Conference Call With WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert


THE MODERATOR: Thank you to our media for joining us us this afternoon, and we’re going to begin with Commissioner Cathy Engelbert making opening remarks and then we will turn it over to question and answer. We’re going to ask that we limit the follow up questions to a degree simply so we can provide more opportunity for the large number of callers that we have.

CATHY ENGELBERT: Thank you, Ron, so much. I just want to say hello to you all. It is a pleasure to and a privilege to be joining the WNBA. It’s such an exciting and important time in its history, and more importantly, a moment in time for women’s leadership.
There’s no place like sports where women and girls can gather confidence and be exceptional in life, and that’s the benefit I had from playing sports at an early age. I see tremendous opportunity to essentially bolster visibility for the sport, women’s basketball, around the player experience, the fan experience, fan engagement.
For those that don’t know me, this role brings together kind of a perfect combination of my more than 30 years of business experience and my passion for the sport of basketball, and then really I’ve dedicated at least the last decade to women’s advancement.
I am a huge basketball fan I would say since I was four, and I have five brothers who all played basketball. My father played basketball at a very high collegiate level at St. Joe’s University under Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay. I played at Lehigh University where Muffett McGraw had her first head coaching job. So, I played for four years, and she turned around the Lehigh program and then went off obviously to do great things and become a Hall of Famer at Notre Dame.
My father was drafted in 1957 by the Detroit Pistons. I think they were actually called the Fort Wayne Pistons back then, but became the Detroit Pistons shortly thereafter, and so many of my skills that have helped me not only at the beginning of my career but through today as a CEO really took root on the basketball court.
And I can think of no better place to take the next level of my career than at the WNBA. Looking forward to connecting with all of the players and stakeholders that surround women’s basketball and women’s sports, again, leveraging my skills and working with them to continue to really increase the power of this amazing brand with these world class athletes and drive a better fan and player experience and drive revenue.
I really look forward to getting started, working with Mark and Christy and the entire team and the owners and the other stakeholders, and my plan is to attend games and really hit the ground running and with them and evaluate from a strategic perspective how we take the WNBA and, from a business perspective, drive it to the next level of success. With that, Ron, back to you.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. We will now open it up to question and answer.


Q. Just one real quick question. Your past two predecessors were really big on diversity, especially by race, and I see that you are a big proponent of that, as well. Do you have a theory on how to promote that and continue that at your new position?

CATHY ENGELBERT: Yeah, absolutely. A big part of my platform at Deloitte, we had an extremely diverse work force. We really wanted to drive diversity and inclusion at the next level. I’ve done a lot of different things around that. I was actually one of the founding sponsors of the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion that now we have over 500 CEOs of major corporations pledged to do real actionable items around diversity and inclusion, so I hopefully will bring that lens to drive that.
Obviously, what I’m focused on and what interested me about the WNBA is how diverse the players are, their background, and how important it will be to obviously continue that as a key part of their platform in, quite frankly, a country and a workforce that is increasingly diverse.
Really, I think this will be very natural for me to continue to focus on diversity and, more broadly, inclusion.


Q. I’ve got a two part question for you. The first is you’re the first WNBA Commissioner, and your four predecessors were known as President. Does that mean anything differently to you with the new title? The second thing is I believe you’re starting July 17th. What is going to be your involvement for the next two months until you’re officially running the place?

CATHY ENGELBERT: Yeah, so commissioner, obviously, I think it’s first of all, I’m honored and humbled to have that title. I think it comes with enormous responsibility. And although I don’t necessarily think that the prior people who had the position and the title president will be all that different. I think it is a seat at the table that’s important with the conversation around women and parity, and I’m very proud to hold that and understand that it comes with it a lot of responsibility. And just really humbled.
On the July date, I do have a term so at Deloitte we have terms of the year. So, I have a term to finish, and our fiscal year ends with that term. And it’s important that I finish the financial part of my job at Deloitte and leave a great transition.
So, there’s a fair amount of things I need to get done between now and then, and then maybe a week or two off to spend with family. I have two graduations, a daughter graduating college and a son graduating high school, and all the things associated with that. So, that’s why the mid July date.
But in the meantime, I’ll be fully engaged with the launch and the tip off in a week or two of the WNBA season, attending games, again, networking with the ecosystem.


