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If you add it, they will come: All-Star game location important, but WNBA needs more to make it special

Published on July 31, 2013

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UNCASVILLE, CT (July 27, 2013) - Mohegan Sun Arena, site of the 2013 WNBA All-Star game.

UNCASVILLE, CT (July 27, 2013) – Mohegan Sun Arena, site of the 2013 WNBA All-Star game.

ESPN’s Kate Fagan wrote a commentary this weekend in which she discussed the merits of moving the WNBA All-Star game to a location other than Mohegan Sun arena, where the Connecticut Sun play their home games.

To put the location into context, of the eleven All-Star games (not including the two exhibition games played during Olympic or World Championship years), nine have been on the east coast with Mohegan Sun and New York’s Madison Square Garden hosting three each, Washington D.C. hosting two, and Orlando one. Only two games have been west of the Mississippi: San Antonio in 2011 and Phoenix in 2000.

As Fagan said in her commentary, “a good rule of thumb in women’s basketball is to never complain about a sold-out arena.” She is right however, in that there could be more. Certainly the fact that Mohegan Sun sold out on Saturday shows the game was a success in terms of attendance. But what is the goal of an All-Star game? Is it simply to gather the best in one spot and play an uptempo game with funky uniforms in front of a packed house?

I do believe it is important that the All-Star game be a special event for the WNBA. There are few games on free television during the season and this is a chance to show the general public what a glorious game WNBA basketball is and why they should spend their entertainment dollars on it.

Yet increasingly the game feels like just another regular season game, shoehorned into an already packed schedule, without extra fanfare and publicity.

It certainly makes sense to want to “share the wealth” and move the game to other locations, but would it really improve things? Would a different location make for a “better” event?

I have attended five All-Star games: 2005 at Mohegan Sun, 2006 in New York, and 2007 in Washington, as a ticket paying customer with my family, and at Mohegan in 2009 and 2013 as a member of the media. Having been on “both sides of the street” I think I have a pretty good idea of some things that can make the All-Star game the event it needs to be. Of course, my proposals do not necessarily consider the financial constraints of the league and the host team or any restrictions regarding dates and times put on the WNBA by partners ESPN/ABC. They  are meant to be an overall look at a “wish list” of events that could make things really special.

Accordingly, here are some suggestions to consider for future All-Star weekends:

1. The WNBA needs to block off an entire weekend, not just a Friday and Saturday, even if it means stopping the regular season on Wednesday instead of Thursday. Games did not resume until Wednesday after the All-Star game this year, so make the break a whole week to allow more time at the All-Star site, and better travel arrangements for the players, coaches, media and fans.

2. Move the game to Sunday. It sounds like a small thing, but by moving the game to Sunday, you are allowing for an entire weekend of events leading up to the game. Fans want to travel to an event, not just a Saturday game. While 2013 was a sellout, it was basically Connecticut and New York fans with a few real hardcore travelers. If you move it, they will come. Which leads to…

3. Make Saturday special. Learn from the NBA. All-Star Saturday Night is probably more watched than the All-Star game. While we cannot expect that type of television coverage for the WNBA (yet), make Saturday events, even in the afternoon, an event worth attending. Move the open practices from Friday, when many people cannot attend due to work commitments, to Saturday. My guess is you would see a lot more parents bringing their kids to a free open practice on a day they do not have to work or worry about picking kids up from school. Let the players ring the perimeter of the court and sign autographs for a half hour after the practices. They are your best ambassadors; let them cultivate the fan base.

4. Bring back the skills events! This is a must for All-Star Saturday. The league needs to showcase the athleticism and talents of their players in skill events. Players like Ivory Latta and Epiphanny Prince said they would love a three-point contest. Danielle Robinson and Riquina Williams could showcase their speed in a point guard skills challenge. Some disagree, but I feel it is time for a Slam Dunk contest. The league should be comfortable enough in its own skin to have one without regret or embarrassment. The players do not seem to mind if they miss, so let’s not worry about it! Brittney Griner, Glory Johnson, Nneka Ogwumike, Liz Cambage, Maya Moore, Sylvia Fowles, and Candace Parker are just a few of the stars that can throw it down, so bring in judges that enjoy the women’s game like Kevin Durant or Charles Barkley, and let the women show off! Another idea, host a three-on-three tournament. Three-on-three is now an international championship sport, so let’s promote interest in it. Each WNBA franchise should enter a team and have a tournament to crown the WNBA three-on-three champion.

