Start of Season Conference Call with WNBA President Donna Orender
Orender: I can't wait to talk to the players and coaches myself about what is going on at training camp. From what I hear there is a lot of excitement taking place. We look forward to starting our 11th season; we are into our second decade for this league. It speaks a lot to our viability and as well as our stability. We have our most comprehensive television package to date; we have over 100 national games on ESPN2, ABC as well as NBA TV.
We look forward to celebrating our All-Star game in Washington D.C. this year. It is a great year to be in D.C., especially with women gaining ground in political positions of power. The All-Star game will be during the weekend, it will take place on Sunday afternoon on ABC. It will be surrounded by different festivals and festivities taking place up to the game.
I am not surprised that more then 70 percent of the players taken on draft day still remain with franchises. The next five days are critical as teams try and get to their roster size. The new talent continues to impress the older talent; in particular, Taj McWilliams-Franklin is going to emerge as a leader in the Western conference. We are happy to welcome five new coaches: in Chicago-Bo Overton, in Houston-Karleen Thompson, in L.A.(we welcome back)-Michael Cooper, in Minnesota-Don Zierden and in Sacramento-Jenny Boucek. We are also pleased to announce two new ownership groups: Carla Christofferson and Kathy Goodman in Los Angeles, and Hilton Koch in Houston. We currently have 13 teams, five which have independent ownership. We are currently in talks with several markets, some being more advance than others; we expect expansion beginning in 2008. It remains a privilege to represent these women, they are all extraordinary athletes, do great things in the community and are a beacon for young girls and boys.
Q: What do you make of the player movement during the off-season? Do you
think this increase in movement is positive for the league?
Orender: I think it's a real sign of maturation of the league. For the ability of players to move around is good for teams and players. The talent level all around will definitely elevate, I see this as a real positive.
Q: In terms of the late arrivals, is there any substance of progress of
getting the off-season play and the WNBA better coordinated? Is this being negotiated?
Are there people to talk to about this?
Orender: There isn't substantial progress yet, but discussions continue. FIBA is the governing body; they have oversight of these teams. They have their leagues and their business mandates, and we have ours. They did accommodate us before. It is a real balancing act; it's definitely an integrated global playing stage.
Q: Which countries have tried to accommodate the WNBA in the past? Could
the players that go overseas help out the process of being able to get back
earlier for the start of the WNBA season?
Orender: Italy and France did move up a week that I believe, I will have to check on that. I think that there are a certain tier of players that have the ability to voice their concerns and priorities.
Q: In terms of expansion, is 2008 a firm date for the WNBA and are there
any areas leading the way?
Orender: Having negotiated these deals, nothing is firm until they are signed, but we are getting closer. There are certain markets that have ideas about their own progress, but I will let the markets do their own speaking. In terms of areas for expansion the Bay Area comes up, Atlanta, Kansas City, Albuquerque, Charlotte, Colorado. Philadelphia has come up, it's a great basketball city; Atlantic City comes up along with the talks of Philadelphia.
Q: If you thought about coming back to Charlotte would it be independent
of the Bobcats? How close is that to becoming a possibility?
Orender: Yes, it would be independent. We have spoken to several groups in Charlotte, I can't say when, but there is definitely interest in that market.
Q: With the great success that Mohegan Sun has had, is there a possibility
of another casino walking into the WNBA?
Orender: Yes it's possible; Mohegan Sun has been remarkably positive, a terrific market and management group. There have been other discussions along those lines in other cities.
Q: What is the state of the league right now?
Orender: We ended up with a tremendous amount of momentum, ratings were up; we ended up with a flourish of interest. We had our first-five game Finals, talent keeps getting better, we have increasing awareness. We have a very strong ownership group that is committed to the league, and women's basketball continues to grow. There are a 100 million girls playing around the world.
Q: Is there a reason why the All-Star game has been moved back to a weekend?
Is there any effort for the All-Star game to be brought to the West Coast?
Orender: We thought it would be the best experience for the event. We had the game during the week in New York last year because it was in the summertime and people go away from NYC during the weekends. In Washington, it's a happening city in the summertime, there are a lot of tourists; it will be great for the fans. There is an effort to bring the All-Star Game out West, and it will be out West in the next couple of years.
Q: How do you see the league evolving in the next 10 years?
Orender: There were a lot of solid fundamentals laid down throughout the first decade. It is now our responsibility to expand and build on those fundamentals. The level of talent in the WNBA has improved dramatically. We have charismatic athletes, an entertaining game, the engagement in our sponsorship base is great, Discover card announced that they will be one of the presenting partners for our All-Star game. We have new sponsors in Meridian Wine, CDC, State Farm, and the more that these companies utilize the WNBA will create a bigger platform for this league.
Q: Six or sevens teams had increases in attendance, but overall the League
went down again, didn't it?
Orender: We could have the majority of our teams go up in attendance, and one team such as Charlotte go down, and it creates a negative picture for the League.
Q: Four new coaches this year, what are your thoughts of news coaches and
the return of (Michael) Cooper?
Orender: It brings tremendous amounts of new energy, and brings different elements of people's character…LA is going crazy behind the return of (Michael) Cooper, Bo Overton now in Chicago, Don Zierden is such a well-respected coach and he is so incredibly compelling. Two women coaches are big stories; Karleen Thompson and Jenny (Boucek), who as a product of our league is huge for the WNBA.