By Barry Janoff
November 4, 2015: When the defending champion Minnesota Lynx return to the court next season, they and other players in the WNBA will have a new "boss."
The WNBA said that president, Laurel J. Richie would be leaving the league "to pursue her other interests serving as a board member of several for-profit and not-for-profit institutions and continuing to be an advocate for girls and young women."
Her departure is effective Nov. 9.
The league said that "a search for a new league president will commence immediately. NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum will oversee the WNBA on an interim basis.
The departure of Richie, who joined the WNBA in May 2011, taking over from Donna Orenda and becoming the first African-American to lead a major sports league, comes shortly after NBA commissioner Adam Silver questioned the growth of the WNBA.
"I think we might have been ahead of ourselves 20 years ago in terms of what we were doing, (In 2015, interest is) not where we hoped it would be," Silver said during a sports marketing conference in September. "We thought it would have broken through by now. We thought ratings and attendance would be higher.”
According to Silver, "In terms of our marketing overall, we may have lost our way at certain points."
"The WNBA is the intersection of gender, race and sexual orientation," Richie said at the same conference speaking as part of a panel, "The State of Women's Sports."
During her tenure, Richie led the development of “WNBA Pride," under which the WNBA the first pro sports league to establish an integrated marketing, media, grassroots and social responsibility program for the LGBT community.
The league has the best and most-high profile women's hoops players in the world, among them MVP Donna Delle Donne, Brittney Griner, Maya Moore, Sue Bird, Skylar Diggins, Candace Parker and Cappie Pondexter. They all currently are on the U.S. Women's National Team roster, which will compete for gold in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"We at the W are focused on building a genuine and sustained fan base," said Richie during the panel discussion. "That’s where our sustainable growth comes from. All good things happen when we achieve that . . . When that is in place, your games look better on TV. Your sponsors like that — a lot — and you can generate more interest and involvement from those who might not yet be fans."
According to the NBA, Richie’s "strategic focus on team marquee partnerships resulted in a record ten teams with marquee partners (more than twice the number from when she started), which in turn played a pivotal role in increasing the number of teams turning a profit."
Boost Mobile is the Marquee Partner for the WNBA and had its logo on all eight team jerseys during the recent WNBA playoffs.
Marketing partners also include adidas, American Express, BBVA Compass, Anheuser-Busch (Bud Light), Coca-Cola, Diageo, EA Sports, Gatorade, Nike, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, SAP, Spalding and State Farm.
"We are steadfast in our commitment to achieving growth in fan interest and future business performance reflective of the extraordinary state of the on-court product.”
Several teams ended the 2015 season with jersey-sponsor deals, including the Washington Mystics (Draft Ops), Chicago Sky (Magellan), Minnesota Lynx (Mayo Clinic), Phoenix Mercury (Casino Arizona), Indiana Fever (Finish Line), Tulsa Shock (Osage Casino), Los Angeles Sparks (EquiTrust) and New York Liberty (DraftKings).
“We thank Laurel for her five seasons of service and commitment to the WNBA and wish her success in her future endeavors,” said Tatum in a statement. “The league’s quality of play and depth of talent have never been better. We remain steadfast in our commitment to achieving growth in fan interest and future business performance reflective of the extraordinary state of the on-court product.”
“I am proud of what the WNBA has been able to accomplish during my tenure and am grateful for the opportunity to play my part in setting the stage for the 20th season and beyond,” Richie said in a statement. “I was fortunate to work with some very special people, from owners, to league and team staff, to the passionate fans of the WNBA, to the incredibly talented WNBA athletes. I will forever be a fan of the WNBA and a champion for all it stands for.”
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