2005 All-Star Game.

2005 All-Star Game.

5. There has to be a Fan Fest! As I mentioned, I attended three All-Star games with my wife and daughter. Do I remember what happened in the game itself? Not really. What do I remember? Fans walking around wearing jerseys of teams from all over the country. I remember my 10-year-old winning a pair of brand new Diana Taurasi Nike sneakers at Mohegan and the look on her face. I remember T-Spoon running a clinic at Mohegan Sun and Jennifer Azzi doing one in New York City. I remember waiting patiently in lines to get autographs from stars including Becky Hammon and Lauren Jackson in New York, Lisa Leslie and Yolanda Griffith in Connecticut. Cleaning out a dresser last week I found a WNBA lip balm on a string given out in Washington DC. And sitting in my daughter’s room, from eight years ago, is the picture to the right from a booth at the Fan Fest of my kid with Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird, Chamique Holdsclaw, and Michelle Snow (note the I love Tamika t-shirt, whatever happened to those?). She was 10, and is now 18 and going away to college, and that picture is still in her room. This is how memories and life-long fans are made. Not by just attending a game but by being a part of an event.

6. Involve the fans in the game; do not just have them watch a game. How awesome did the NBA playoffs look when the teams put a colored T-shirt on everyone’s chair to wear? Alternate sections, put an orange with white or a white with orange T-shirt for everyone, so when it is on television it looks special. In Washington, everyone attending was given a set of postcard like pictures of the players. Ask Rittenhouse, your trading card partner to compile special All-Star sets and give them out to the fans (at least the kids) when they enter. If you cannot have them done in time, make it a redemption they can mail in. Give away items from your sponsors; take advantage of the concourse of your arena! Have displays, promotions, activities, and more. Make it more than just another game.

7. Make the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame more of a partner, have them be more involved. At the Big East tournament each of the last two years, John Molina and the All-American Red Heads had a wonderful display showcasing their history. It helped make the tournament feel like a part of history. The WBHOF announces their new inductees during the game. They should at a minimum have a display on the concourse of some items from the Hall of Fame, and they should bring at least one or two members to sign autographs pre-game or at halftime. This is our game’s history! It needs to be told, and taught to those that do not know about it.

8. Appreciate your media coverage. Entice the writers from the other parts of the country to come to the event by giving them an incentive to come. Add events to the program as listed above, have an opportunity for them to talk to the players and coaches other than after practice or in the locker room; set up a banquet room or equivalent and have the players sit and answer questions in a relaxed setting. You would be surprised how many great stories would come from it!

The WNBA is a great league, with special players that are the absolute best in the world at what they do. They are talented, educated, and outgoing, a combination that should be a dream to market. The WNBA All-Star game seems like the perfect convergence of athlete, sponsor, fan and consumer in one place. Now it is up to the WNBA, its franchises and its investment partners to maximize what that can do for the league’s growth and future.


 

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  • Kelly

    I agree with everything written here! Great ideas, all. However, moving the game around is not only more fair, it is fitting. I was only able to attend the San Antonio ASG because the airline tickets were far more reasonable from the city I live in, PHX. Another issue to consider, the West absolutely dominates in terms of Championships! Why "punish" the Wests teams and fans by constantly choosing East locations? This is completely unfair to the best teams I the league and their loyal fan bases. It is travesty that the ASG has never been in L.A. For example. But, consider Chicago or Minnesota too, both more central locations than the remote Mohegan Sun arena.

  • and to piggy back off of what kelly wrote above, the players in the west having to travel cross country is not an easy haul. i know for a fact that the Sparks had red-eye to Cincy, transfer, and finally make it into CT until early Friday morning.

  • mary perlmutter

    Finally some one from the media is listening to the fans. I have been saying that they need to do more at the allstar games. I agree that all the items you listed should be done. If they did all these things the WNBA would be much more known. I do not know how many people do not know about the WNBA. I recently moved from Jersey to Oregon, I had to leave my NY Liberty and I became a Strom season ticket holder. I have to travel six hours round trip to each game, that is how much I love the WNBA. It would be great if they moved the allstar game to each city, I am tried of going to Ct. I have been to almost all the WNBA cities and they all deserve to host the game.

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