LISA BORDERS: Good afternoon, everybody. Are we glad to be here? Really? Are we glad to be here?
Well, thank you all for being here. We are thrilled to be here. Let me start by thanking Glen and Becky Taylor and the entire Minnesota Lynx organization. They are putting on this fantastic weekend, and we are reallyexcited to be here and grateful to them.
Let me also recognize the Target Center. This renovation is something to behold, and the fans here are quite passionate and have experienced lots of wonderful activity here, including four championships by the Minnesota Lynx and finishing six times in The Finals in the last seven seasons. So somebody should say amen. It’s pretty amazing. There’s been lots of excitement around this weekend and lots of activities leading up to this weekend. We
always — they’ve had a format change where they have two captains selecting teams regardless of geographic regions or conferences, and I know Elena [Delle Donne] and Candace [Parker], our captains, were really excited to start this new format.
The feedback from the fans has been terrific. The voting increased by 44 percent. You might remember that was fans, media, coaches, players, so clearly there was a lot, a lot of engagement. And then when we look at the talent, these are the best athletes in the world. I know I say that in every press conference, but I’m going to keep saying it because it’s the truth.
When you look at Sue Bird, she was selected for an 11th time, and that is a record for us. When you look at the young players who are here for the first time, like Jewell Loyd, who is having a phenomenal season, and has anybody looked at the rookie, A’ja Wilson, coming out of Las Vegas? Both of them just phenomenal. But their first time.
But we also have seven MVPs playing this year. So we’ve got Tina Charles, Elena Delle Donne, Sylvia Fowles, Maya Moore, Nneka Ogwumike, who could not be with us today, and Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi. That’s a lot of MVPs, and we are really excited to see all of those women play today.
Also, here is a secret. May I share a secret? May I tell you about the 2019 All-Star Game? Everybody get your pen ready. It’s going to be in Las Vegas. We’re really excited about that, thrilled to be here but looking forward to an announcement later today, handing off the basketball, if you will, from Minnesota to Las Vegas. So we’re really, really happy for those guys there, too.
Let’s talk a little bit about the game if we could. The pace of the game is incredibly fast. The players as individuals play well. The teams are incredible, also. But we have lots of records that are falling while the season is going on. The pace of play, the competitive nature and the physicality is just unbelievable.
Today team No. 2 and team No. 8 are only separated by two and a half games. Two and a half games. So when you see all that intensity on the floor, every game really does matter.
So let me call your attention to a couple of really strong indicators that our game is really healthy and really exciting. Anybody see Liz Cambage score 53 points in one game? That’s pretty incredible. Sue Bird, of course, is our assist leader. She’s also the first one to get to 500 games played. Diana Taurasi, of course, is our goal leader. She’s scored points like nobody’s business. But then you have Elena Delle Donne, who was the first person to get to 3,000 or the fastest person to get to 3,000 points. Courtney Vandersloot from Chicago has reached — she’s the seventh triple-double, so — that’s hard to say. But it’s a phenomenal milestone, as well.
And then on the coaching side, Coach [Mike] Thibault was the first coach to reach 300 wins. Pretty amazing
in and of itself. When you think about all of that, we know that the game is really, really healthy. We are at 22 years, or 22 seasons I should say, and that’s phenomenal in and of itself. But the game is evolving and improving just as
time moves on.
So may I talk a little bit about the business? This is call and response. Help me.
So the business is incredibly healthy. We’re watching the fans respond to all this exciting play. It’s entertainment at its best. What we’re seeing is across our key performance indicators for the business, all the numbers are pointing in the right direction. That’s up. That’s northward. So when we look at our viewership, hats off to — thank you Carol Stiff and ESPN, our broadcast long-form partner, has been with us from the very beginning. Across ESPN2 and NBA TV, viewership is up 35 percent, which is just awesome, and it’s up since 2015. So thank you, Carol. We really do appreciate you and the entire ESPN family.
Sales in the WNBA store are also up 50 percent. Last year you guys asked me about jerseys and all types of stuff in the store. Clearly there’s more stuff in the store and people are buying it, and we appreciate that, so thank you for that.
You know, we launched our long-term partnership with Nike, and so they are now our official on-court and apparel partner. We’re really excited about that.
And then did you see the EA Sports announcement? Not only do we have WNBA players in the game, now you can have female avatars. Somebody say amen. We are really happy about that. And we know that they will be likenesses of some of our players like Candace and Brittney [Griner] and Diana and others, but I understand that the video gamers can actually scan their own faces and include it in the game. So that’s pretty darned incredible.
So these are all positive indicators the game is going well. The business is healthy. We know that there is still a lot more to do, but we are proud of where we are today. This is my third season, and I am really happy to see all the progress that we have made. We appreciate all the coverage that you all have given us, but can we have some more?We’d like some more.
