The same can be said for the business of sports. Create a plan. Market the product. Identify sponsors. Sell tickets. Capture fans.
Historically, professional sports franchises and leagues that thrive season after season, on and off the playing field have mastered the art of execution. In the case of the WNBA, the last several seasons under the direction of President Laurel J. Richie, the league refocused its business strategy while placing an emphasis on execution, and it shows.
Richie, who is a seasoned corporate marketer and brand strategist, worked with her team to create a new identity for the WNBA that is more aligned with where the league is today. Gone is the original and outdated red, white, and blue logo, and it is replaced with a modern orange and oatmeal logo featuring an athletic silhouette. The league also extended its television agreement with ESPN an additional six years, taking its partnership through 2022.
On the marketing front, the WNBA highlighted its much anticipated rookie class, including Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury), Elena Delle Donne(Chicago Sky), and Skylar Diggins (Tulsa Shock), as the “3 to See”; and the rookies lived up to everyone’s expectations. Delle Donne was the first rookie to lead All-Star voting, and she finished the season with Rookie of the Year honors. Diggins and the Shock did not experience success on the court this season, but the team was one of the most popular teams in terms of merchandise and jersey sales. Griner played above the rim, dunking twice in her WNBA debut and setting the record for most dunks in a single game.
The league also introduced a new partnership with State Farm Insurance, where it served as the presenting partner of the 2013 WNBA Draft and WNBA Community Assist Award, as well as the half-time sponsor of nationally televised games on ABC and ESPN2.
In the end, the WNBA accomplished exactly what it set out to do: capture fans.
The league experienced an increase in television viewership. ESPN2 averaged 231,000 viewers, which is a 28% increase over last season. The opening day telecast featuring Delle Donne and the Chicago Sky versus Griner and the Phoenix Mercury delivered the 455,000 viewers, which was the most-watch game WNBA game on ESPN2 since 2004. Fan attendance jumped in Chicago(+17%), Phoenix(+9%), and Indiana (+8%), and the league as a whole saw a 1% increase.
And those fans who were not utilizing traditional forms of media, they followed the WNBA via digital formats, including WNBA.com and LiveAccess which both experienced double digit growth.
As the WNBA continues to execute its plan for growing women’s professional basketball, the league should continue to see its business metrics elevate season-after-season.