Q. Congratulations on your new position. I’m sure you feel like you’re drinking from a firehose, but during the hiring process, did the issue of ability to pay the WNBA players more so they don’t feel compelled to play in overseas leagues come up, and do you have any thoughts on that issue?

CATHY ENGELBERT: Yeah, I think there were a lot of issues that came up during the process which I was hearing before this role, and that’s certainly one of them. There were other issues. I know like the bargaining negotiations are going on. They’re certainly aware of the issues. I think an advantage of coming in in my transition, I will be listening to a lot of the players, the owners, the union. I did have the opportunity to meet with the union prior to the announcement today. So, that obviously is one of them.
There are others around player experience and, obviously, we all want to drive the league to greater heights financially, from a revenue perspective. So, those are all the things that we’ll hit the ground running on.


Q. Congratulations on the new job. I’m hoping you can take me through what you think negotiations look like both once you are fully on the job come July, and just over the next few months the awareness that there is this end of season deadline for the CBA to expire?

CATHY ENGELBERT: Yeah, I think obviously Mark and team have been involved in the current discussions with on the CBA, and those will continue. They don’t stop just because my technical start date is July 17th. Again, I’ll be engaging with both the players, the union, as well as with Mark and team, where we are with those issues and continue to hopefully drive those forward, and I think hopefully at this point I assure you and hopefully Mark isn’t going anywhere.
He and I have talked several times about this particular issue and he’s assured that I’m up to speed on the issues that the players want to see dealt with as well and, obviously, the league.


Q. Given your experience with women’s basketball over the years, how often have you been able to attend WNBA games, and especially with your business experience, have you maybe made like a mental list of things that you thought you’d like to see the league improve on or that you’d like to see the league do for the future?

CATHY ENGELBERT: Yeah, so as I’ve been thinking about this role, I have lots of ideas, I think, as I’m coming in obviously fresh and I will be transitioning in over the next couple months, so there are a variety of things, as I said, and what I would call put in the category of fan experience, player experience and certainly from a revenue perspective, and I think there’s a massive inflection point for the growth of the league, and I think there’s really an opportunity to build the WNBA into a thriving business, as I said in my quote today, and I really believe that.
So, those are the types of things that I’ll be working on. Obviously, I’ve been very close to the game for a long time, mostly in the New York area as far as the WNBA. I haven’t even got to many NBA games because my current job requires so much travel, and especially during the busy times of year. But, certainly in the summer I tend to I get to many WNBA games and continue to and I already know because I watch a lot of them on TV and on other digital platforms, I already know the quality of the game and that the athletes are world class.
And I think the draft this year has a lot of great players coming into the league. It’s going to be very exciting. And so again, absolutely part of the way I thought about coming in and making an impact very quickly on the league as well as just having knowledge of the players, the games, the quality, and again, how these women should have a much bigger voice and how important it is for them to become leaders in the future as they are in sport today.


Q. Can you maybe address I know I’ve read stories where you’ve talked about, when you entered the professional services industry back in the ’80s, how it wasn’t the friendliest to women, and that’s something you’ve worked on your whole career. What parallels do you see with what you had to do, the inroads you had to make or the glass ceilings you had to break, and that versus what you’re going to be doing now with the WNBA?

CATHY ENGELBERT: Yeah, it’s a great question. I think I do tell a story a lot about being a woman leader in a man’s world. Obviously, it started even from my family with the five brothers. I went to a college that was more male than female when I first arrived there…joined a profession that was very male dominated and kind of worked very hard on our women’s advancement and women’s initiatives.
So, there’s lots of parallels, I think, certainly from business into the WNBA, which, again, I hope to bring a fresh perspective on.
However, having said that, I think these women are already much more powerful than I was when I came into the workforce, and I think their voice and their standing amongst the communities in which they live and work and play is already pretty amazing.
So clearly I think there’s things that I can bring around brand and upgrading to drive the growth of the league, but I think in the end, I think sports breeds confidence, and I see a ton of confidence in these women that I know as I go on my listening tour I’ll hear a lot of these issues, and we’ll deal with it as we go through that.
But I think there again, they have such a powerful platform at this moment in time with women’s leadership. And I always say team sports to me build leaders, and companies want to hire women who have played sports because they’re natural leaders from having gone through that in their earlier lives.
So, I think it’s really important to essentially bring that perspective into and again, professional services are very different, obviously, than a professional sports league, but this is the league that has sustained a professional women’s sports league and yeah, I think we’re at a real good inflection point to drive this to a higher level.