But even the number of you that are here in the room has grown over these three years, and we really want to thank you for that because we couldn’t do this without you. The players are the key people that are important to our game and our league, but we really appreciate you all lifting the game so that consumers around the world, fans around the world can see the game and really appreciate and enjoy it.
Let me make one other comment. I have a friend in the room. You all are my friends, but I have a special friend in the room. I want to give a shout-out to Brenda Andress, the former commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. She has founded an organization called She Is, and it’s about all the women’s professional leagues working together. Brenda, can you wave? Brenda Andress. So I just wanted to give her a shout-out, most importantly because she thought of this initiative.
We have joined the initiative, along with several other women’s professional leagues as well as WWE. This is something that has never happened before, women working together, women supporting each other in the professional sports ranks. So it’s a unique time in history, I think, for women, and this is one of the initiatives that we have undertaken, so thank you for being here.
With that, I will close my remarks and open the floor for questions.
Q. There’s been some social media push-back lately against women’s sports in general and against elite people saying, oh, it’s not a good game or no one cares. Everybody in this room knows it’s a good game. The people in this arena today know these are great athletes. What can the WNBA do to widen that fan base and convince people that still might be skeptical of women’s basketball?
LISA BORDERS: For those people who are uninformed, we’re going to work with you to keep informing them to show them that this is an extraordinary game. So we are constantly looking for additional distribution channels to widen our reach. ESPN has been terrific. You might know that we also are live streaming on Twitter this season as we did last season and we will do in 2019, as well. But we will continue to look for distribution channels so that more
people can consume the game.
Social media has really been our friend in this instance. We are finding that folks are consuming the game in different ways now. They don’t always just sit in front of their TV for two hours. They’re looking for a mobile option. And so Twitter and any other platform that we can find that will do that for us, we will welcome that. So that is how we will continue to not just innovate the game but innovate how we display the game.
Q. Can you just briefly assess, if you can, about the program of giving $5 per ticket to charities, and
how did that align with the concerns from some players about not sharing in revenue with the league?
LISA BORDERS: So you’re referring to our Take a Seat, Take a Stand campaign, which we started this year, which was really about putting our money where our mouth is. We know that our players are elite athletes. They’re the best athletes in the world. But they are also people, too, with passions and things that they care about. And it’s really encoded in our DNA. This is something I had the privilege of inheriting and everybody working with the league knows that we care about what’s going on in our community and in our world.
So Take a Seat, Take a Stand was about an affirmative step from the league and from our players, our teams, all of us agreed that we would give money to six organizations, and we can get the names of them for you. We would give $5 of every ticket that was sold to these nonprofits who are doing work in our local communities. So it’s really about not just talking about what we care about, it’s taking some demonstrable action, and that’s what it was all about.
Now, in terms of sharing revenue, we play the same game as the NBA, but the economics of our leagues are two different things. The NBA is 72 years old, we are 22 years old. That is a two-generation gap in terms of building the brand, building the fan base, building equity around who we are and what we’re trying to do. But let me be perfectly clear. Our incentives are aligned here with the players. There is no room for light between the league, the teams and the players. We all believe that the players should make as much money as they possibly can make, and we’re here to
enable that and support that.
But this is a business, and the economics today don’t allow us to pay more. But when it does, we will. So no disagreement between the league, the teams and the players. We are completely aligned.
Q. Just to jump off on that point and to speak to some of the specifics of it, a lot of the players have
spoken about it, Kelsey Plum being one of them, the fact that it’s less about trying to have equality of pay with the NBA, and she pointed out that the NBA makes — about 50 percent of the CBA is payments towards players, and as she pointed out, it’s somewhere between 20 and 30 percent, depending on who’s doing the measuring. I just wonder what you see as an appropriate level for the players to be making not in terms of total money but percentage of the revenue that comes into the league on an annual basis?
LISA BORDERS: So I don’t want to forecast that. I wish I had a crystal ball and could say, I think it should be X. I think it would be premature for me to do that. What I want our players to understand, not just our fans and you guys here in the room, is that they have no stronger advocate for higher salaries than myself. No stronger advocate. Our players are all college educated. They are world citizens. They are incredible athletes. They deserve more.
In society, women deserve more, period, full stop. So sports is not the only place where things are not as equal as we would like for them to be or as comparable as we would like for them to be. So we want to take a leadership role here, and so we challenge ourselves, but we also challenge society to support this league and support these women because top-line revenue and top-line growth is part of the answer to the entire question.
We are very much focused on that, growing the business, so the players can get more, so there’s more all the way around.
I don’t want to forecast today, but trust me, we are all in on this.
