The All-Star game was complete with a full cast of all-stars and then some. Along with the players on the court, the all-time greats in the league were back to earn accolades for their accomplishments in the WNBA. After the glass plaques were handed out and the on-court photo op was seen with hundreds of flashbulbs, two of the greats, Dawn Staley and Lisa Leslie, took some time to talk about the honor and the league that bestowed it.
There has been dialogue in recent days (particularly by Swish Appeal commenters) about the way to market the league. First, league president Laurel Richie, a marketing specialist, talked about the magical nature of attending a WNBA game.
“I think the most important thing is to get a fan or prospect to a game,” Richie remarked, as seen earlier on Swish Appeal. “When you come to a game and you see the level of play and you experience all the great stuff that happens in an arena at a WNBA game, I think it’s magical and I think it’s unlike any experience that I’ve had at any other sporting event.
“So part of that is figuring out how to describe that to people and how to communicate that to people, but the marketing end of it is getting someone to go from I’ve heard of them to I’m interested in them, I support them, I think it’s a good idea to actually going to a game.”
Richie talks not just about getting youth, or young girls in particular, in the stands, but people. Leslie had her own thoughts on not only playing in the league, but her responsibility as an retired player to continue to foster league growth.
“It’s not our fault that we were born girls. We want to play too, and we should have a platform to play,” Leslie said. “And we’re thankful to David Stern for stepping up and allowing us to do this, but we also have to do our part … I feel that’s more of the duties of the players that are retired now. It’s our obligation to sort of help bring in more sponsorship and support.”
Staley points to the talent pool as a driving force for improving the game on the court, in a hope to improve fan involvement as well.
“From the talent standpoint, the players are a lot better than 15 years ago,” Staley said. “I think the fact that they had the WNBA, that carrot dangled in front of them, allowed them to be more creative and work harder and become more talented when it comes to the game of basketball. So I see the product will be a great product they put on the floor [in the next 15 years], it’s just we’ve just got to get more people to back it now.”
Leslie’s marketing plan is one to get everyone involved. Not just young girls to mentor, but also young boys who can grow up recognizing the value of women in sport. And families that can enjoy the WNBA as an affordable kind of professional sports entertainment.
“It’s not just the little girls, even though we address them. It’s the boys too,” Leslie said. “When you can change the mind of a boy that then becomes a man, he becomes the president of those corporations that then support women’s sports because they’ve been a part of it, they’ve been included.
“It’s a matter of our American public really embracing the fact that we have these women’s professional leagues and then understanding what part of it is their responsibility and to support it. It’s not costly to bring your family to a WNBA game. Try taking your whole family to an NBA game. Yeah, right. Something’s not getting paid that month. So when you talk about coming to a WNBA game and it being affordable for a family, it’s a family atmosphere. We feel like we’re doing a great job of being really all-inclusive when it comes to families and growing our league.”
Staley, the more tempered voice of the pair aside when she was referring to Leslie as “future Prez”, knows it’s still a struggle to bring in not only talented players, but also dedicated fans.
“It’s kind of a little more fragile than it was 15 years ago, so we’ve got to make sure that we’re constantly putting a product on and off the floor that people want to be a part of.”
Leslie isn’t all roses and PR talk, though. She knows there’s always an opportunity for improvement.
But the fans overall, we need their support. We’re doing great, but can it be better? Absolutely.”
As Richie pointed out earlier in the day, “I have confidence that with the arrows pointed in the right direction, the job is now to accelerate that.”