President Donna Orender 2006 Draft New Conference Transcript
Good morning everyone! How was that game last night? Could you ask for more in terms of excitement, athleticism – I’ll tell you, hats off to the NCAA, to Duke and Maryland and of course to ESPN and all of our television partners, who, by the way, I am happy to boast at the outset, continue to mark double-digit ratings increases for the women’s game on ESPN.
It is obviously great to be in Boston, and obviously the Final Four was a terrific showcase for women’s basketball. But now, today, the very best in the college game will have the opportunity to continue their basketball careers in the WNBA, which is the destination for the greatest female players in the world.
The WNBA is so pleased with the progress that has been made to date. But I think it behooves all of us to take a minute and look at how far we have come, because it just was in 1972 when just one in 27 girls played sports, and today, it is one in two. And I’m not sure if you know that today, better than one in three girls are playing basketball. It is a nine-fold increase and a record total of nearly three million participants. Basketball is the number one participation sport for girls in the United States. And why I think the WNBA undoubtedly has a lot to do with that is because we stand as a beacon of what inspires and what girls can aspire to. But it’s not only for basketball players, it’s for all girls in sports.
This season, we’re proud to celebrate our 10th Anniversary. It feels like yesterday for so many of the women and men that have worked to make this league a success, and yet, 10 years is quite an accomplishment. We have played, 1,902 regular season games. We have had 128 playoffs and Finals (games). And we’ve had seven All-Star Games. Through it all, 539 players have distinguished themselves and worn the WNBA logo – and we will continue to represent what we feel is all that is right with sports – great competition, tremendous values and a commitment to the community. Our 10th Anniversary obviously provides all of us that love the game and all those that work on behalf of the league, the opportunity to celebrate and honor our current players and of course the promise of what is to come – and I’ll tell you, what’s to come is in that next room and there is a lot of excitement there.
Our legends who are also with us today, also fortify the spirit from where we come and where we are going – Annie Myers, Nancy Lieberman, Carol Blazejowski, Cheryl Miller and of course Rebecca Lobo – who was with us since day one, and now joins us on ESPN with our telecasts.
Entering our 10th season, we have never been better positioned. Our business has grown substantially since 2005. Global distribution, Internet -- when you begin to look at audiences that consume sports, you really have to look at the aggregated base that does take you in because we’re a mobile society now. But to give you some specifics: The number of viewers doubled for our All-Star Game last year; playoff ratings were up 30 percent on ESPN2; and regular season ratings increased in all demographics. But specifically, we’re showing significant and encouraging growth in key, female demographics. For the sixth consecutive year, WNBA programming was shown in more countries and more languages than ever before – a record 193 countries, 78 more than our distribution in 1999. WNBA.com saw double-digit growth as well in visitors to the site, and Webcasted a record number of our games. And with the re-design that we have planned for this year, we anticipate that our WNBA.com business will continue to grow exponentially.
Last season we had five knew major partners that we announced in terms of marketing partnerships, including Toyota and T-Mobile. We have already made one major announcement this year with Ocean Spray, and I can tell you over the next few weeks there are several more to come. And our business success is measured not only on-court, but also off-court, because what our players do in the community is unmatched. I feel like I have pretty good experience with all of sports, and I feel that our athletes are the most giving and the most genuine not only in terms of their competitive goals but also in their community goals.
I guess you wouldn’t be surprised if I told you I think our future is bright. We’re adding a 14th franchise, and today when I call the sixth pick it will be with a great deal of joy because it will be for the Chicago Sky, our newest franchise. It is a great market for us to be in; it is a great ownership group. I think they have assembled a great team under new coach Dave Cowens … and for those of you who are local in the Boston market, I don’t have to tell you how great Dave Cowens is. May 23, Tuesday night in Chicago, will be a great night for our league. And I will tell you that I anticipate many more announcements in the years to come as we continue to build this league and continue to entertain new ownership groups who have interest in participating in what we think is a great sports business and a great sports story.
We will celebrate our 20 millionth fan this year. We have announced a new relationship with Luminari – we believe the WNBA represents a great platform for communicating health, wellness and fitness and with the huge national agenda that we have with obesity, to use our women, who are, really, the fittest, who take their own health and wellness to heart, for them to communicate to the youth of America is a very strong platform. We find that companies are rallying around us, with the support of Luminari, who are considered the health superstars in America today.
As I said earlier, our partnership with Disney, ABC and ESPN remains strong – as strong as it has ever been. Our integrated efforts in the marketplace, both on a programming and a sales level continue to strengthen, and we’re very pleased with our regular season exposure today – 36 national exposures, as well as full coverage of our playoffs and finals.
Let me tell you what we’re going to do to celebrate – our champagne sponsor is not officially signed, otherwise I’d be serving you all champagne and cake right now because I thank you for being here and celebrating with us. We’re going to announce selection of an All-Decade Team. We have a blue-ribbon panel that will identify the top 30 past and current WNBA players that will be presented on an official online ballot. We will have fans, media, basketball representatives and celebrities who are also very engaged in our game to ultimately select our Top 10 players. We will announce our 30 nominees on April 27, and we will honor that team appropriately at our All-Star Game.
In addition, as is only appropriate after you have been around now for a decade, we will have a really good time trying to select our 10 greatest moments. This, again, will be a consumer-based promotion, a lot of it coming online in closely working with our partners from ESPN. We will have a weekly countdown of our 10 greatest moments and we will reveal those throughout the season, culminating with the WNBA Finals.
And in the spirit of 10, what we’re most proud of is our 10 Years of Caring. And we’re proud of that because, as I said earlier, it is just so authentic and core to the DNA of the athletes who play in the WNBA. And so we will be celebrating in particular during the week of May 8 -- even though we really celebrate it all year -- with a league-wide initiative when all 14 of our teams will engage with their communities in a variety of programs, including our Be Smart, Be Fit, Be Yourself Clinics, our Read to Achieve programs, our Jr. WNBA Clinics, and visits to schools and other community organizations.
Some examples are the Indiana Fever, who plan to build homes with Habitat for Humanity, and the Connecticut Sun, who are planning a “Be Fit”Challenge with 10 local schools, with the winning school receiving a $3,000 stipend for fitness equipment. I can tell you that our teams continue to be very, very engaged in their local communities.
The league’s 10th Anniversary celebration games will involve each team hosting a unique 10th Anniversary-themed game, probably in one of their first three home games. Our players uniforms will sport a commemorative 10th Anniversary patch throughout the season, and players will also wear our new specially-designed 10th Anniversary Reebok Fusion shirts during pre-game shootarounds for our 10th Anniversary games.