Q. One of the things that has been a huge topic of conversation as of late has been involving one of the league’s flagship teams in the [New York] Liberty and the move to Westchester County Center, and the reviews of it have been somewhat mixed at best among fans. You’ve been to a few of those games. If you could give your assessment of the Center as a whole and also of the importance of making sure the league has a long-term stable future in New York City.
LISA BORDERS: Thank you for that question. So let me start by saying that Jim Dolan and the MSG family are the last of our inaugural owners, and they have done a tremendous job supporting the league for its 22-year history.
We know that Madison Square Garden is an extraordinary venue. It’s also one of the best known in the world but also one of the most expensive to run in the world, just to be perfectly candid.
Westchester County is a much more intimate environment. You said we’re from Atlanta. You’re right. I also graduated from Duke University. You’ve heard of Cameron Indoor Stadium? It’s tiny, and it’s a sweatbox, and we love it like that. But having said that, what we want to do is have a good venue for all of our teams to play in. We want a team in New York. That is our flagship headquarters, right, the league is actually headquartered in New York. So Mr. Dolan and his team have told us that they are committed to selling the team and making sure that they have a good steward to hand it off to to play in New York.
So I’m going to leave the updates on the team sale to the MSG family, but we are very pleased with what has been done and what we anticipate will be done by the MSG family.
Q. The league has taken more steps to put the game in front of people in different ways, streaming games on Twitter, and now this season more games have been on NBA TV. Is something on the horizon to help give consistency to fans where on the NBA side people know Thursday night I’m going to be able to watch a game on TNT? Is something like that on the horizon, and what would the next steps be to help make that happen?
LISA BORDERS: So that’s a terrific question. We are looking at every option and every available platform. Folks talked to us about Amazon or Netflix or Tidal. There are many, many options out there. And so appointment times, we look at the data to see when fans are watching. So on Twitter, let me go there because that data is fresh in my mind. When we started last year, 60 percent of the viewers, I think we averaged 613,000 viewers. Sixty percent of those viewers were in the U.S. and 40 percent were in the international markets. Those numbers have now flipped. It’s 40 percent domestic and 60 percent international.
So we realize there’s something going on there, right; maybe it’s the time that we’re playing, maybe it’s the days that we’re playing. So we’re analyzing the data to find out what question would we ask a platform, like may we have every Tuesday night or every Friday night during a season. So internal analysis would be first. Concurrent with that would be looking at the different platforms that are then available, and then we would go to our attorneys that would talk with the attorneys at that platform — you know, gotta get the lawyers involved, right? But it starts with us. It starts internal with what are the best appointment times for our games. Is it the best matchups? Is it is the champions from last year, or The Finals? So a lot of it is internal first.
Q. I want to talk about this year’s format. You obviously adopted it from the NBA. Talk about the
choice behind that. And also [NBA Commissioner] Adam Silver did comment for the next year they will be doing a live show as far as the picks. Is that something that the WNBA is considering
potentially for next year?
LISA BORDERS: Did Adam say that? Did he really? So we are excited about this new format. Obviously we started with the two captains this year. We actually consulted our players because they’re the primary stakeholder in all of this. We talk — I personally talk with Nneka Ogwumike, who is the president of the union. She in turn spoke with the executive committee, which they have officers and a representative from every team. And what they said was listen, we are excited about a new format, adding a fresh look to the game, but should we try to do 10 things at one time? How about we do one, take an experiential approach, make sure we work all the kinks out, then come back and add some additional exciting elements like live streaming of selection. So I don’t want to guarantee that we will do live streaming of selection. There may be something else that we may do next year, but I want to say we’re working hand in glove with our players to make sure that everybody is comfortable when we roll something new out.
Excited to see how this year goes. I think the players were really thrilled to get to play — they play against each other on teams. Now they get to sort of mix it up a little bit, and I think they’re excited about that, as well.
Q. Is the league content with the number of teams that it has, and has there been talk of potential
expansion with growth of the league that you talked about?
LISA BORDERS: Yeah, so we are never content. We are always looking for new ways to innovate the game, to innovate the league, to spice it up, so our fans are watching exciting entertainment. There are always discussions about expansion. You want to make sure that the teams you have are on solid footing operationally and financially, but I keep a file on my desk. I tell everybody that has markets that are desirable for us, potential owners, we actually do it by the data. Everyone thinks I just wake up in the morning and say, I’d like to be in, we’d like to be in. It’s not true. Carol Stiff and ESPN often give us the data that says, here are the top 10 markets, top eight markets for women’s basketball, and then we want to know what’s the fan avidity? What does it look like? What’s the competitive landscape in those markets?
So lots of discussion around it. No definitive answer today about yes, we will or no, we won’t, but we are never content. That’s my answer.
