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They made the NY Times pay attention: Griner and Other Rookies Rejuvenate W.N.B.A.

With the W.N.B.A. playoffs beginning Thursday, the league’s shift in branding and promotion, with a focus on Griner and other top rookies, has been a success. Ticket sales during the regular season improved by 8.9 percent. Games on ESPN2 averaged 231,000 viewers, a 28 percent jump from a year ago. Traffic on the league’s Web site has increased, too.

“We couldn’t have been more thrilled with how this season is going,” Laurel Richie, the W.N.B.A. president, said in a telephone interview. “We’ve focused a lot of our efforts on storytelling, both about the game and our players.”

Nice shot, Michelle! 

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Laurel Richie

“Sophia has the right to express her point of view, however, I do not share her view,” WNBA president Laurel Richie said in a statement. “The WNBA supports diversity and we are committed to the equal and fair treatment of all people.”

Of course, she couldn’t ignore it, ’cause the rest of the world ain’t. From The Atlantic Wire: WNBA Star Doesn’t Care What She’s Voting For, She Just Doesn’t Like Gays

The WNBA is actually light years ahead of any other professional American sports league when it comes to progress for gay players and gay fans. While the NFL and NHL are busy talking about the anticipation of a single openly-gay player, the WNBA’s 2012 first draft pick, Brittney Griner, came out of the closet, was signed by Nike and was in a massive spread in ESPN magazine when she was drafted. “I am a strong, black lesbian woman. Every single time I say it, I feel so much better,” Griner said. Griner and Young actually went to the same college. 

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other such targeted celebrations during basketball games can raise a huge number of issues.

As Mechelle said in her chat, “the fact that the league is celebrating [Pride], and that WNBA president Laurel Richie easily says the words “lesbian” and “gay” publicly, are all good signs.”

It’s also a fact that many faith-based organizations are deliberately and actively against equal rights for all, something I find both hypocritical and wildly un-American. So, when WNBA teams host “Faith nights,” it can, understandably, raise the hackles of all fair-minded fans. From an email I received:

I’ve written to LA Sparks mgmt. because this year they had 2 christian events as “entertainment” and no non-christian concerts/entertainment.  This really turns me off to attending Sparks games and I know I’m not the only one.  Is it possible that certain teams are looking to decrease gay fans and increase “families”, specifically christian ones? Don’t know but I think that it’s not a smart idea.

I agree, it’s unwise to alienate one fan base in the hopes of drawing another one. Neither am I willing to lump all faith-based organizations under one umbrella. But how do you decide who does or does not get a night? Here’s my simple litmus test: does the group/organization follow this non-discrimination statement as presented by Iowa State University:

“(Fill-in-the-blank) does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity.”

If the group demonstrates a pro-active compliance, cool. If no, respectfully suggest that they are more than welcome to support the League through the purchase of group tickets, but no team of the WNBA would knowingly align themselves with an organization that would deliberately discriminate.

Thoughts?

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More on Richie from Jayda: Luncheon in Seattle led Laurel J. Richie to WNBA – Former Girl Scouts executive Laurel J. Richie made an impression in Seattle that led to a job as WNBA president.

Storm president and CEO Karen Bryant said she and the ownership group looked across the table at each other and knew Richie had to be in the pool of candidates for the WNBA job that Donna Orender had resigned in December after six years.

“I loved her story,” Bryant said of Richie. “She has a commanding presence, and she has a really unique combination of confidence and humility. … Afterward she told us, ‘I’m definitely going to a game.’ She was somebody I was going to stay connected to, there’s no question. When I met her and took her card, I took that card with a purpose. I would have gone to a game with her in New York and I still will, but now I’m her guest.”

From the Deccan Herald’s Roshan Thyagarajan: Waiting to make a mark – Geethu Anna Jose’s try out at WNBA could indeed be the boost Indian women’s basketball needs

It is but normal to ponder over what sets Geethu Anna Jose apart from an estimated 50 lakh players of the fairer sex who take up basketball as something more than a mere hobby.

So what does she have that the rest don’t? What skill or added incentive does she possess that puts her on WNBA’s (Womens National Basketball Association) radar while the rest of the basketballing fraternity grapples amongst itself to make a small mark in a huge country?

John Altavilla at the Hartfort Courant writes: Payoff Would Be Playoffs For The Sun – Team Looking To End Two-Year Drought

After building a reputation as one of the WNBA’s most solid teams the last six seasons, the Connecticut Sun have faltered the last two, failing to make the playoffs each year.

