After five seasons with the WNBA President Laurel Richie will be stepping down effective November 9th to “pursue other interests.” Mark Tatum, the Deputy Commissioner of the NBA, will serve as interim president until a replacement is found for Richie. In what may come as a surprise to many actually isn’t that surprising at all. After all, on the eve of the start of the 2015 WNBA playoffs your boss, Adam Silver proclaims to the media that the WNBA is not where “we hoped it would be” and that “we thought it would have broken through by now.” Doesn’t sound like very encouraging words if you asked me. And it definitely doesn’t sound like someone in support of the person that is running your league. More recently Richie was no where to be found during the unveiling of The Dallas Wings new name and team logo which was a telltale sign that something unusual was going on and today we learned why.
Laurel Richie took the reins of the WNBA as the first African American to lead a national professional sports league in 2010 after Donna Orender decided to also “pursue other opportunities.” A tough act to follow, Orender was recognized as having a strong focus in branding, partnerships and marketing but Richie was heralded for her background and expertise in business and marketing. With this background it was Richie who would be the one to take the league to new heights. And that she did. To start, she orchestrated a landmark multi-year partnership for the league with the cellular phone company Boost Mobile, she helped negotiate an eight-year collective bargaining agreement with the players which brought some financial stability to teams and she also extended a contract with ESPN through 2025. Although these are great accomplishments for any President Richie had to deal with the league’s attendance dropping 3% to an average of 7,318 fans per game this season according to the Sports Business Journal in addition to several off court distractions that took away from the milestones that the league continues to make.
Whoever becomes the next president of the WNBA will have to dive in head first. As the league enters its 20th season it is definitely time for the WNBA to turn the corner to consistent and continuous profitability. As older recognizable superstars like Taurasi and Parker head towards the end of their careers and newer stars like Griner, Moore and Diggins take the lead it is important that the next President make it a point to keep this league visible. It is time for the mainstream media to take notice of whats been going on for almost two decades now and that is some amazing and exciting basketball being played right in their backyards. Young girls look up to these players who are not only great athletes but college graduates, mothers, entrepreneurs, business women and community servants who are role models and who play the game not solely for the money and fame but for their true and unconditional love for the sport of basketball. Heres to many more years of success for the WNBA! And with the new President, whomever he or she may be, may the league finally break through!
Any potential candidates you can think of?