Q. Do you think there’s anything you can do to get the NBA and their players, those fantastic guys that play in the NBA, to do a little more to promote their counterpart in the WNBA so maybe more people will get a chance — it seems like once you come here and see a game — it’s like hockey, once you come, you want to come back.
LISA BORDERS: Can we get more NBA players to support us?
Q. To let the public know about the game, when they’re doing interviews, to maybe slip it in, let them know about the WNBA?
LISA BORDERS: Sure, so the guys who play in the NBA have been incredibly supportive. We can all always do more, not just them but all of us. But you can often see Kevin Durant sitting on the sidelines in LA or in Minnesota watching the game and tweeting about it, or Devin Booker. So I don’t want to say we can tell them what to do. We can encourage them to support us and invite them to the games, which we do on a regular basis, and I think it was the rookie in Phoenix who said he was star struck when Diana Taurasi walked in the weight room and said, hello, I’m Diana Taurasi, like his teeth almost fell out. We love that. There’s a lot of mutual love and respect between the NBA and the WNBA, so we’ll continue to invite them to our games and continue to invite them to live on social with us and send out tweets about when we’re playing and that they’re going to be at the game, you just never know who you’re going to see at a WNBA game. But thank you for that.
Q. I know officiating is always tough to talk about, but are you concerned at all with the number of technicals? It just seems like that’s something some players have talked about, including some
players who got kicked out of games for technicals. But we’ve had sort of a rash in the last few weeks of quite a lot of them, and I wonder if that’s a concern or just something you feel like will work itself out?
LISA BORDERS: Yeah, thanks for the question. So you said it best. Officiating is a tough job. That’s one I would never want. The game moves so fast right now. It’s so tough to be right up in the middle of all of that. I think they do a terrific job. They’re not infallible, referees, neither are the players, and I would just remind everybody, we moved from a 103-day season to a 93-day season this year, so there are more back-tobacks; the players are tired. There’s a lot of intensity and a lot of emotion. And I mentioned at the top of this presser that the standings between team 2 and team 8 are only two and a half games. So a lot of emotion going on.
So I’m not worried about it. We certainly will take a look at it as we do every year, what’s going on, how many technicals, how many this, how many that, and make sure that it makes sense. What we did do proactively this year is go out to each of our teams, Monty McCutchen, who you know is one of our best, came off the floor and has been the tip of the spear here and visited each of the WNBA teams to talk about points of education, to make sure we were all on the same page, that everybody understood that it’s going to be a fast-paced game and a great season. We need to have good communication, good respect for one another, but everybody needs to understand the rules and understand we’re playing a really spirited game, and we want it to stay that way. The fans love it.
To answer directly, we will take a look at the end of the season how many technicals did we have, and did it look like they were all warranted. If not, we’ll make the appropriate adjustments.
Q. We have a halftime show that is the three-point contest. Talking to players, they want to see more
expansion on that. What would it take to get us to a spot where we could have a separate day that has a skill contest, maybe a bigs’ three-point or a rookie-sophomore three-on-three? What can we do to get to that point?
LISA BORDERS: Vegas, are you listening? So really it’s about programming and scheduling. We are looking at that right now. We’ve heard a lot of the players say to us we’d like more skills challenge, we’d like to have more folks involved. So just as I said about looking at officiating, we’ll look at All-Star, we’ll look at the entire scheduling process because we’ll have a little more time next year. It’s not an Olympic year, it’s not a FIBA year, so we’ll be able to breathe hopefully just a little bit and have some more time. So time is usually the main thing that keeps things compressed, but next year we’ll have a little bit more of it, so we’ll take a look.
Q. On Twitter as of late, fans have been complaining about [they] can’t find merchandise, the games are getting crazy in terms of too many reviews, can’t get — no functions on the league package, those types of things. Have you been reading those threads, and have you responded to them either positively or however you would respond to them? What would you say to these fans? These are fans now, not critics.
LISA BORDERS: Sure, I understand. So yes, I read them, and I’m not the only person that reads them. Our operations people read them, our production people read them. We have, as you know, a matrixed organization. We have some of the best folks along with the NBA who help us with this, and so what we would say is we’re working on all of that.
Some of the feedback that we get or all of the feedback is very helpful. Some of it is just a simple answer about merchandising, for example. We introduced a lot of new stuff this year, and when you introduce new products, oftentimes shipping and product availability is sometimes delayed. It was delayed at the beginning of the season. I understand perhaps in that instance. It’s been corrected.
I don’t know that every single person has gotten every single jersey or whatever they asked for, but I know that the lion’s share of the merchandise issues have been addressed. So what we tell folks is thank you for letting us know, and we’re on it, and then we close the loop just as soon as we can.