Q. I wanted to ask you, the gentleman from Indiana a little bit about this, but I’m in Minnesota, and this is where Maya Moore is sitting out right now, so people are interested in the salary thing. I’m wondering if that’s something you think might be addressed in this next CBA. Is the league in a position to maybe address that quickly?

CATHY ENGELBERT: Sorry, I just couldn’t hear the beginning of your question where you kind of went in and out.

Q. So I’m in Minnesota where Maya Moore is sitting out, and what I’m wondering, is the league in a position to start addressing that issue with this next CBA?

CATHY ENGELBERT: Yeah, so I’m very familiar very aware of Maya sitting out, obviously very much support that she wants to take some time off for personal reasons. Again, I today manage a workforce of 100,000 people with 75 percent Millennials and we do sabbaticals all the time, and we’re very supportive of that.
So here I think it’s a supportive thing, but obviously we’d love to see Maya come back this year, so I think that’s less of a CBA issue, more of there are times in people’s lives and their careers that they want some time off. I know I’ve had those moments, as well. I’ve very supportive of that.
And I think there are some other issues that obviously we need to address in the collective bargaining agreement, but I think I’m very supportive of what Maya wants to do for herself and her family and her ministry (indiscernible).

Q. Are you saying that there’s more sounds like you’re saying there’s more to that story than people know, that it’s not just about the money.

CATHY ENGELBERT: Yeah, no, at least from what I’ve been reading I think what publicly Maya is saying is she wants to take some time off to pursue ministry, family time, things I hear all the time from having a Millenial population where I’m coming from.
THE MODERATOR: To Cathy’s point, I don’t believe Maya has stated financial interests as a reason. I think it was personal interests, familial interests and perhaps ministry. But again, if you want to call afterwards, feel free to.


Q. There’s always been a mystique about the WNBA and women’s sports. You know, almost like, oh, it’s great women are getting a chance, but now you’re dealing with a different athlete than the pioneers of this league. The players today grew up expecting to play in the WNBA, and they also grow up watching players make a lot of money except for them.
Do you have fresh ideas on how to deal with that, because they’re talking potentially a strike. Could the league survive a work stoppage? They’re looking to dramatically change the financial structure of the league.

CATHY ENGELBERT: Yeah, I think that’s probably one of the reasons I was selected for this role, to come in and bring a business plan to build the WNBA into a real business and a thriving business, quite frankly. So,s I totally agree with your point around it’s a different athlete who expects to play in the WNBA. They obviously want to make money. They want it to be a career for them.
And so I think it’s a very astute observation around that it is a different athlete. I know when I came out, there was no WNBA, and I would have loved to have played thereafter. Maybe I wouldn’t have been good enough.
But I do think those are some of the things that hopefully I will bring a business lens. Everything is solved by putting more fans in the seats, having higher revenue, having a broader revenue base, trying to attract a fan experience, particularly against the young Millennials and digital natives that might be different than the fan base today, and I think it’ll all kind of build on its own momentum because I think these are different athletes but they’re fabulous world class athletes that we need to make sure believe that they have the confidence that we’re going to build this into a higher level thriving business.
I do have ideas, but I want to be respectful that I haven’t even started yet, so I’ll talk with them and the league management about this already and will get into that as I get transitioned in.


Q. You know, I see you’ve had quite a career leading a major, major company in this country, and I wanted to know, in all of your business experience, have you had experience in collective bargaining, and if so, how so?

CATHY ENGELBERT: Interesting question. So, while I haven’t been the negotiator on the other side of the table for collective bargaining, I’ve been involved with many of our larger clients at Deloitte who are highly union, and actually watching in an audit perspective and in an advisory perspective as they are in collective bargaining with their unions all the time, whether it be in the auto industry, the pharmaceutical industry and other industries.
Yes, I know what collective bargaining is about. I know what negotiation is. Have I been actually the negotiator? No. But very familiar with some of the rules of the road around collective bargaining.


