Donna Orender Press Conference
President of the WNBA, Donna Orender
Opening Statement: Can I raise my hand and ask a question and start off? How is everybody? Everybody's good? Good, I'm glad. I have to tell you it's really gratifying to be here, tenth anniversary season, two great teams in the matchup, Detroit, Sacramento. It does I think speaks incredibly to the depth of this league, because I'm not sure that many people would have picked Detroit and Sacramento as our final two teams, right. I think everyone all along the way was probably picking Connecticut and Los Angeles. I think it speaks to really what's happening on court for our league all year long in terms of the fact that with the 24-second clock, this game has been stepped up. On average, on average, teams are scoring eight points more per game. They are averaging 15 more possessions per game. Every team has averaged higher in scoring than they have in the previous years; and all that done, field goal percentage has risen. I think that speaks a lot to the quality of our athletes and the quality of play and the quality of excitement and entertainment value of the WNBA. Player five was 19.5. Five of our top players have averaged over 20 points a game led by the amazing Diana Taurasi, who continues to step up her game and continue what she began at the University of Connecticut, really exciting basketball. She averaged 23.8 points per game. It was an instant epic on ESPN Classic when she scored 47 against the Houston Comets.
I would have to say also looking at our rookie class, what an unbelievable rookie class. We call them the Fab Four, four rookies made the All-Star team this year, led by, I think she's an amazing player, Seimone Augustus, our Rookie of the Year, Candice Dupree, Cappie Pondexter. Let's not forget Monique Currie, who made the Rookie Team and I have been favorably impressed with Erin Phillips from Australia whom we'll be seeing when USA plays Australia in an exhibition match on the 7th. We talked about the rookies. Let's not forget about the veterans. People may have written Lisa Leslie off. She scored her 5,000th point, she has been the all-time leading scorer but certainly that milestone is significant. Katie Douglas, who is here with us this evening, becoming the All-Star, the MVP of the All-Star Game, and Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson scoring milestones.
In terms of business I have to tell you that our fan base continues to grow. We like to measure our fan base in terms of how people interact with the property, and that includes online, on television, merchandise, and of course, attendance. As we look at that aggregate measurement, it's up 20 percent over last year. And I am happy to say, because I think we take unfortunate hits, our attendance is up from the All-Star Break all the way through the playoffs to date. In addition, viewership is up as we enter the playoffs. So all the way around, business is beginning to trend up in a way that all fans and supporters would like to see it grow. Probably the last indication of growth and interest would be franchise development. It has not been a secret, there have been articles written; cities are interested, our phone is ringing and we are actively out in the marketplace. And we do anticipate franchise growth over the next ten years, and our target begins in 2008, a new team beginning every single season.
Q. You talked about the attendance being up, but three years ago, the Shock averaged 18,000 for their two playoff home games in The Finals and they have less than half of that for Game 1. How much of a concern is that?
Donna Orender: I think that on one hand, it's always a concern. You always want to fill up your buildings. That said, I think as we look at our fan base, our attendance, our business model, our resources across the board, I think that we are pretty confident that the investment that we are making will prove really good results and solid results that we can continue to build on in the next ten years.
Q. USA Basketball has been dominant for quite a while, do you anticipate that continuing later this month in Brazil?
Donna Orender: I do. I think the American women have been absolutely outstanding. They are winner of three gold medals. I don't know that they get enough credit for what they have done representing their country. We still have a core veteran team joined by some unbelievable youngsters. I anticipate that they will continue their outstanding play and their performance throughout the Olympics.
Q. In association with that, I noticed yesterday Val Ackerman was named to the central board of FIBA, how helpful will that be in terms of getting foreign players into camps earlier, etc., etc.?
Donna Orender: I think that any connection that we have with FIBA I think is great for global basketball, so it's a good thing. I also think it's noteworthy that Val becomes one of the first women to be represented on the FIBA board. She's an unbelievable ambassador for the game. She understands what we are trying to do here at the WNBA. Obviously she set the foundation, so I think it's a very good thing.
Q. As you look to expand in the future, do you foresee a trend of going to cities where are not any other pro sports teams? I know Bentonville, Arkansas was written about today, do you see a trend of going in that direction?
Donna Ordender: I would tell you that I see a mixed model, actually. I see cities that do have NBA teams, and I see cities without NBA teams. I see management that's more focused on the WNBA and obviously non-NBA cities. As we plot out the cities in the future, there's a healthy mix of different business models.
Q. You had talked about the favorable effects that the rule changes had over the past season. Do you anticipate any additional rule changes coming next season or in the near future?
Donna Orender: I would not preclude additional rule changes. At this point in time there's perhaps one that has to do with some perhaps defensive rulings that we would look at. I don't anticipate anything other than that for the following year. When we sit down with the Competition and GMs Committee, we give them the opportunity to raise issues that we would like to have them look at. I was actually thinking of adding maybe -- just kidding.
Q. When you have The Finals here and you did average 18,000 fans in 2003, and the drop-off, is one of the reasons, is it not enough marketing, not enough promotion? Why does that happen? What do you attribute that to?
Donna Orender: You know what, I would tell you that I can't specifically speak to what happened here in Detroit when they played in 2003. I couldn't tell you what the differentiator here is in this market right now. I couldn't speak to that. I think overall the league has to continue to aggressively market not only the league, but our players. We have unbelievably interesting, charismatic athletes, and I think we have to work harder to get them out front and center so people can really identify with them and in the way that they deserve to be identified with.
Q. Do you feel you're going to keep this same time frame in terms of the seasons for the next couple of years where it ends about first week of September, or you going to try to extend it maybe later in September or October?
Donna Orender: I think we will look at probably extending it a little bit, later than it currently is. That's the other thing. I would like to look at the date when Detroit played versus this weekend date.
Q. Do you expect more games?
Donna Orender: I do not. At this point in time, I do not. You know, people have asked us about whether we would expand the playoffs. I think that's a logical first play to look. But I think at this point in time, it's a pretty dense schedule. It's a lot of games in a short amount of time. I think we want to be able to preserve the quality of the athletes, their health, as well as the quality of play. I think when you put too many games in a short period of time, I'm not sure that it's really the best for all involved.
Q. What were the factors that weighed into the decision in terms of Game 5 having to move it to Joe Louis, as opposed to trying to switch the date to play here, how did that work out?
Donna Orender: I think that it's probably best addressed in terms of the specifics by the Detroit organization. I think they had some business issues that they could not resolve, and I don't think that we could ameliorate them as it related to our dates, as well.
Q. Were you disappointed by the move, Los Angeles included?
Donna Orender: We are disappointed by both moves, yes, we are. We think that the process that we put in place would have addressed these kinds of moves in advance. Unfortunately, they did not. I think we've all learned together and in the future we don't anticipate that this would happen.
Q. Is there a specific contract or what is the specifics behind that?
Donna Orender: There are league team guidelines and date milestones that should be hit in terms of notification, and availability of dates in terms of arenas. I think that there was some little wiggle room in there that I think allowed this to happen that we won't let happen again.
Donna Orender: Thank you very much for attending and we will see you at Game 2 momentarily.