Fresh off a very exciting first half of the season and WNBA All-Star weekend, Swish Appeal sat down with Laurel Richie, the President of the WNBA. President Richie touched on a few topics including expansion, parity amongst teams, and the communal power of support amongst women.
The WNBA is headed in the right direction. Attendance is up 4.4 percent, the third season in a row that is has risen. Finals viewership jumped 91 percent. The WNBA is gaining ground.
“There is incredible talent in our league. It stems from concentrated coaching and experience from the athletes all the way down to elementary levels. As coaching and strong structure becomes more prevalent for the younger athletes, they grow,” President Richie continued, “There is excellent depth in the NCAA from the likes of UCONN, Stanford, Baylor, Notre Dame and it shows.
“It’s amazing to see the growth 40 years after the landmark Title IX decision.”
The league has more heavyweight teams with multi-superstars. This varies from past seasons where the stars were more spread out. Minnesota, Phoenix, and Atlanta all had multiple starters on their respective Conference All-Star teams. There is a fierce level of competition in the league.
“The talent is getting better every year,” said Richie. “I think in the East there are teams consistently back by 3, 3.5 games. I think every team has a legitimate chance at the postseason. We have a high level of competition.”
Due to the growth of the league there have been increasing talks of expansion.
“We will use an exploratory committee to figure out the criteria for a strategic approach to expansion.” Many questions have been raised about where exactly these new teams will fall as there are built in fan bases but President Richie was mum on this point, “I am a big believer in process, there is no rush to expand. I am looking forward to working with league staff to make it a success.”
WNBA success is extending across leagues. Recently Becky Hammon led the San Antonio Spurs team to an NBA Summer League championship. Richie shared her excitement for the moment, “[Hammond] I think it’s incredible. I’m so excited for her.
“One of the things I value most in her is that she’s very quick to acknowledge that these opportunities would not have happened for her without her experience in the WNBA, for us to provide an opportunity for girls to play the game and hone their basketball IQ to such a point that they would then go on to be coaches in professional leagues is incredible.”
While speaking with her, President Richie took a moment to reflect on her ties to basketball and introduction to the league.
“I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. My Dad was a season ticket holder for the Cavaliers and in that aspect I bring a fans perspective to the league. My career in marketing began in an agency, and I worked until becoming Chief Marketing Officer of Girl Scouts of USA.”
President Richie then explained how she was brought into the WNBA. “I was giving a talk at a fundraiser for local girl scouts and the then Seattle Storm owners were present. They took my bio offline and about three or four presentations from YouTube to the WNBA.”
President Richie success is a testament to solidarity: “Here you have a case of women looking out for other women and being supportive of each other.”