Generally recognized as the best organization in the league and its only consistent money-maker, coach Mike Thibault and GM Chris Sienko worked in the offseason to bring the basketball up to par with the business office.

From Melissa Rohlin: Candace Parker leads full Sparks camp roster

When training camp began last year, things looked pretty grim for the Los Angeles Sparks.
They had a new coach, three-time WNBA most valuable player Lisa Leslie had retired, and more than half of the team was still playing overseas.

This year, with audible tinges of excitement in her voice, Sparks General Manager Penny Toler said everything will be different when camp opens Sunday.

From Ben York: Sylvia Fowles “I’m Very Excited for This Season”

Sylvia Fowles has made up her mind that missing the playoffs is no longer an option.

If you thought she had a MVP-caliber season in 2010, you haven’t seen anything yet.

There is a look of calm determination and stoic poise in Fowles that we haven’t seen before. Don’t get me wrong; the aggressiveness and ferocity hasn’t left her game but there is an added dimension of composed confidence that was palpable throughout Team USA training camp.

From Mechelle: Alana Beard focused on life and WNBA – Mystics guard continues to make strides while preparing for upcoming season

Alana Beard can tell you the date she last played a competitive basketball game: Dec. 22, 2009, in Poland. She can recite exactly what kind of rehab she did for her injured ankle, and for how many hours a day during the nearly 17 months since her last competition.

For that matter, she could probably tell you precisely how much her last grocery bill was, because that’s how her mind works. Beard is about the details, about making things add up.

At the Huffington Post: Maya Moore Speaks about Pay, Labor and Going Pro

She was the number one draft pick for the WNBA, a four-season All-American at University of Connecticut and a world championships gold-medalist for the U.S. national team. But as Maya Moore heads into preseason training for the Minnesota Lynx, she reflects on how going pro means she’s not longer just a basketball player: She’s also a business. Moore shared her thoughts with The Huffington Post on unions, fair pay in athletics and what is soon-to-be the “Maya” brand:

From Lady Swish: And then there was one: Maiga-Ba waived by Minnesota

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You’re going to have to wait a week for the Seattle Times’ feature on Laurel Richie, but you can check out the vast media coverage below:

First, read the teleconference transcription at the .com (’cause it’s always fun to see what writers pick out).

Next, from Kelly Hines (not Lynn?) at the Tulsa World: WNBA president Laurel Richie calls league a ‘terrific product’

“I am learning along the way,” she said during a media teleconference Tuesday. ” … I have been a viewer of (WNBA) games, not necessarily an attender of games.”

From Vin at the AP: Richie set to take over as WNBA president

Laurel Richie acknowledged she doesn’t know a lot about the WNBA’s history. Still, days after being hired as the WNBA’s third president, she called it a ‘dream job.'”I am learning along the way,” Richie said Tuesday on a national conference call with reporters. “I have been, as part of the interviewing process, spending lots of time with many, many people with the NBA and WNBA. I am on that learning curve.”

In contemplating why she previously wasn’t a ticket-buying WNBA fan, Richie pinpoints the fact that she was “not necessarily being approached.” Meaning she felt like the league hadn’t made an effective concerted effort to reach people who weren’t already largely predisposed to being women’s basketball fans.

“So what I want to think about is, how do we reach out to people and engage them?” Richie said. “Versus assuming or putting the burden on them to come and grab us.”

From Mel: The Business of New WNBA President Richie Will Be — Business

For those who have watched the WNBA evolve into its forthcoming 15th season there were few surprises out of new president Laurel J. Richie’s introductory teleconference with the national media Tuesday afternoon.When Donna Orender, the second WNBA president and successor to Val Ackerman, announced her resignation last fall, officials in the hybrid connectivity of the NBA and WNBA targeted the next leader to be someone with a strong business and marketing background to rebrand the league.

I’ve maintained since the beginning of the WNBA’s search for a new president that someone from outside the women’s basketball world would be a good idea.

An “outsider” would presumably bring some fresh ideas, a frame of reference free from historical inertia, and perhaps a critical eye on some practices that have become accepted as common sense.

The NBA’s search committee took that reasoning to its extreme with its choice for the league’s third president to succeed Donna Orender.

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Monday dribble: WNBA president, pro hockey, and clips

It’s interesting how many were irked at the WNBA’s timing for announcing Laurel J. Richie as its third president. The Twitter timeline blew up, ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel wrote an entire column and I spent hours discussing it with people who don’t even care about the league.

