WNBA President Laurel Ritchie on Partnerships, Sports and Business
Veteran marketing executive, Laurel J. Richie, who has more than three decades of experience in consumer marketing, corporate branding, public relations and corporate management, was appointed president of the WNBA in 2011.
With a long track record of developing award-winning campaigns that transform brands and drive business results, Richie served most recently as SVP and chief marketing officer for Girl Scouts of the USA. She was responsible for the organization’s brand, communications, publishing, marketing and Web-based initiatives, and was the driving force behind the recent brand revitalization of this well loved American icon.
Prior to working at Girl Scouts of the USA, Richie worked at Leo Burnett Worldwide, an advertising agency based in Chicago, from 1981-1983, where she worked on a host of Procter and Gamble brands. In 1984, she moved to Ogilvy and Mather, where she spent more than two decades building brands for blue chip clients including American Express, Pepperidge Farm and Unilever, among others. During her tenure at Ogilvy, she led the team that helped Huggies become a multibillion dollar brand. As Senior Partner, Executive Group Director with responsibility for a portfolio of global brands, her team was among the agency’s most productive and profitable.
In addition to the talent pool growing, the WNBA accomplished what many of its critics didn’t think was possible: make money. In 2011, Richie’s first year on the job, the league posted a profit, which was one of the most significant accomplishments of its 15th season. And three teams, Minnesota Lynx, San Antonio Silver Stars, and Connecticut Sun, also finished 2011 in the black.
Richie spoke briefly about growth of the professional women’s game, her master plan and working with NBA Commissioner David Stern.
Elaborate please on your “Master Plan” and the three bucket approach: Attendance, Partnership and Viewership from year one to year two?
Laurel Richie: I think the first thing I think is most notable about this year is a full year of our partnership with Boost Mobile. Boost Mobile came on as a league wide marquee halfway through [last year] and this season, we have the benefit of activating with them from the beginning. They were presenting partner for the draft, of our tip-off, of our performance awards so we’re really excited and pleased with that partnership.
And in the process of creating some other new ones, we announced today entering into a partnership with 100 Black Men of America which we’re excited about. Demographically there’s a really good fit and then sort of culturally and mission wise, there’s a really good fit. So as they are thinking about mentoring young girls and young boys, (we offer) the women of the WNBA, the game of the WNBA, athletes who are at their peak performance. And we have gone through years of training and dedication and disappointment and bouncing back and even beyond our athletes to our owners and physical therapists and accountants. So we’re just very excited, the plans are not fully baked yet but we know there’s a great partnership and great things to come from that.
Tell us about the invaluable experience of your first year and visiting each market.
What is your vision for the league in the next two or three years?
My vision is to do what I can to help keep us on the path that we are on, and accelerate that path. My hope is that we will add a sixth straight season of an attendance increase. We will have a full season with Boost Mobile, our first-ever marquee partner, and I’m really excited to see that relationship activated throughout our entire season.
Can you talk about David Stern’s commitment to the WNBA and what it’s like to work with him?
LR: David Stern is very committed. I’m very lucky to be apart of his organization and to be apart of the broader NBA family during his tenure. And it’s not just his support and passion for the WNBA – he’s the commissioner and he’s the ultimate commissioner in my eyes. I have a lot to learn from him and I feel lucky that I have that opportunity. He’s tough, he’s accomplished and he’s also quite giving of his knowledge.
How do you reconcile balancing the business and the creativity of the game?
I think what’s really interesting to me is more often than not what’s good for the business is good for the sport. One of the things that we are really focusing in on is doing everything we can to create more awareness and visibility of our players and their stories. When we do that it’s not only good for the game, because you get very interested in their stories, it also pulls people into the game. I rarely feel that doing what’s right for the business is in conflict with what is right for the sport.