Q. Once you take your position, how involved will you be in the CBA negotiations, and how important is it to get an agreement before the expiration?

CATHY ENGELBERT: I’ve met with Terri Jackson already prior to being announced today, so I think that was a step forward, to meet with Terri and to start to get involved and engaged, and of course I’ll be very involved. I’ll get engaged as soon as I’m fully transitioned on board.
But I certainly want to meet with the executive committee. Obviously, we’ll be (indiscernible) have points of contact there. I think it is important that we reach an agreement with the players as we get into the 2020 season.


Q. Given the grievances recently, simply communication between the players and people making the decisions, what sort of strategies do you plan to implement to bridge that gap when you become commissioner in July?

CATHY ENGELBERT: Good question because communication is something that has been near and dear to my heart and my role over the course of 30 quite frankly, over 30 years. I think it will be very important, as I said, I want to get teed up and meet with the executive committee, obviously meet with the Players’ Association, and honestly there’s a whole stakeholder ecosystem, I call it, in women’s basketball that I think it’s important to start to build relationships with. That will drive the communication strategy. That will drive how often, what we communicate on, obviously collective bargaining, as well.
I think I feel very comfortable that that will be hopefully a strong suit that I bring from being in the business world and making sure that there is transparency in that communication and authenticity in that communication. I think if you talk to anyone who works for Deloitte, those are probably two adjectives they would use when describing my style around communication.


Q. I have a two part question. My first question is what is your number one priority heading into starting this position?

CATHY ENGELBERT: Well, number one priority is to have a seamless transition we’ll be in season, obviously — and then we start to build the W into a driving business, and I can bring my business background and my business acumen to the W, to the management of the W, as well as work on player and fan experience. So, that will be my first goal as I walk in the door here.


Q. You kind of touched on my second question. I was just wondering, in your eyes what steps does the league need to take to create a healthy, thriving economic business model?

CATHY ENGELBERT: Well, and again, there’s a variety of ideas that I think the league has and I think I have. Certainly, we’ll have to work in transition on those ideas. I’d like to have a little more visibility on what has worked in the past, what hasn’t, obviously in terms of sponsorship, where I can bring significant relationships with companies I’ve sponsored sponsorships at Deloitte where I’ve worked hard on the business case, on the ROIs as well as on the activation of those sponsorships. And hopefully the W can benefit from my experience there because, having been a sports fan my whole life, I think that could be one of the important things to grow the energy around the WNBA and its players and to drive the brand to higher heights. Those will be some things that I’m thinking about in the early days.


Q. My question, which I think you’ve touched on, is what about this position right now kind of made it the right move for you, obviously having been a part of a big sport company at Deloitte and running that firm?

CATHY ENGELBERT: Yeah, I’ll tell you, there were three things that I was thinking of after obviously a long career with one firm. Very safe to say I wanted something different, something with a women’s leadership platform and something I have a passion for.
So, coupled with that, after I got intrigued by talking with a few individuals here at the W, that intrigue came from the enormous commitment that everyone I talked to in the ecosystem has. And really just having experience with the WNBA as a fan and kind of evaluating the upside and the moment in women’s leadership that I’ve been so passionate about. For instance, I am on the chair board of Catalyst, which is an organization around women’s leadership that works for women, works for everyone as their mission. And so it was really important as I think about what I want to do next, the impact I want to have, I really thought this was a good fit, particularly with the W looking for a woman business leader with a passion for the game, and so the timing worked and it was a good fit, and I was very intrigued by the upside of how great these world class women athletes are who are playing a game that I love.


Q. I feel like with most of the issues around the WNBA, the problems seem to come back the solutions seem to come back to money, and I know you’ve mentioned this a little bit, but is there one like avenue in particular for revenue that you think the league has not yet exploited and believe that it could be?

