earlier the question of 100 black men came up.  This is an organization that is dedicated to nurturing the relationship between adults and kids and to encouraging kids to lead healthy, active and meaningful lives.  So that is a natural connection point to us in we have content, if you will, to offer to that organization as we look to gain from their membership.
So forming strategic alliances that can aggregate our audience is a very important piece of it.
With respect to the 2013 draft class, you know, none of us in this room right now know who is going to be in that class, but as we look out and think about the possibility and the potential of that, I think that bodes very well if the women that sort of rise to the top choose to enter into the WNBA and choose to do that all together in one year; I think that would be fabulous for the league and fabulous for women's basketball.

Q.  You spoke a little bit about the competitive balance of the league during the regular season, and I think that's really carried over into the playoffs with some thrilling games.  Can you just talk about how that's a good representation of the talent and the league across the board?
LAUREL RICHIE:  Yeah, I think both the Eastern and Western Conference, these have been some terrific games that have literally gone down to the last shot, gone into double overtime.
And so I think while we see strength in some teams to the point where some are asking, is it the beginning of a dynasty, I think we are seeing some really tough competitions that may be surprising some in how aggressive and competitive they are.
So I think that just bodes well for the future of the W.

Q.  I've heard and read a lot of criticism about Phoenix and the way they handled Diana Taurasi's injuries, and it only increased when they got the overall No.1 draft pick; do you think that's a negative for the league to have a situation like that?
LAUREL RICHIE:  You know, there's lots of chatter, and I call it noise in the system, with respect to that.
On the one hand, it shows a level of knowledge, engagement and passion for the W and for our teams, which is a good thing.  It troubles me that there are some who think that there was something improper going on.
I will tell you that from where I sit, if there had been anything that I personally or the league overall felt was improper, we would have absolutely taken action.  But that said, any time there is discussion about the game, our players and competition, I view that as a very positive engagement of a very knowledgeable fan base.

Q.  Sort of following, you have teams like Washington and Tulsa who are pretty desperately in need of more talent.  The way the lottery has worked out, it's numbers, but the way it's worked out has not helped your teams that need help, and some fans are very concerned, especially right now, about the Mystics.  Is there any discussion towards changing mathematically the way the lottery works or perhaps including two years' results into the lottery or changing it to weigh it a little bit more for teams that are probably in more desperate need of talent.
LAUREL RICHIE:  No, you know, I think it's a balancing act.  So we have the rules and regulations and procedures in place, and we put them in place ahead of time so that we are not tempted in any way to adapt them based on any given situation at any given point in time.
So I think all of us, you look at what happened in this year's lottery, and it didn't go the way the odds would have said it would go, but that's why it's a lottery.
Our Competition Committee meets in December.  We are in the process of formulating that agenda.  That is an agenda that is defined by the members of the Competition Committee, so we'll see whether that bubbles up as an issue they would like to put on the agenda.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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