Press Conference Transcript: WNBA President Lisa Borders before game 1 of the 2018 WNBA Finals
WNBA president Lisa Borders met with the press before game 1 of the 2018 WNBA Finals (Washington at Seattle). Below is the full transcript of the press conference.
Lisa Borders, opening remarks: I’m excited to be here. It’s WNBA Finals. We are thrilled to be here to tip off the 2018 Finals. Let me start by congratulating the two teams that are here. Obviously the Seattle Storm. Great articles you’ve been writing about the Seattle Storm and breaking it down, and congratulations to their entire team as well as the Washington Mystics. The Storm are looking for their third championship. For the Mystics, this is the first time they’ve ever been at this point, so very exciting time for them in franchise history.
The semifinals, though, leading up to this were very dramatic. They went five games. Those teams did an incredible job, as well. You saw the dominance of Diana Taurasi. Who doesn’t like to see Taurasi? We saw leadership of Sue Bird during that series, as well. Let’s not forget Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner, who helped Phoenix do so well. We had the Coach of the Year, Nicki Collen, from Atlanta, help them with the remarkable turnaround in my home city. So there’s been lots of exciting play.
The game has never been better. Intense competition, entertaining play, record-breaking season.
We’re really excited about all that, and to have it culminate in The Finals is nothing short of remarkable.
We had lots of milestones during this season. Sue Bird played in her 500th game. You know, we call Sue the OG, right? She’s been doing this for the longest amount of time. Diana Taurasi has reached 8,000 points. That’s a lot of points. And she’s also hit 1,000 threes. Pretty incredible. Rebekkah Brunson is our new rebound champion, Maya Moore set a record for career points in an All-Star Game, and Liz Cambage from the Dallas Wings scored 53 points in one game. Who says girls can’t play basketball? They are some bad girls.
We love, love, love our players. They are central to everything that we do. We are very, very honored to have the privilege of running this league and watching these women play and live out their dreams on and off the court.
From a business perspective, we are excited to give you a couple of statistics. Our regular season viewership was up 31 percent. We are excited about that. There are only so many seats in the arena, so when you fill up the arena, then you’ve got to take it outside the arena, and that’s what ESPN and our broadcast partners help us do.
Our League Pass digital subscriptions were also up 39 percent, which means people are paying attention on the social platforms. And merchandise sales were up 66 percent. Love it when people want to wear our players’ jerseys.
Even on social media, we saw a high watermark on video views. They were at 119 million, which is a 7 percent increase, which is really extraordinary. All these indicators are positive and say that the league is in a healthy place, but we all know despite all of the positivity, we still have a lot of work to do. We are a young league compared not only to our peer basketball family, the NBA, but also all the other professional leagues. We are the youngest at 22 years of age. We’re excited that we’re 22, but we know that there are lots of women’s professional leagues who never made it to 10 or 15 or 20. We have the privilege of being in the NBA family, and that gives us assurance that we have great infrastructure and great support. All of the back office things that you think about, whether it’s finance or legal or marketing, we have the support of the NBA.
Let me just take a point of personal privilege and talk about the NBA for one moment. In 1996 when this league was formed, that was a very forward-thinking thought, that women should play professional sports and that a sports league should support it. So let me give a tip of the hat to David Stern and Val Ackerman, who started this. Adam Silver wrote the business plan. Did you all know that? Adam wrote the business plan for the WNBA, now he’s the commissioner overseeing its growth. We are looking for top-line growth growing this business, gaining traction, so that the numbers continue in a positive trajectory.
So for all those folks who want to know when we’re going to be like all the other leagues, I remind you that the NBA is 72, that football is 98, and that baseball is 125 years old. So give us a minute; we will get the traction that everybody else has gotten, but it takes time to build the brand. It takes time to build fans.
When we get an appointed time on any platform — Percy, if I could just have every Tuesday at 7:00, we could train our fans to always know where the games were going to be, what time they were going to be on. It’s coming, but it does, in fact, take time.
So we are very pleased with where we are, but we are not satisfied. We recognize that society is changing. There is much greater embrace of everything that women are doing. Sports is no exception. And so we see today that the business is incrementally growing, and we hope that it will accelerate and continue on that trajectory for the future.
So for all those who want us to be like our peers in other sports, I ask you, where are your season tickets? To the Storm or the Mystics or the Sky or the Sparks, doesn’t matter to me, as long as you buy season tickets and come see the games.