CATHY ENGELBERT: Yeah, again, I want to get in, do my listening tour, figure out what’s worked, what hasn’t worked. Again, I would say with trying to attract a fan base that’s maybe different than the past, will drive energy. I think it will drive a different level of fan engagement. I think player engagement will be different. I think everything today and everything I did at Deloitte was around our customer experience, so I think I can bring, again, a business blend, what that means for a fan experience and a player experience. So, I don’t think there’s going to be one thing, I think there will probably be several things. But I think, again, the commitment that I’ve heard from everyone I’ve met with is why I’m taking this job, and I think driving the energy and being maybe a little innovative in the way we think about the money aspect of this, the revenue aspect of this, the platform that these women have, both in basketball and socially.
I think there’s, again, a lot of opportunity to bolster visibility for this sport and give it the cool factor that it deserves, and I think that’s going to drive fans and going to feed to the revenue model that’s going to work, and then you drive all the momentum, and the players have great personalities and really enhancing those and the social aspects I think will be an important part of it. So, no one thing, but I of course have lots of ideas that I’m sure as Mark (Tatum, NBA Deputy Commissioner) and the team and Christy (Hedgpeth, WNBA COO) and the team have been executing from the fall through the winter that they’ve been sharing with the owners and the players. We need some time to just get in and make sure I understand what’s worked and what hasn’t worked.


Q. I wanted to ask you what your reaction was when you heard about the Breanna Stewart injury, particularly related to it occurring overseas and the year round basketball side of that. And, also, if you could just talk about what you’ve learned from playing for Muffet McGraw.

CATHY ENGELBERT: Good questions. On Breanna, obviously heartbroken to see anybody have an injury, no matter where it would occur around the world. We wish her a very speedy recovery and we want her back as soon as possible. Obviously, injuries are part of the game, and whether she had it overseas or here or home, I don’t think it’s as important as unfortunately our women train and they train hard and they’re going to get hurt. We wish her well.
On playing for Muffet, again, I played for her early in her coaching career, her first head coaching job with Lehigh back in 1982 when I arrived in campus. She was my first and only coach, quite frankly, and she’s an amazing competitor, an amazing coach. She doesn’t like to lose, and I think some there’s one thing I think I learned from her the most is you must be your best in ordinary moments, and what that meant is practice hard because the muscles you build in practice, meaning your basketball muscles, call it, are what pays off when you put your game face on at game time.
And so, again, she’s obviously gone on to have an amazing career and led her program to National Championships. Honestly, today I never thought I’d be in my role, but also not sure she knew where she would go, to the Naismith Hall of Fame. Very proud to have played for her. Just an extreme competitor, and she’s just been great for the game and I think great for building women’s leaders and obviously has had voice in women’s leadership in sport and even outside of sport. So, I’m very proud of her.


Q. You touched on this a little bit briefly, but I wanted to ask, how important is it do you think to not only define what your fan base is but expand it and maybe expand it as far as reaching out to maybe a younger fan base? Do you see that as something you’d like to see, that you guys are looking to do?

CATHY ENGELBERT: Absolutely. Again, one of the things that will be very natural for me is to think about expanding the fan base to Millennial population. Again, Deloitte, 75 percent of our employees are Millennials with an average age of 27, and now with my kids coming into the work forces that love sports, are involved in sports, we want to capture them into the WNBA audience, those in the seats and in the digital world.
I think it will be really important to continue to expand the fan base. That absolutely has got to be part of the strategy, and I think it is today, and we need to come up with some creative ways to do that, and I think all the sports are struggling a little bit with how with the attention spans of these digital natives, to find the right platforms, to engage them, to drive the coolness factor and drive the energy so that we get the followership. And the meaning is about these players getting the followership they deserve, and I think that will naturally expand the fan base amongst the Millennial and digital natives.


Q. How do you think your experience as a player as well as your deep roots with basketball with your family will help you to lead the league differently than some of your predecessors that did not have extensive experience like you? And secondly, I know it’s your first kind of orientation day in a way, but have you connected with any players at all so far? Have you talked to them prior to this call right now?

