Professional Basketball

‘Business Metrics Up,’ Says WNBA President Borders

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MINNEAPOLIS – Prior to the tipoff of Sunday’s WNBA Finals Game 1 at Target Center, WNBA President Lisa Borders took to the podium to address media members on the state of the league as her first season as the league’s top official concludes.

“Many of you have asked, ‘how is the business doing?’ I am happy to report that all business metrics are positive, and the league is in the best shape it’s been in a very long time,” said Borders.

She pointed out that the WNBA registered its highest attendance since 2011 as 1,561,530 attended games during the 2016 season. It also represents a 4.6 percent increase over the previous year. The Chicago Sky set franchise records for average attendance (7,009) and had its best single-game crowd of 16,444 on July 13. Additionally, with 8,575 average attendance, the Indiana Fever had its highest average since 2001 and set its second-highest single-game attendance in franchise history when 17,704 showed up for the Fever’s Tamika Catchings final regular season game. The Phoenix Mercury recorded the highest average attendance in the league at 10,351.

“This is our landmark season, the 20th season. We are still a very young league but we have put a stake in the ground for 20 years,” she added.

The season opener between the Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx delivered 505,000 viewers on ESPN, the highest-rated regular season WNBA game on the network since 2011. Combined, viewership on ESPN and ESPN2 was up by 11 percent over the previous year. The league’s live game streaming product, WNBA League Pass, saw a record 24 percent increase in subscriptions in 2016 compared to the previous year.

Borders also pointed out that average monthly unique visitors to the league’s website are up by 22 percent and video views are up by 50 percent. The social media presence for the league between its teams and player social media platforms crossed the 12 million mark in likes and follows, an addition of three million over last season. During the season, the league recorded 530 million impressions and more than 50 video views, essentially doubling the 2015 totals.

“We recognize that this is a tool that we have not always had. Social media wasn’t here 10 years ago or 15 years ago, but it’s certainly here today. It offers us an opportunity to not only capture content but share it broadly beyond our traditional broadcast partners,” said Borders.

Merchandising, a sore spot for fans in recent years, has also been improved. The league’s online store has more offerings than previous seasons which resulted in an increase of 30 percent in sales over last year. The Seattle Storm and Breanna Stewart took the top spot on the list of best-selling team merchandise and jerseys.

Borders is pleased that the league has grown substantially during the first season of her tenure as the league’s president, but admits that there is more work to do in reaching fans, which she grouped into three categories – core fan, casual fan and curious fan.

“Everyone is in one of those buckets,” she said. “Our focus will primarily be on the core fan and the casual fan. They’re the easiest to get inside the arena, so growing the fan base is number one.”

Her second priority is increasing the partner base of advertisers.

“We recognize that there are extraordinary partners that we have today, but there are many more who could recognize, appreciate and benefit from the value proposition of these women. There is a recognition, particularly by consumer goods companies, that women are not just consumers, they’re not just influencers, they are, in fact, decision makers, and they want that mind share. Every time I look at a consumer goods person or organization and talk with them, they want a hundred percent of that market. That means you need to embrace the entire community, and women are making up over half of it now,” said Borders.

A year ago, as her tenure as president was nearing an end, then-president Laurel Richie announced the formation of an expansion committee during the off-season. Considering that Richie resigned shortly after the announcement and nothing else has been mentioned, Borders addressed expansion plans during her remarks.

“Absolutely we will expand at some point, but what I have consistently said is that we will have incremental and sustainable growth when every team is operationally sound and financially stable. That’s when we will grow the league by adding a team. What I do not want to do is have a spike in growth and then a crash, and so we will take our time,” she said.

With the new playoff format now in place, Borders said that the competition committee will review it at the Board of Governors meeting at the end of next month to determine whether they feel the format change was successful.

“We won’t change it right away,” Borders said. “What I do not believe in is trying something one time and then never trying it again because if you have one data point, you have just that, one data point. So we will study it, evaluate it, get some input from the teams that were in and frankly from the teams that were not in. We want to get a broad perspective on how the players thought it worked, how our franchises thought it worked, and then we’ll come back and decide if we keep it exactly the same or do we tweak it a little bit. I’ll leave that to the competition committee.”

Where will the WNBA be five years from now?

“You know, I wish I had a crystal ball and I could tell you that,” she said. “I want to be on a constructive, progressive path, and to the extent that we are, we’re happy. We’re not satisfied, but we’re happy. When I look at all the business metrics pointing in the right direction, fans increasing at 4.6 percent, double-digit viewership at 11 percent, social media 22 percent, we’re

headed in the right direction. We’ve got to do more of what we have done this season. One data point is one data point. Two and three data points represent a trend. So to the extent that we have a trend over a three-year period, ask me the five-year question then.”

NOTES:

Game 1 of the 2016 WNBA Finals, which aired Sunday, Oct. 9, on ABC, delivered a 0.5 overnight rating, the best since 2010. The matchup between the Minnesota Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks resulted in a 25 percent increase from last year’s Game 1.

The top five markets were: Minneapolis (2.1); Nashville (1.4); Hartford-New Haven (1.3); Louisville (1.0); Charlotte (0.9). Los Angeles delivered a 0.4 metered market rating.

Game 2 of the 2016 WNBA Finals will tip off at 7 p.m. CT tonight between the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks at Target Center in Minneapolis and will be broadcast on ESPN2. The Sparks hold a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

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