With that, let me stop talking and let me open the floor for questions.
Q. With everything that you said about the league growing, there’s also been a lot of conversations about the revenue sharing between the owners and the players. In this off-season, do you think that will be a topic that you’ll address?
LISA BORDERS: Sure, any topic that our players want to talk about, we are happy to have an open and informed conversation. We are very different from all the other leagues, as I just mentioned, the NBA first among equals. There is a two-generation gap between the age of the NBA and the WNBA. That’s 50 years. 50 years of progress, 50 years of building a fan base, 50 years of playing the game. The revenues are a lot higher in the NBA.
So unfortunately, running an arena or paying the coaches or paying the referees doesn’t change because it’s the women versus the men. We do not have the revenues today to support greater revenue sharing with our players, but it’s coming. We agree that they should be paid more. We challenge society. We challenge corporations. We challenge our sponsors. We love what we’re doing today, but we need to do more. And so we’ve still got work to do.
Q. The issue that this has gone on for a long time of teams sometimes having to leave their home for the WNBA Playoffs. In some cases it’s arena renovations which is hard to deal with but in other cases events. Do you feel like that needs to be a priority to try to make sure teams are going to have at home throughout the Playoffs, their real home?
LISA BORDERS: Sure, it is always helpful for a team to be in its home arena. In fact, this game was originally scheduled for September the 6th, which would have been obviously last night. There was a conflict. The Storm reached out to the league and say we’d really like to be in our home arena, obviously, and so we worked with them. We also worked with ESPN and all of our partners to make sure that the move enabled them, being the Storm, to stay in their home arena but that we could still be on TV so that the fans that couldn’t come inside the arena could still participate and consume the game. So yes, it’s always a priority, but when we have a conflict, we try to work hand in glove with our teams to make they get what they need, and we were successful. So tip of the hat to ESPN, but most importantly to the Storm, for recognizing that by changing by one day, it would be helpful for them, but it also helped everybody get more rest, all of the players, the Storm players and the Mystics players. So it actually worked out very well.
Q. After the Aces’ forfeit in Washington earlier this year, do you see any changes coming to out-of-league travels, and are charter flights a realistic solution to that?
LISA BORDERS: So I would tell you that we are always happy to talk about any topic that our players want to talk about or that our business needs to address because that’s the smart thing to do. In the planning season we have time to step back and evaluate everything that we’re doing. And so travel, we certainly will talk about that. Just to be completely candid, we don’t have the revenue today to support charter travel.
When you look back in history at leagues when they started travel, I think the NBA didn’t start it until the 1970s or early ’80s. The NBA was formed in 1946. So things have changed some today for sure, but today charter travel is prohibitively expensive for our league. It’s also apparently prohibitively expensive for Major League Soccer. So it will come in due course but not today.
Q. You spoke about the youth of this league, and in an era when in some of those more established sports we have the same teams over and over again playing for championships, how important is it for the Mystics to be here for the first time?
LISA BORDERS: Wow, it is terrific for the Mystics to be here. It’s terrific for the Storm to be here. There’s a significant amount of parity in the league. Clearly the notion or the semifinals series demonstrated that, as well, going to five games. It was 2-2 for both of those series. If you look at the match-ups today, Percy broke them down for us, Michele did a little bit of that, too, you could see that these two teams are, in fact, mirror images of each other in many ways. So it’s important, I think, for the fans of all the teams to be able to see their team in a semifinal or see them in a Finals game. So we love the variety. We take nothing away from excellence, though. Nobody fusses when the University of Alabama, Roll Tide, right, when they are in a championship game year in and year out.
So I take nothing away from those who repeat their excellent performance, but sure, we love to see everybody get a shot.
Q. Liz Cambage has been sort of noncommittal about her plans for next season. Generally speaking, what can the league do to ensure the best international talent is playing in the WNBA?
LISA BORDERS: So we can provide a good environment for competition, and I think there is no player in the W — there are 144 of them. If you ask any of them where the best competition is for them to hone their craft and their skill, they will tell you it’s in the WNBA. Are we perfect? Absolutely not, but do we give an environment, create an environment, cultivate and curate an environment that’s good for our athletes? Absolutely. Can we do better? Sure. Can our players do better? Sure. So I would say continue doing what we’re doing but always strive to innovate and make it better for the players and for the fans.