We apologize for the unavoidable problem that we had with respect
to the flipping of this with our MVP presentation. The woman from General Motors,
Carolyn Cook, who is going to be joining me in that presentation, was caught
in the very bad traffic accident on 95. And so we're going to give her a few
extra -- she's close, and should be here momentarily, but we didn't want to
hold things up by delaying the events, here, so we figured we'd start with me.
And then when I'm done, when you all have questions, and I've gotten them, we're
going to move over to the other side of the room and then take care of an important
piece of business with our Most Valuable Player presentation, which we're obviously
very excited about.
Let me make a couple of comments to get things started, and then I'll be happy
to take questions that anybody might have.
We are very happy to be here in Connecticut at Mohegan Sun Arena. We could
not have asked for what I'm sure will be a fitting conclusion to a very competitive
season. A more competitive season than any of us would ever have dreamed possible
and great performances from not only our class of 2004, the rookies who came
with so much anticipation and hype, made their mark, but we had great performances
by our veteran players.
The women's pro game is in great shape. And the good news is that it will continue
to get better, we know, with each passing year. It seems fitting with a season
like we have that we're going to have a first-time champion in the WNBA, and
we'll know soon who that will be.
We do expect very, very good crowds for the Finals. I'm told that we have a
sell-out crowd for Connecticut here tonight and very good crowds expected as
well on Sunday in Seattle.
As I'm sure all of you know ESPN 2 is covering all the games, and the games
are going to be televised to 188 countries this year in 30 languages. And again,
it's especially exciting to be here in Connecticut where women's basketball
has had great support for many years, and to be here at Mohegan Sun, which will
be the site of next year's All-Star Game, which will be on July 9th on ABC.
We're pleased in general with the season. We had some very unusual circumstances
that we had to work around with respect to our schedule and how to accommodate
the Olympics. But from our standpoint it was absolutely worth it to allow our
players to be part of the activities and festivities in Athens and to do as
well as they did, not only Team USA but Australia and Russia, as well.
We're encouraged by the strides that our business has made and appears to be
continuing to make, despite the adjustments for the schedule bypassing the month
of August, where we typically draw very good crowds, and playing to much smaller
crowds in Radio City, than if we played the regular schedule. We passed the
two million mark for the 6th straight season. Our viewership is up, particularly
in women and girls. Our Web traffic is up this year, both for the regular season
and the playoffs, and from the early reports from our teams we know that revenues
are also going to be up from sponsorship and ticket sales, and the league will
be profitable by the 2007 season.
I have made mention of this in the past, that we're continuing to have discussions
with new owner prospects. We are in different stages with different potential
groups, and at this juncture not prepared to make any formal announcements,
and that probably wouldn't come until the end of the year, but good news is
on the horizon on this front, and we expect to add a team in each of the '05
and '06 WNBA seasons.
With that I'll close my opening remarks, but not first without thanking all
of you for your attention and for your interest in the WNBA and for the coverage
that you and your publications provide. Thank you.
Q. Did having to play in October this year, did that give you any ideas
of stretching the season into this month?
VAL ACKERMAN: It was a good set of facts and circumstances, as we've talked
about this. And we did learn some things about playing later. We did better
in some ways than I think we would have dreamed a few years back, when we were
so hesitant about playing later into the fall.
What I can tell you, though, for next year is that our season is going to look
a lot more like last year; we expect to start the season around the third week
in May, play 34 games again next year. We will hold at 34. And then play likely
to the end of August and then play our regular season, finish then, and then
play our playoffs, excuse me, in the month of September. And we'll need probably
three weeks or so into the month of September. We're still putting the finishing
touches on our schedule, working with our network partners, to finalize the
dates we need to have the games televised. The change for next year is that
the Finals will be best three-out-of-five. That will come into effect for the
first time next year.
Q. You talked initially about you will have a first-time champion for the
WNBA this year. Talk about what that says about the parity in the league, and
how good that may be for the league?
VAL ACKERMAN: She asked about the parity, first-time champion, some comments
about that. I think it's good for the league, and it's good for fans in all
of our teams' cities, to feel that the team has a chance. When you're part of
the operation of a sports league, that's all you can hope for to have every
team with a chance to win, every team competitive, close games, and we had so
many this year, overtime games, I mean that's what makes games exciting, and
that's what makes them dramatic, and that's what makes fans want to come out
and support your players.
So from our standpoint it was dizzying year, how close it was. To go down to
the wire, not only in terms of who was going to be seeded where, but even who
was going to make the playoffs I think was a very good thing. And I do think
that it does speak volumes to how quickly the women's pro game has moved itself
We're seeing depth that we've never seen before. Suddenly, I was talking to
someone the other day about how one player isn't enough anymore. It used to
be if you had one franchise player that might be enough to carry you forward,
now that doesn't do the trick. You need to have a couple of great players now.