CATHY ENGELBERT: I think it’s important that I played the game and I played under a Hall of Fame coach and I grew up with a basketball court in the backyard. When I played, my dad used to have me go out there and take 100 left handed lay ups because I always used my right hand on the left side. So, it is important. It’s not the only attribute I would look for in the WNBA president or commissioner if I were Adam, Mark and the team, but certainly it’s helped because the passion is there.
I’m so excited to be doing something where I have a huge passion for the success of the league and the success of the players.
You know, since I’ve been interviewing, I purposely haven’t proactively reached out to players, but I’ve met players along my travels. As a female business leader, I’m often put in front of groups to speak, and, in fact, in December I actually presented an award in Washington D.C. to Ted Leonsis who, as you know, owns the Mystics, and there were two WNBA players in the audience, and before I handed out the award I shouted them out, having known that they were in the WNBA Finals, where everybody else was shouting out the Washington Capitals. I got up there and gave them my love and passion for basketball — having no idea I’d be sitting here today as the Commissioner of the WNBA — shouted out the WNBA players. They came up to me afterwards, we exchanged contact information, and kind of a fun part of being a business leader is to meet people.
Again, I was so impressed with these two individual women, WNBA players, and again, that might have back in December been a little bit of an, okay, maybe this was meant to be as I started to think about this as the winter was ending.
We have really looked forward to that aspect of the job. Again, networking and getting to meet the players and listening to what their aspirations are, quite frankly, because that’s what I’ve done at Deloitte for many years since I became a partner and a leader is really to listen to our young men and women, but here it’s obviously the young women as to what their aspirations are, and then how I can help create these platforms for them to succeed.


Q. Commissioner, I know this must be an exciting time for you. It’s an exciting time for anyone that follows the league, so we look forward to your leadership. Could you talk a little bit about the process of you being hired? Was it a position that while the league was searching, you reached out to someone, expressed your interest? Did they come to you? Just curious as to how that happened. And a quick follow up question, you’ve kind of spoken about it through other people’s questions, but in thinking of your hundred day plan or your first plans of what you want to do, is there something that maybe you haven’t mentioned that you’re looking forward to trying to implement or trying to learn once you get started?

CATHY ENGELBERT: The process for interviewing, taking the position just happened by the fact that by being in a business leader ecosystem I was made aware that the WNBA was looking for a new leader, and so as I started to think about it and become intrigued, it just became a good match on what the W was looking for and I was looking for in my next step.
It’s as simple as that, quite frankly. Obviously, I’m based in New York today, and that’s helpful because I’m in this New York business ecosystem.
The second question was on a hundred day plan. I remember that was FDR, and FDR never intended that to be every year, to get asked that question on a hundred day plan, but it was something I got asked all the time when I stepped into different roles at Deloitte, certainly the CEO role, and I think, again, because we’ll be in season, we’ve got an All Star Game, we’ve got collective bargaining, there’s a lot to think about as I think about a hundred day plan. And obviously once I get fully engaged — because during the interview process purposely while I was asking lots of questions about the owners, the players — I really want to get it firsthand from, again, the stakeholders and really hear from them directly rather than hearing through a conduit or hearing through the league, et cetera. Again, I’m looking forward to jumping in and forming what we want to accomplish, just not in 100 days but over the next couple years, quite frankly.
Again, the whole goal is really to drive the league at this moment, this inflection point, drive the growth of the league for the benefit of all the stakeholders. So I really look forward to jumping in.


Q. What are the ways in which you most want to see the league change, adhere to that vision?

CATHY ENGELBERT: Yeah, so again, as I was going through discussions, I had lots of questions about what are the aspirations for the players, the owners, the league, the management of the NBA and WNBA. Really this is abouts a business model to drive a thriving growth model, so everything I was thinking about in the interview process leads to questions about how can I bring my business acumen, my business connections, my business networks into a league where, again, the quality of the basketball, the quality of the athletes is very elite, and let’s try a business model that supports that and also around broadening their brand, broadening the fan base.
It’s all stuff we’ve talked about on this call, but very excited about the upside potential here to really bolster the visibility for the sport and drive a coolness factor, and again, a platform for these women so that their play is excellent and elite but make sure they’re recognized for that in the general public and among the fan base, especially among younger Americans.

Q. Just to follow up on that, what is that benchmark for success?

CATHY ENGELBERT: Yeah, so I would say more fans in the seats, more corporate sponsorship, more sponsorship broadly. You saw the AT&T announcement. I think that’s a great signal and sign. That will be the first non apparel on the uniforms. So again, it’s all going to be clear, I think, when you see the momentum build if you can get a business model that’s driving growth and driving growth in different revenue models, and then all of the issues that you may hear that cause the pain are started to be chipped away at, and I think that’s what’s going to happen here, and I think that’s an aspiration of mine coming into this role.

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