In her own words: Transcript of WNBA president Donna Orender’s press conference before game one

Press conference before 2010 WNBA Finals, Game 1, Seattle, WA
September 12, 2010

Source: WNBA

DONNA ORENDER: Good morning everyone, how are you? So glad this is day one of the WNBA 2010 Finals. It’s a special morning here today to spend a little time to talk about the business of the WNBA. I thought I would do that by, as I thought about this, sharing with you really the focus that we have at the league.

I have to tell you that the things we’re focused on is No. 1 delivering the best possible, most entertaining major league authentic experience that any fan can have, and we do that with the best athletes in the world. We do it in a family-­friendly and very community­-focused environment, and we do it in a way that’s affordable, and I have to tell you especially in this day, at this time, the economic reality, I can’t think of a better way to position a business that offers all those things, really, so authentically than we do for the WNBA.

We’re also very, very focused on making a difference in the communities in which we play. But I have to tell you, that we do it on a much broader scale as well, that we compete on a world stage, and by virtue of the WNBA being a show case of strong women, who are achieving at the highest level, who inspire a little piece in all of us, whether a young girl who has dreams of being a basketball player or anything else that she can be, for a young boy who looks up at women just a little bit differently than they did if they weren’t there performing at such a high level, I have to tell that you we make a difference in the world in a much bigger way than just being basketball players.

I can tell you that that’s what makes the WNBA impactful, and extremely vital. And lastly, our job, and you can see it so well in these Finals, through unbelievable ownership groups, the one we have in Seattle, Force 10, the one we have in Kathy Betty in Atlanta, it is to build a sustainable business model.

I have to tell you that in doing so, all three of these things, 2010 for the WNBA has been an incredibly impactful year and a very productive one. We do it through the prism of our mission, which is to lead, to inspire and to create change. I can tell you having the privilege of working alongside 12 ownership groups, 12 coaching groups, 150 players and an unbelievably dedicated staff at the WNBA and a broader group at the NBA, it is a daunting task, but I have to tell you it is extremely motivating.

So keeping in mind those three foci ­­ isn’t that a funny word ­­ of the WNBA, I want to talk about the specifics of the 2010 accomplishments and achievements and then I will be happy to answer any and all questions that you might have.

First of all it starts with the game. I ask you, before you can ask me, have you ever seen it better? I’ve never seen it better than it is right now.

After 14 years of being in existence, I’ve often talked about the seeds being planted, about young girls growing up and then being part of a system that has so exponentially grown so that at every level of the athletic chain, youth basketball, high school basketball, collegiate basketball ­­ basketball, by the way, being the crown jewel of NCAA athletic sports for women ­­ in the WNBA it went from 10,000 girls playing, a girl like me, to millions of girls playing, not only here but around the world. And if you look at the Finals today, we can see the international component ­­ and I’m going to talk about that ­­ that’s so taken over women’s basketball, and so counts for the quality of play. Right here in Seattle they’re proud, and we’re all proud, of Kia MVP, Lauren Jackson, but you know what? It wasn’t an easy decision, as many of you saw in the voting, because there was Tamika Catchings for the Indiana Fever, there was Cappie Pondexter, for the New York Liberty, there’s Diana Taurasi, and interestingly enough ­­ is it her second or third year, Ms. Betty?


DONNA ORENDER: Angel McCoughtry knows no fear. She has no conscience when she’s out there, she just plays and she leads, and I can’t help but imagine what the future is like for her and the Atlanta Dream that she continues to perform for and plays with at with the highest level. If you look Atlanta Dream and the Seattle Storm, we have eight players who play for other countries, and if you look at those who would be involved on the international competitive level, half of them are.

I think that’s a great statement, because if you look at the television coverage for the WNBA our Finals will be seen in 203 countries, serviced by 78 broadcasters. That is incredible distribution, and it speaks to the strength of the game, the power of the League and the fact that the WNBA truly is the number 1 destination for the best basketball in the world.

When we look at our business, attendance, fourth year of consecutive growth. Little by little we continue to build our fan base, and who is building that fan base? Interestingly enough when you look at the business world, everybody wants youth and diversity. One ­third of the WNBA fan base is young and diverse. We speak to them in a very authentic way and we truly do represent the America that is growing up all around us.

ESPN ratings continue to grow as well as viewership, and I have to thank ESPN for being such a great partner. Not only have they taken us by the hand and said, "Oh, listen, we’re going to work on this together," but our plans for next year, which I can’t talk about today, but it will give us something to talk about in the next couple of months, also are an indication of things yet to come. Our ratings went up double digits most of the season, probably 90 percent of the season and our viewership continues to grow, interestingly the demographics that are growing the most are men.

