“The WNBA is well-managed but is fighting for its life,” said a world-renowned sports journalist.
My jaw dropped when I read that statement earlier this year. Since 1997, the WNBA’s inaugural season, the same recycled storyline has been printed year after year.
Despite continued criticism and predictions of failure, the longest-running women’s professional basketball league in the U.S. is holding its own and not folding anytime soon.
It’s the WNBA’s 17th season, viewership is up +86% on NBA TV and up +41% on ESPN2. Attendance is up .3% but more importantly gate receipts are up +18%.Merchandise sales are up +36% with the “3 to See” rookies claiming the top three spots on the league’s top-selling jersey list. Additionally, national brands are on board as key sponsors, including State Farm Insurance, Jamba Juice, Boost Mobile, and most recently, Procter & Gamble (P&G).
Announced this week, the new partnership with P&G blends, the world’s largest and most profitable consumer packaged goods company, with the WNBA’s key-markets and its commitment to empowering women and girls. In 2012, P&G amassed $83.6 billion in sales and more than $10 billion in net earnings. Its beauty, grooming, and healthcare household names, such as Secret, Tampax, Cover Girl, and My Black is Beautiful, are focal points of the multi-brand partnership.
It’s the WNBA’s 17th season, and it is time to retire the outdated rhetoric.
“I believe we are going to look back at the 17thseason and say it was a significant summer in the history and development of the WNBA,” said WNBA President Laurel J. Richie.
Forbes.com caught up with President Richie to discuss the league’s business partnerships, the rebranding initiative, and the 2013 All-Star Game; here are highlights from her remarks.
On the Partnership with Procter & Gamble
Richie: I had the opportunity to connect with P&G at an ESPNW summit and we had a great conversation. We spent a couple of days with a larger group talking about women’s sports and the WNBA in particular. I knew that they were a partner of ours, so I wanted to reengage in discussions with them. As they understood more about what we are trying to do and where the WNBA is today, and in thinking of some of the terrific programming that they have with My Black is Beautiful and Imagine the Future, it made sense for us to come together.
On the Marquee Partnership with Boost Mobile
Richie: We continue to be excited about being in partnership with Boost Mobile. It’s All About The Wwas a creative concept that they came up with, and we were thrilled with. My team teases me, in that meeting, they had not even finished presenting, and I said yes. I knew it was such a big and powerful idea. When brands are aligned, it creates a real opportunity for a terrific creative expression.
On the WNBA’s “3 to See” Rookies
Richie: We’re seeing this wonderful combination of great energy and excitement around our rookies, but also I would say significant breakout performances from our veterans. The combination has taken the level of competition to new heights. They’ve garnered a lot of attention, and they have brought additional viewers and fans. Not only did we have high expectations for these rookies, but the broader sports community, as well. I was amazed at the level of discussion taking place between the end of the college season, our draft, which was in primetime for the first time, and then their first games.
On Attendance Figures
Richie: I literally watch the attendance numbers every morning, and there’s some up and down. I think a lot of that has to do with what the schedule looks like. For many teams camp days and school days are big attendance drivers. My guess is our attendance will be solid this year. We’ll have to wait until we get a little bit further and get some of the signature game day events under our belt. But I am encouraged by the renewal rates of our season ticket holders and what we’re seeing as an uptick in individual sales and game day sales.
On Rebranding the WNBA
Richie: The rebranding is both visual and how we talk about the league. It is the total package that has been very well received by fans, players, and our partners. One, they appreciated that the catalyst for the rebranding was to make sure that our visual identity was a true reflection of the athleticism and diversity of today’s players. The second piece was making sure that it felt fresh and contemporary. People have said it is part of the many reasons why fans are feeling a renewed sense of energy and excitement about the WNBA.
On the 2013 All-Star Game
Richie: I think fans are going to see great basketball this weekend. It’s always interesting to see the fan choices for the starting lineup, and I think they did a good job. There’s no one on the list that you’re not excited to see both as an individual player and playing together.
For more about the WNBA, tune into the Boost Mobile 2013 WNBA All-Star Game, hosted by the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, airing on ABC Saturday, July 27, at 3:30 p.m.