Professional Basketball

Q&A with WNBA President Laurel Richie

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Prior to the June 21, 2015 matchup between the Minnesota Lynx and Tulsa Shock at Target Center, WNBA President Laurel Richie sat down for a question and answer session with Twin Cities media members.

Richie_Mayo Clinic
WNBA President Laurel Richie addresses members of the Twin Cities media in a March 2014 press conference announcing the Mayo Clinic marquee partnership with the Minnesota Lynx. Photo by Matthew Fleegel.

Q:        How do you like the Minnesota Lynx so far?

LR:      I think it’s exciting. I think the people here in Minnesota have to be excited with the way the Lynx have started this season. I’m excited about tonight’s game, both teams are 5-1 up against each other. I was here earlier this week and had the opportunity to view the new [practice] facility which is just breathtaking. I went back again today with season ticket holders and it’s still breathtaking. It has not lost any of its luster in two days. I really do believe that is a facility that is setting the standard for the NBA, the WNBA, and I’m just so proud of the way [Timberwolves/Lynx owner] Glen Taylor and the Mayo Clinic have just made it a shining example for both teams. As the head of this league, I’m very proud of that.

Q:        How is the mid-season flux of talent from Euro-Basket teams going to change the vibe of this league?

LR:      I think it’s going to be interesting. One thing I’ve learned is that every season is different and brings its own opportunities. I think that, in the case of Phoenix this year, and the season that DeWanna Bonner is having, and Candice Dupree, given the changes in that team. So I think it’s creating opportunities to really showcase the depth of talent in the league. That’s the piece that I’m most excited about.

Q:        Now that you are in your fifth season in your current position, looking back, what is the thing that you’re the most proud of in your tenure as president of the WNBA?

LR:      It’s a great question and a hard question because I’m proud of a lot of things and I’m very clear that they’ve come about because of a lot of work by a lot of people. I know that I say that all the time, but the dedicated “W” staff is a very small staff and we really do rely upon lots of people. I am very proud of our relationship with ESPN, which in my experiences has continued to grow and continued to get deeper and deeper with that partnership now extending out to 2025. I am proud of the fact that we have a collective bargaining agreement that I believe is the longest in the history of the league. This year, I think by the time the season ends, we will have eight of our teams with marquee partners, which is a game-changing event for teams.

Then, I’m just excited, I don’t know if I’m proud of it but just excited, about the depth of talent. Each year during the draft, when you get to welcome the next generation, I think the athletes are coming in better and better prepared so that they can make an impact earlier and earlier. We are at this interesting time where we still have veterans who are playing extremely well and their seasoning is really showing. Then there is this sort of influx of bright young talent that just creates a really interesting dynamic. While I didn’t have anything to do with their careers that led them to the WNBA, I’m really proud of the current state of talent in the league.

Q:        Do you think the talent comes from them having to stay in school until a certain age?

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WNBA President Laurel Richie hands the 2014 WNBA MVP trophy to Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore last year. Photo by Matthew Fleegel.

LR:      I think the length of their college careers, and even great coaches in high school and middle school, prepare them very well for the league. That said, we hear from players time and time again, that the consistently high level of talent and the strength and athleticism of the players, even though they know there is going to be a difference between their collegiate career and professional career when they get here and they get on the court, they feel that there still is this sense of, with all of the great preparation that they’ve had, a need to raise it yet again.

Q:        There were a couple early entrants in the draft this year. Do you see that becoming a trend?

LR:      I think there’s always been the opportunity. With two players choosing to do it this year, I believe that’s a personal choice that players will continue to make. What I really appreciate, particularly in the case of Jewell Loyd, is she said ‘I’m coming out early and I’m equally committed to finishing and getting my degree.’ She’s just taking her own unique path to getting there. We may see more of that but I don’t think that’s going to become the norm.

Q:        Is the league at a place where it can start considering growing? Is that on the front-burner or back-burner?