What does that say? It says that men heretofore who have not recognized the quality of WNBA basketball are watching, saying, "Oh, my goodness, I didn’t really know what was happening here, and now what I can see is unbelievable, quality."

On the court scoring is up two points ­­ on average, two points a game, which is a stunning number when you look at the fact that our scoring has been up every year for the last four years, so to take that kind of a leap in year four and a leap in shooting percentage, you know that the quality of the game and what is happening on the floor truly is remarkable.

On the business front, it’s been a really good year. I have to say thanks you to Adidas, the WNBA Finals is presented by Adidas, another fantastic partner, but right here in Seattle we have a great new partner in Bing, and we want to thank them for becoming a marquee partnership, one of the most innovative, and cutting­ edge partnerships that the WNBA has brought to the market. We’ve gotten every other league in the United States looking at this value proposition, but I’m proud that we are leaders in that way because what it involves and what you see here in Seattle in particular is the ability for companies to integrate themselves into a community-­oriented, authentic, high ­level, major league platform led by women but very involved in the community.

The values that are delivered, the ROI, we talk about the return on investment, but I love to talk about rewards, opportunity, and inspiration, and on both sides of that, over-deliver against anything that they invest in and our commitment to be partners is unparalleled, so we thank Bing and we look forward to a long and fruitful relationship with them.

On the local level in general our partnerships have been up over 25 percent across our league. In this day and time a telling number in terms of the value recognitions that WNBA teams deliver to partners. On the national level we’re happy to welcome Jamba Juice as one of our new partners, a company focused on health, wealth and fitness. We have a new program called Jamba Jump, we lunched it in L.A. this year, next year we go national, and we will have additional announcements about that relationship coming up in the next few weeks.

Today you will see something entirely new, again precedent­ setting for the WNBA in a new international sponsor, appropriately so for these Finals, BBVA, the second largest bank in Spain and also a bank that is very involved in international sports, and for the first time both teams will be wearing a partners logo, and more to come about that announcement tomorrow. We’re happy to be partners with Coke, we launched a Recreation and Parks program with them, and we know that we have big plans with them moving forward.

Today, you will see "In Arena," EA. I don’t know if anybody is a gamer, I know I do, and you can take WNBA players and play them with your NBA players, but they have a great program called EA Active, and we’ll have a break during the arena, and one of the great things that WNBA can bring to partners is "in arena" activation, and they will be activating throughout the Finals

HP, also activating during the Finals, and we initiated a relationship with the Red Cross using ­­ trying to help with the spread of measles, called "Vaccinate a Village." I’m happened to be with Toby Wyman, who is here from Atlanta, when we did it with the Atlanta Red Cross, and that was great, wasn’t it? Trying to get a challenge between Seattle right now and Atlanta, see if we can generate more money. I think at this point in time we’ve donated enough dollars to vaccinate 63 villages in Africa. Again, global footprint, global hand prints, community caring, all of those things at the core of the WNBA.

Lastly, wherever I go, people always stop me and say, "How is the WNBA doing?" You know, I get that question voiced in lots of different ways, "Wow, the league is great. How you doing?" And I get the whispers, "How is the WNBA really doing?" To all of those people, the WNBA is really doing well. In any way you want to measure it, we’re a young, thriving business in very challenging times, and if all of us step back and we try to do that every single day and measure the progress we’ve made, we have come so far against so many odds.

This Finals, I will tell you, not only is a culmination of a great season of basketball but a great season of doing great business. Really, if fulfills the promise of what we all know and see this league as being. This arena will be filled today, there will be 17,000, whatever the building can hold, screaming, avid fans, and I look around I have to tell you it fills my heart, because there will be people young, old, every color, every shape, every single orientation. They come here for all different reasons, but I know the one reason that joins them all is that they love their Seattle Storm

And we will go to Atlanta, and Kathy Betty has to be the all­-time rookie ownership performance in all of sports ­­ I haven’t been able to verify that but it has to be ­­ who has taken of the heart of a city, and when we go back to Philips, it will be filled, and they will be the same kind of people, and I defy anyone to tell me that those fans are not incredible sports fans.

They care about the WNBA, they care about their families, the communities, and I will tell you it’s all led by these players, who give every single thing they have, as Hillary Chavez led in our campaign for the Finals "Everything We’ve Got" because, you see, we don’t know it any other way than but to give "Everything We’ve Got." And when you partner with people that give you everything they’ve got, you’re going to win. And as we look forward, we look forward to many winning years. So, thank you for being here today.

I promise you, you won’t be disappointed. I can’t say ­­ obviously, you’re supposed to be neutral like me, so I don’t know if you are going to be rooting for any one team, I can tell you I will be rooting for a great outcome, great competition. But I’ve been to so many games this season and I have not been disappointed once, so I don’t expect that I will be today.

