One-on-One with WNBA President Donna Orender

By Steven J. Koek,
Posted: Aug. 21, 2009

Donna Orender has been around basketball and the sports business world her entire adult life. An All-American basketball player at Queens College, the New York native spent 17 years with the PGA Tour before being named the WNBA President in 2005.

Orender has led significant growth during her tenure and is continuing to guide the league to prosperity in its second decade of existence. In town to attend tonightís Mercury match-up with the Mystics, the wife and mother of twin boys sat down with for an exclusive interview. Welcome back to Phoenix. Youíve been coming here for many years. What is your impression on the changes the downtown area has seen and the future of downtown Phoenix?

WNBA President Donna Orender: Itís impressive. There seems to be a lot of energy around it as it continues to grow. I think thatís all positive. The Mercury will be looking to become the first team this season to clinch a playoff berth tonight when they host the Mystics. What are your thoughts on the Mighty Merc this season? What do you see as the major factors in the teamís ability to turn things around from last season?

Orender: First of all, they are one of the most fun and exciting teams to watch. If youíre a fan of basketball, then you have to be a fan of the Phoenix Mercury. Diana (Taurasi) has really fulfilled the promise. Everyone knew she was a good player and itís just fun to watch her. Cappie (Pondexter) and the personalities on this team. Iím really happy to be here to see them play tonight. The Mercury have drafted several players out of college over the past few years to help fill the center position. In DeWanna Bonner they have acquired not only a skilled player, but someone who fits the personality of this team so well.

Orender: Well,itís just fun to say her name, DeWanna Bonner. You should have a contest. What can you rhyme with DeWanna Bonner? Sheís fabulous to watch and you canít blink. If she turns sideways you canít see her, sheís just so thin. She adds that great dimension with Tan and Leícoe. I think thatís center spot is really well-tended to these days. And she can get up and down the court, which is a must for Coach Gainesí system.

Orender: You call that getting up and down the court? I look at her and I think she can fly! How would have liked to have played in the up tempo system they play here under Coach Gaines?

Orender: As an athlete, as a ball player, if you have the coach that gives you the green light, that builds confidence. Clearly, at a certain level, if youíre playing at this level and someone says, ďGo shoot, you canít do wrong, just play and run.Ē With my game, I loved to run. I couldnít do much else, but I could always run. Iíd love to play in this system.

Itís not easy. Itís fun, but itís hard. You have to be in fantastic shape. You need great shooters. Itís certainly, from the NBA side, at the end of the day, the belief is you need muscle and this is a style that doesnít place a premium on muscle. It runs on speed and ball movement and great shooters. It runs a little counter to what people might think would be successful. It is hard work and when hard work pays off like that, youíre willing to put it in. As the regular season winds down, how has the team sponsorship agreements, specifically LifeLockís deal with the Mercury, worked out and where do you see the future of such deals heading?

Orender: I think that Phoenix was the groundbreaker here with LifeLock and Todd Davis. Two forward-thinking organizations making it work, they set a very high bar. What we see is for those who didnít have the chance to really have the planning is somebody laying the groundwork for success. So if you can point at someone and see how well theyíre doing and how itís paying off for their business, it probably makes it the decision a little easier for a lot of other companies. What is your television production view of the WNBAís All Access coverage of game live online?

Orender: My personal goal was to be able to answer all of our fans who sent me e-mails. If I lined them up in terms of what their topics were, aside from officiating, they always want more games. WNBA fans are unique. Thereís a lot of local affinity for their teams, but they also love the league, and fans who didnít have a team in their market wanted to see the league. And I wanted to have a headline that said, ďAll Game Available.Ē Weíre at 200 of 235 games, for some good business reasons. Unbelievable numbers. Eight weeks without a lot of promotion has served over 1.2 million video streams. Thatís a lot of traffic and growing at ten percent increments. Itís an enormous success.

The quality is getting better and better. I love it. I feel like I am so more connected because I can see everything. Itís fun. There seems to be some uncertainty in technology circles about the long-term use of social networking, such as Facebook and Twitter. As a Tweeter yourself, where do you the future of such technology in helping to promote the league and its players?

Orender: Iím not like some of our players because I follow them. Every ten minutes thereís something. Iím not like that. I try to say something in the morning and at night. I just tweeted about Cappie and her workout. Itís Cappie Pondexter Night tonight, so Iím excited about that. I was talk a little bit about her new haircut, but I canít translate that to 140 characters.

But itís fun. And it is a whole other world. Itís technology bringing people to form communities. If you take the technology out of it, one of peopleís core desires is to connect with other people, so this facilitates that. I think thatís terrific. It cuts down boundaries. Itís not the community of your next door neighbor because, your next door neighbor now could be in the next country or the next continent. It that way, itís exciting. It gives you a bigger backyard to play in.