LR:      My hope this year is to form an expansion committee. We can see on the horizon a point in time where we will want to bring additional teams in. I think that’s a function of the depth of talent. It’s a function of the increased frequency in outreach that I receive from people who have the passion and the means to be a WNBA owner. At NBA All-Star, I had the pleasure of meeting with a collection of mayors from around the country, and some of those cities were expressing an interest in bringing a WNBA team. You want a receptive community. You want a strong and passionate ownership group. You want to make sure that expansion does not dilute the level of competition in any way. I think we’re getting close to that. I’d like to form a committee of the board to help us really think through the benefits from where we are today, benefits perhaps from things we wished we had done differently in the past, so that it is absolutely a forward trajectory with expansion.

Q:        Would you want to do it two at a time so the conferences remain equal? Or would it be a one-at-a-time deal?

LR:      That’s all the kind of stuff I’d love the committee to talk through. We’ve had some initial discussions. I was originally in the “two by two” group, but I’m not so sure now. I think we just need a lot more discussion about that.

Q:        Does this year look somewhat challenging because of some off-season issues that occurred?

LR:      In our off-season there was no question that we had some things come up that we had to deal with directly, squarely and thoughtfully. I’d like to think that we had addressed several situations in a way that was in the best interest of the league and the best interest of our players. The stories that weren’t covered as much about our off-season, on the business side, we had a terrific off-season. Pepsi is a new partner. Harmon’s is a new partner. Kaiser Permanente is a new partner. Nike announced that they will become our apparel partner. As I mentioned earlier, I believe by the end of the season we will have eight of our teams with marquee partners. We had a terrific off-season in terms of our business side. I like to think that we handled some of the other challenges in a very considerate and responsible way.

2013 Lynx trophy
WNBA President Laurel Richie presents the 2013 WNBA Championship trophy to the Minnesota Lynx after defeating the Atlanta Dream in a decisive Game 3 of the championship series. Photo by Robert Franklin/Used with Permission.

Q:        Your thoughts or comments about the Charleston, South Carolina shooting?

LR:      Devastating. Reflecting on it today, I watched the news coverage of the families offering forgiveness. I think, in this one very tragic incident, we have seen some parts of our society and human nature that, collectively, we are not very proud of, and some that far exceed the capacity for good in human beings. It was clearly a very tragic event.

Q:        Have you thought about expanding the playoffs in terms of the size of the series?

LR:      We have been spending some time in our off-season in preparation for our 20th season, looking at a whole host of things including playoff format. I don’t have anything to announce today but we have been taking a look at multiple facets of that. So I would say there will be more to come. I think there are lots of creative ways to sort of think about the post-season. Last year our ratings were up in the Finals – 91 percent. That just tells you there is an incredible appetite for our game, particularly when it’s at its best.

Q:        Any thought to hosting the All-Star Game in Minneapolis, Indianapolis or Chicago?

LR:      I don’t mean to sound like a broken record on this, but figuring out where we’re going to do an All-Star game is a pretty complex thing. We’ve got to pick the date and we want to make sure it is within the broadcast window. Is the arena available? Does the city have the capacity? We have had some cities in the Midwest express interest in doing that, and then either the arena [wasn’t available] or there weren’t enough hotel rooms available. The good news is that our teams across the country have expressed interest and I am confident that sooner or later the stars will align and the arena will be available, hotels will be available and the broadcast window will be available, and I do believe that we will have a WNBA All-Star game in the Midwest.

Q:        How many teams were profitable last year?

LR:      Five of our teams were profitable.

Q:        Have you had conversations with ESPN to see if they could do a better job of covering the league?

LR:      I am very pleased with our relationship and the discussion but I will always want more. We sit and talk with ESPN about content, about story lines, about our schedule. That’s just the reality about a finite amount of time for broadcast. I think as we try to grow our fan base, they benefit from some of the unique audience we bring in. So yes, I will always want more. I say that knowing that they are a very good partner to us.

Q:        Is there anything else that you want to talk about?

LR:      No. I can always depend on this crew to be very thorough and professional. Thank you for asking.