I look forward to a great series. I would love to predict five games, but I can’t, so the competition Gods will take it from here and I will be happy to answer any of your questions.

Q. Donna, you were talking about how men are the growing viewers of the WNBA, but today can you talk about the scheduling and what kind of went into play, since the Team USA will be on television at the same time playing against Turkey and you guys will be on TV too?
DONNA ORENDER: You mean the Men’s World Championships? The later we play in general, actually the better off it is, there are more sports eyeballs available for viewing come September and October, so therefore I’m not concerned about that, per se. If you’re watching basketball you’re going to watch great basketball, you’re going to find great basketball and you’re going to find the WNBA, and that’s the reason I think it’s fine.

Q. Donna, going forward can you talk about the rosters and the sizes, and the play has been great, the rosters are at 11, some teams with injuries have had to work with that. Is there anything going forward that indicates that the rosters might be able to get bigger?
DONNA ORENDER: No. But let me say this. This is the conversation I’ve had with general managers and coaches. There is nobody in our league who wouldn’t support the fact that the last two years have been tremendously competitive. Challenging, when you look and get into injuries, yes, but we keep an eye on that and we are in constant contact with our teams.

We only want to do what’s best, focus number one, the best possible product on the court. We won’t do anything that will get in the way of that, and I have to say, up until now, we don’t think in any way we’ve been compromised in that effort. That said, we will have a competition meeting in October, and every aspect of our business and our play is always on the table for discussion.

Q. About that last question: You think about the amount of teams between the NBA and the women’s game, the caliber of athlete who would be the 12th person off the bench, the women’s game, would be a starter in the men’s game.
DONNA ORENDER: I’m sorry, Scott. I didn’t follow your point.

Q. Looking ahead a little bit, in terms of future Collective Bargaining Agreement, is salary structure a bit of a concern? Because it strikes me we’re losing a little bit of the middle class in salaries, and it’s a complicated issue but do you see there being may be some significant difference in salary structure when you approach that negotiation to address that issue?
DONNA ORENDER: That is a long way down the road, right? We’re in year three of a six-­year deal. The league’s position has been, we want to be able to create the best and most opportunities for the players. A lot of that structure comes from what the CBA decides they think serves their players best so, listen, dialogue is always ongoing and we’re happy ­­ again, we’re open and happy to talk through all those issues. I think we’re a good way away from that, Michelle.

Q. Donna, we talked about expansion of rosters. How about expansion of teams? I’m based in the Bay Area. There are conversations there. What’s happening on that front?
DONNA ORENDER: There is a lot of discussion in the Bay Area. It’s quiet discussion. There are several, I would say, interested ownership groups. I think we’ve made the decision to take it slow and let them kind of find their way and put together their funding and how they would want to do business in their own time frame, at this point in time.

We’ll probably spend time in this coming on/off­season ­­ I often say there is no such thing as an "off­season" here. I don’t want to say "offseason" because there isn’t one, but trying to figure out next steps, and there is no doubt that the Bay Area would be a strong market for the WNBA. There are 2,000 ticket holders sitting there waiting for a team to cheer for. The success of Cal and Stanford, Jennifer Azzi being with the USF is a great advantage, her assistant also played in the WNBA, so I think as you know, the Bay Area would be a strong addition for the WNBA.

Q. Following up on that, the ownership change with the Golden State Warriors, does that help you in potentially moving to that market?
DONNA ORENDER: There is no doubt. There is no doubt that Joe Lacob is known as a huge supporter of women’s basketball, he’s a huge ­­ what I love about him, is he’s a huge supporter of the game, and he appreciates the women’s game and clearly the men’s game, and to have somebody like that who is so knowledgeable and supportive, absolutely, creates somebody who would be a positive force in that marketplace.

Q. Donna, there was an issue this season of players, but particularly a prominent player, sort of thinking out loud, do I need to take off time and would it be during the WNBA season, and that would be Diana Taurasi. Do you talk to players about this? It is a financial reality, but also a reality of them protecting themselves physically?
DONNA ORENDER: I was thinking the same thing, of taking some time off, but no one wanted to talk to me about it. What’s our position on that? Listen, players have to do what’s in their own best interest. They have to guide their careers. We ask of them ­­ we try to provide them the best league in the world and I know they know that. The American players in particular feel a responsibility here to help build this business. And that said, over an enduring amount of time, it’s a lot of basketball.

We have spent a lot of time talking about that, and to that end next year, we will move back to the schedule that has a June 4, 2011 start. We found that was an advantage to everybody involved in the WNBA business, our players, our teams, the international schedule. So we hope to ameliorate any of those issues.

We’re also working with the players to create opportunities for them as they build other careers here in the United States that will help them earn money and build a life after basketball that will help them preserve their bodies and develop different parts of their careers moving forward, and we hope that will be a significant advantage as we move ahead.

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