Rumor states it was a forced release because Girl Scouts of the USA was going to make an announcement. But aside from the press conference not being the same day, what does it really matter? Especially since we don’t know when the decision was made.

The WNBA is entering its 15th season. Excitement and buzz should circle the players, not the president.

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As Mechelle notes,

the announcement of Laurel Richie as Prez simply underlines the issues she’ll have to address: New president will have to play catch-up – WNBA should have made hire before draft, women’s Final Four

The WNBA announced its new president Thursday: Laurel J. Richie, who is a longtime marketing executive, most recently for Girl Scouts of the USA.

In a splendid bit of missed opportunity, the league made this announcement two weeks AFTER the women’s Final Four (held at a WNBA arena) and a week AFTER the WNBA draft (held at ESPN headquarters).

Added Mel:

Timing was not everything for the WNBA Thursday in announcing veteran marketing executive Laurel J. Richie, a senior vice president and chief marketing officer with Girl Scouts of the USA, as the women’s pro basketball league’s third president in its 15-year history.

The WNBA/NBA PR machine, somewhat lacking the luster it once held, managed to roll out a name without rolling out the body.

How true. Think how much buzz was generated by this year’s Four — how much media was there, ready to write. So, instead of a prepped blanket of coverage, we get one other article on the new Prez. That one’s from Ben, who thinks Richie is the Perfect Choice for WNBA President

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Laurel J. Richie

Veteran marketing executive, Laurel J. Richie, who brings more than three decades of experience in consumer marketing, corporate branding, public relations and corporate management, has been appointed President of the WNBA, NBA Commissioner David Stern announced today.

Richie will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the world’s premier women’s sports league, which tips off its historic 15th season this summer. She will assume her new role on May 16, 2011, reporting to NBA Deputy Commissioner and COO Adam Silver. With a long track record of developing award-winning campaigns that transform brands and drive business results, Richie served most recently as Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Girl Scouts of the USA. She was responsible for the organization’s brand, communications, publishing, marketing and web-based initiatives, and was the driving force behind the recent brand revitalization of this well-loved American icon.

From an article at ClickZ

Which makes digital and social just as challenging. The Girl Scouts are approaching this very methodically. For the girls, it has been experimenting with tools that leverage the efficiencies of peer production, like an iPhone app for cookie season. For adult volunteers, it has deployed more content-driven programs on blogs and Facebook and Twitter. And it’s just the beginning. With tech vendors like Microsoft, it has been exploring the rules and tools required to provide a virtual online experience to complement the more important offline experience for Girl Scouts (see, for example, the LMK project, “an online safety resource where girls are the technology experts on subjects that are often best discussed at a teen-to-teen level, like cyberbullying, predators and social networking”). But like the best of social-tech practitioners, it has been moving toward that goal with some caution. “With social media, we are in the midst of a big technological transformation,” said Laurel Richie, CMO of the Girl Scouts, in an interview with ClickZ last week. That transformation can take social media well beyond marketing, as many organizations learn to innovate and implement new business models…all while managing the risks that come with running an organization for young people.

With a h/t to SteveR, there’s this press release from the Girl Scouts after they hired her in ’08

Prior to her new appointment, Richie held the position of Senior Partner, Executive Group Director, at Ogilvy & Mather, where she worked on a long series of noteworthy campaigns for clients including Campbell Soup, American Express, Chesebrough-Pond’s, Oscar Mayer, Maidenform, Pepperidge Farm, Springs Industries, and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. The bulk of her career at O&M was spent working in partnership with Kimberly-Clark, where she played a key role in building Huggies into a leading global brand and helped transform Kotex into a more modern brand for today’s young women. She sat on Ogilvy New York’s Operating Board and was a founding member of Ogilvy’s Employee Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion.

Richie’s pro-bono clients included the Museum for African Art, the Hospital for Special Surgery and the New York Human Rights Commission. In addition, she has mentored young women and girls as part of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the 4A’s Multi-cultural Advertising Intern Program, Xavier University’s Youth Motivation Task Force and the Advertising Educational Foundation. Richie is a recipient of the YMCA’s Black Achiever’s Award and Ebony Magazine’s Outstanding Women in Marketing and Communications.

I see nothing wrong with this choice, mostly because much of the incompetence in the WNBA is OFF the court, not on.

What’s also cool is that if Ms. Richie does this right, she can make up for the damage a previous head of the Girl Scouts did to women’s basketball: Lou Hoover (as in the wife of the prez) helped spearhead the movement that wiped out competitive girls’ high school basketball in the 1930’s.

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