WNBA president talks about expansion, sponsorships, the 11-player team limit and more

wnbaw_pms3Sue Favor interviewed Donna Orender at the “Sunset Showdown” Saturday June 5 when the Los Angeles Sparks hosted the Seattle Storm at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. Her thoughts on a number of league-related issues:

On expansion

We’re still entertaining interest in the Bay Area. We’re really pleased with what’s happened in Seattle with Bing. In terms of companies and sponsorships there still seems to be good growth.

We’ve certainly seen a lot more interest [in sponsoring a team]. We see companies wanting to spend more. Overall sponsorship is up double digits for our teams.

On ratings so far this season

We’re pleased about our television ratings, our opening ratings were more than double what our overall season ratings were. What we’re seeing is general interest continuing to grow. I still believe it’s about the quality of the game. The quality of the competition is extraordinary, and I think that continues to draw more people into the game.

On the 11-player roster and fan discontent with the shrinkage of player spots

I’ve heard the same thing [that people are disappointed in the 11-player rosters], and I’ve had a lot of interactions with fans. We’re coming off our best competitive season yet with 11-player rosters, and I don’t think anyone can ignore the quality of the play, and it continues to get better and better. And so therefore there hasn’t been a negative net. There’s been a positive on one hand. On the other, would it be nice to have more players. I think our teams would enjoy another player, and I think we will continue to monitor it as we move forward.

What I love about the WNBA is even why we’re here: it’s an innovative league, we’re open, we’re nimble, and we continue to monitor what works and what we can do better. So it’s not like anything’s cast in stone, but we’re very attuned to creating a solid, good business model that we can create growth upon, and right now we’re firing on a lot of quality cylinders of our business model.

On Tulsa

Where we were from day one compared to where we are now just shows tremendous growth, from the way the community has embraced this team. I think Coach Richardson is an outstanding human being and a great coach. I think things in Tulsa are going pretty well.

On the start of the season

Having the season start a little bit later is to everyone’s advantage, and on a long-term basis, that’s what we’ll be looking towards executing. Moving forward, the Olympics will always be a part of what we do.

On the race for MVP

I think last year we had five candidates going into the end, and like I said, the quality of the play is outstanding. And after 14 years of being in existence, we’re seeing maturation in the quality of play. The great players are getting better, the young players start out better, and the numbers of players who are vying to be great are better. All that just adds up to excellence, and that’s what we’re seeing. Look at what Candace has put together, and Angel McCoughtry—let me tell you—this kid’s for real; she’s making it happen.

These kids are playing a higher level of basketball at a younger age with better coaches, and they’re playing in more competitive leagues. A lot of athletes are getting quality play at a variety of institutions. I think we’re creating that, and then we’re benefiting from it, so it’s a very virtuous cycle.

Sue Favor’s Blog: They’re Playing Basketball.

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  • I find it very negative to only have 11 players on a team. There are to many young ladies who play basketball overseas that we can't see play in the WNBA. The wnba needs to have more teams in the midwest and south. Bring a team back to Detroit and have them play downtown.

    • Unfortunately a lot of that has to do with money. If the money's not coming in to be able to pay more players and prospective owners and sponsors are not ponying up the money for a franchise, there's not much Donna or the league can do. That being said, I think they are missing some golden opportunities for building their brand, increased fan support and increased revenue.

  • I appreciate Donna's optimism about the league. I'm pretty optimistic myself. But optimism without a reality check can make you find yourself stagnate and immobile. This business about being "an innovative league, we’re open, we’re nimble, and we continue to monitor what works and what we can do better" is all well and good but you're not being as open and as nimble as you could be in MY opinion. Listen to your constituency sometimes. There are a lot of great ideas out there for not only improving and growing it but also to help it to prosper.

    • I agree, the WNBA is missing out on opportunities to build the brand and increase fan support. There are several players that I believe fans would like to support in the WNBA. Also, don't miss out on expansion even though some teams have failed, expansion into the right market would bolster awareness and sponsorship.

  • We see two trends at once–an increase in attendance at games and less of a commitment to broadcast women's games. MSG owns the Liberty and will only broadcast 4 games this year on their own station!!! They broadcast men's college baseball while their own wnba team has a scheduled game. I bought a big flat screen TV to watch the games and now I end up watching pixelated images on the computer. Once again, Live Access gives me the opportunity to follow my favorite players as they move to other cities. I like that, but NBA fans have NBA TV that does the same thing on a clear TV image. When will there be parity for women players and their fans?

  • I am trying to figure out who Ollander is saying tv ratings are up when their all-star game was seen in only 308,000 households in the us, which makes them almost at a zero rating, it actually was 0.4……….ratings are up? what planet does she live on?

  • also their attendance numbers are really off for game attendance……..i went to one game where i live and they announced and in the paper over 8,000 but there might have been 3,500 people to 4,500 people in the building…..why not tell the truth about your night gate receipts……this takes away all the corporate give-aways and free tickests……

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