Despite a history of franchise foldings, team relocations and ownership changes, the WNBA tips off its 15th season tonight. And while the offseason was one of the most stable in a while, it wasn’t without change.
In April, the WNBA named Laurel Richie as its new president and successor to Donna Orender. This news is exciting because while Richie lacks basketball experience, she has proven herself to possess strong marketing and branding knowledge; exactly what the league needs most.
Throughout the league’s tenure, they’ve battled an identity crisis in large part due to the ongoing changes referenced above. Their marketing messages shifted often, hindered the league’s growth; and made it difficult to connect with an audience.
Families, male NBA fans, women and young girls have all been on the receiving end of a WNBA communication at one time or another. And while they’re all potential fans, the message was lost in translation due to poor timing and execution.
So, the hiring of Richie comes as no surprise because the WNBA desperately needed someone who could not only define and commit to a target audience, but also properly market the WNBA as a product worthy of our hard earned discretionary income.
Richie is the right woman for the job as her track record proves that she’s transformed notable brands such as the Girl Scouts of America, American Express, and Pepperidge Farm.
Since the league’s inception, the level of talent has never been an issue. Lisa Leslie, Cynthia Cooper, and Sheryl Swoopes were all talented beyond measure. Unfortunately, the marketing campaigns failed to establish long standing connections with would be fans.
In a recent interview with WNBA.com, Richie mentioned that she is extremely committed to having an active presence in our communities, empowering young woman, and developing future leaders.
Fortunately, the WNBA shares a similar commitment. And, it is expected that Richie will leverage her relationships and know-how to create richer opportunities for the WNBA to prosper. While Orender’s legacy includes growing T.V. ratings and attendance, as well as establishing marquee sponsorship deals with teams; it is Richie’ goal to identify more strategic partnerships that will help the WNBA further develop an emotional connection with its valuable audience.
Richie hopes to build upon the good that already exists and grow from there. For example, the WNBA is full of amazingly talented basketball players who take pride in their roles as women, mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, girlfriends, and role models. They are extremely willing and capable of serving as an inspiration to young impressionable girls across the country.
So, Richie’s biggest challenge won’t be discovering a way to connect with these young women. After all, she comes from an organization in which she had access to over 3 million girls nationwide. Instead, Richie must give young girls and their parents a reason to pay for access to their sheroes.
What perfect timing for Richie.
While the WNBA has always been bursting with the best talent in the world, the start of the 15th season stands a part from the rest because of this year’s first and second draft picks Maya Moore and Liz Cambage; respectively. Both young ladies have proven they’re marketable, having made headlines and drawn the interest of fans early on. Never shying away from the attention because they recognize that any exposure they receive ultimately benefits the WNBA; a major win for Richie.
Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx, is a proven champion and has been called the best female basketball player to ever play the game. And her most recent endorsement by the undisputed G.O.A.T., Michael Jordan, proves that Moore has the talent and star power to help advance the league. Jordan would not have bestowed Moore with the honor of becoming the first lady of Jordan Brand if she didn’t. Since Moore has grabbed Michael Jordan’s attention, there’s no reason why other fans shouldn’t also take notice.
Liz Cambage, of Australia, is also an incredible addition to the WNBA. A statuesque 6’8, Cambage is not only the tallest WNBA player, but she’s also the youngest. But don’t let her age deceive you. Cambage, Tulsa Shock, has played in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) in Australia since 2007 and has developed a physical game where she thrives inside the post. Like Moore, she’s a champion. Although she’s making her WNBA debut, she enters the league after winning the 2011 MVP award and championship in the WNBL.
While Moore and Cambage are the new kids on the block, don’ expect veteran players like Candace Parker, LA Sparks, Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury, or Sue Bird, Seattle Storm, to name a few, to fade from the spotlight. They’ve been the faces of the league for the past few seasons and have already established a solid fan base and presence in their local communities.
It is Richie’s responsibility to take advantage of the fresh faces and vets in the league and create a new image for the WNBA. As seen with the NBA, there are enough marketing dollars and opportunities to go around.
The 2011 season is already off to a running start with the pairing of Maya Moore and Candace Parker against each other in tonight’s season opener.
The Minnesota Lynx and LA Sparks tip-off tonight at 11pm on NBATV. This is a rivalry in the making and not to be missed!