A Conversation with Kelly Krauskopf, Part II

December 15, 2004

Kelly Krauskopf recently took time to discuss her thoughts and philosophies about the Fever as they enter the 2005 season, the state of the WNBA and the state of women’s professional basketball overall. The Chief Operating Officer of the Fever since its inaugural season in 2000, she assumed General Manager duties in fall 2003. Krauskopf was a member of the WNBA’s administrative staff when the league was originated in 1997.

Below is the second of a two-part conversation.

Fever Website: The Fever will add a player or two in the upcoming draft in April. I’m assuming you are happy with the Fever’s No. 2 draw in the Draft Lottery?
Kelly Krauskopf: “Fortunately, luck held with us again and we moved up a slot in the draft. This draft will be a bit different than last year in the sense that there really doesn’t seem to be a consensus overall No. 1 player like Taurasi was last year. Certainly, I would rather not be where we are because I would have liked to have had a better year in ’04. But moving up to No. 2 helps heal the wounds from the way we ended last year. I believe we will be able to draft a player who will help our team quickly.”

FW: How are the Fever improving off the court?
KK: “Off the court, our focus is on driving the business with corporate sales and rebuilding our season ticket base. We kicked off our season ticket renewal campaign with the ‘Pay Now, Park Free’ incentive which I think has been a big success. What we have found is that parking downtown is a big issue with our fans. One way for us to show them how important they are to us is to say, ‘if you stick with us, this is what we will do for you.’

“We have a very focused sales approach this year. I think we’ve got a great sales team. They are doing an excellent job and in the first three month of really hitting it hard, we’ve surpassed a lot of goals already.

“Our season ticket base is an important driver of our business. This is no different for any other professional sports team here. I think most of the Fever core fans know that they are pioneers as well. They’re helping us build this franchise by continuing to support us each year. When Indiana wanted a WNBA team, the people in this city and state stepped up to the plate and bought the tickets to secure the franchise. And it’s no different today. We have to continue to have that kind of support to keep this franchise vibrant and growing strong in the city. Communicating this message is important.”

FW: Aside from selling tickets, how are sponsorship sales?
KK: “The corporate sponsorship support has been steady. Of course, we have had some tough economic times here in Indiana, but we are holding our own. Corporations are starting to see that we deliver a very loyal female customer. We have an educated and knowledgeable fan base made up of mostly women who make purchasing decisions for their kids, for themselves and for their husbands. Our corporate base is seeing that across the league, as well as here.”

FW: The Fever has prided itself on being active in the community and offering female role models to kids. Any changes?
KK: “Connecting to our fans and reaching out to the community continues to be one of the core values of the league and of our team. We offer a sports role model that represents strong feminine leadership. I am often told by families that our players are the kinds of role model that parents want their little girls and even little boys to look up to. The women in this league are articulate and bright. They’re professional athletes, college educated, often dual-career women. I think they are the most positive kind of role model that the sports industry has today. That is what continues to differentiate us from other sports leagues.”

FW: What is different in the league from the time you began working in the league office?
KK: “The game itself is far superior to where it was eight years ago and it continues to get better each year. From the time that I started in the WNBA in 1997 to where it is today, it’s not even close. The influx of new players gets stronger every year. I’m seeing freshmen in college who just came out of high school and they are just unbelievably talented, strong and well-coached. The future looks very bright on the basketball court.”

FW: How do the players manage a 7-to-8 month offseason from the WNBA?
KK: “Because our season runs roughly five months, the opportunity for players to compete elsewhere such as in European leagues and other minor leagues is good. Playing year round basketball makes me a little nervous because of the possibilities of our players coming up with nagging injuries. The body and the mind need a little break in there some time. But the competitiveness and the ability to enhance their basketball skill is obviously a good thing.

“Our players also do other things in the offseason besides play basketball competitively. We’ve got teachers, coaches, mothers, lawyers and students. It requires a strategy for them to figure out how they get better as basketball players, so that when they return to the WNBA each year they’ve made improvements, but yet they still manage to hold down other jobs. That has been a part of our growing process as a league, from a player’s standpoint – how to manage their offseason from a training standpoint.”

FW: Can you talk about growing the league from a business perspective?
KK: “On the business side, my counterparts and I all have to continue to be creative in our markets and drive our business the best way that we can. We’re all building this league. All of us are pioneers; our players, coaches, fans and front office personnel.

“I look at Darnell Hillman and Mel Daniels who work here for the Pacers [and played in the league in the 1970s]. Darnell and Mel were part of the building process for the Indiana Pacers in the early days. The Pacers, in 1977, went on a telethon for 17 hours to save the team and to sell 8,000 season tickets or they were going to lose the franchise. We (Fever) have to continue to sell tickets and stress to the city and state that this is Indiana’s team too. Our core fans know that we are still building, but we have to continue to cultivate new fans and build a larger mass market fan base. As long as our players understand that we’re still growing the business, the league will continue to thrive.

“The NBA was still a fledgling business in the ‘70s and that’s similar to where we are today. We have to keep driving and growing, and working hard everyday to make this a lucrative business. We owe it to our owners and to our fans, and I take that very seriously. We have to wake up everyday and be mindful of the strides that we’ve made and mindful of where we still have to get to.”

FW: What about drawing male fans, perhaps those who are partial to the men’s game?
KK: “We get the male sports fan, but usually we get him because he brings his daughter. And he keeps coming back because his daughter wants to come back. It might take longer for male fans to embrace women’s sports entirely, because they compare our game with the men’s game too much. Our female demographic supports the Fever more because of the core values of the league, and the accessibility of the role models we present for her kids. The female fans enjoy the sport of basketball, but they don’t necessarily compare us immediately to the men’s game. They tend to appreciate it more for what it is.”