You need to have a very strong starting five. You need to have bench support
and so on. And the good news is that because in part in how widespread our game
is, players are playing so young, women's college basketball every year is sending
us terrific young talent, our teams have been able to fortify their rosters,
get better every year. And the fact I think that we have free agency, now made
possible by our collective bargaining agreement, the fact that we've loosened
up to some degree our trading rules, we've given our teams some other rules
to get better quicker, instead of having to simply relying on the draft, which
was at one time the main way to get better, now they have other devices to get
better, and hence you see Seattle with Betty Lennox and Sheri Sam on their rosters,
and Connecticut trading one of their stars from last year, to get a high draft
pick this year, and look at the dividends that paid for them. I think it's great,
and it makes it impossible to predict in a year who will win. And I think in
some ways that is a positive for us.
Q. You spoke about adding a team for next season, will that automatically
be in the Eastern Conference or will there be some shuffling around?
VAL ACKERMAN: I want to retract my comments. I think I said '05, '06. I meant
to say '06, '07. Next year we intend to have 13 teams again. But in '06 we would
have the -- we are optimistic that we are going to add the 14th team to the
WNBA. And the goal would be to have 7 and 7. So that would be -- that would
be the configuration that we would be intending to have.
Q. Can you give us a sense of the national network broadcast for next year?
Do you see any expansion there, maybe a weekly home for WNBA Game of the Week?
Are you near anything like that yet?
VAL ACKERMAN: We are in the throws of it now, as I mentioned, we are putting
together the parameters of our schedule next year. One of the things we're doing
is trying to nail down largely in connection with Disney what our ABC and ESPN
2 windows are going to be next year, as well as what the playoff coverage would
be. At this point it's still a bit early to say we are going to still have the
same amount of coverage on ABC this year in terms of the exposures. And I'm
hopeful that we're going to have at least or better the exposures on ESPN 2
for the regular season. At this point it's still not determined what day of
the week those games would be on, like they would be Thursday, or whether another
night would be better or another weekend time slot would be better. We're still
working on that. And we are also at some point going to begin discussions as
well with Oxygen, to determine what their role is going to be with the WNBA
We will continue to have a presence on NBA-TV, which has growing distribution
now, and where the games that have not been televised nationally on the other
networks, but televised locally have landed on NBA-TV, and that has provided
a package of games that we have been able to distribute around the country.
Those are going to be the primary components of the package for next year. At
this point it's early to say exactly what days and what nights and so on. But
our goal is a greater regularity, and if we can pull it off, yes, at least a
weekly presence on national television.
Q. This is forecasting, for instance, if the Brooklyn Nets get the arena,
do you expect that somewhere a WNBA team will also come to Brooklyn?
VAL ACKERMAN: I would hope that if the Nets do end up relocating to Brooklyn,
that the WNBA might be in the plans. It would be something, certainly we'd be
very, very open to. There's some great girls' basketball being played in Brooklyn
and points east, and it would be a great way to kind of catalyze that interest,
and so on. At this point, though, it's absolutely premature, there's so much
that has to happen before even the Nets move were to take place. It's a bit
premature to speculate on what would happen with relation to the WNBA. But is
it a good thing? Yes, it would be a good thing.
Q. What is keeping the league from going to a best three-of-five playoff
series in the earlier rounds? I know the higher seeds didn't do a lot of good
for them to win on the road.
VAL ACKERMAN: At this point we're taking it a step at a time, I guess is my
answer. The Finals are our first step, best three-out-of-five. A lot of the
growth, answer to the growth question has to do with how many days we have to
work with, how long we think our season should be at this stage, based on input
from our teams. There's a whole lot of factors that go into length of schedule
and ease of scheduling games and so on. It's possible that we will, at some
point in the future, evolve to a three-out-of-five in earlier rounds. Who knows,
down the road we might even get to four-out-of-seven in the Finals. That's not
anytime soon, but it's certainly something that's possible someday. But at this
point, beyond the change for next year on three-out-of-five in the Finals, there's
no timetable to add any additional games.
In the way we do the format, it's kind of the best way to do it given the constraints
we have with travel and with our television windows. The home court advantage
really materializes in the WNBA playoffs in the third game. That's where you
get it back. You have to start on the road, and that can be challenging at times,
certainly because of home court advantages, but where you get it back is the
third game. It makes for an exciting series, one would argue, not unlike the
one we saw with Sacramento and Los Angeles. In time it may be that we can continue
to expand it, but at this point there's no timetable for that.
Q. With the success of the Olympic team and the success of other women's
Olympic teams, how do you think that emphasizes on the WNBA? Do you think people
show more of an interest towards your league?
VAL ACKERMAN: Well, I think the Olympics -- the Olympics in Athens were another
great chapter in the women's sports story. I saw it in many ways as a review
of Atlanta, with women's sports all doing incredibly well. It was like Atlanta;
gold medal for basketball and softball and soccer. And I think for women's sports,
that's a terrific development. And to see other athletes do well in other sports
only adds to it. I do believe the Olympics helped generate some awareness of
women's sports. It was an opportunity we couldn't pass up to have our players
on that platform to show off how global the league is and what a high level
they play at and get the exposure. We saw it as an important event to be part
of. And I think it's helped to continue to push women's sports forward.