Richie’s ‘rookie’ year as WNBA pres brings progress



Under Laurel Richie’s leadership after being named WNBA president in 2011, a national cell phone company signed a multiyear deal and became the first league-wide marquee partner — one of eight new corporate marketing partnerships.

“We are so thrilled to have the partnership with Boost Mobile,” Richie told the MSR during a May 20 one-on-one interview. “Our partnership was formed midway last season, so we took time in the off-season to really think about how we activate that.” 

Richie predicts the Boost Mobile deal may become “a model” for future agreements. Along with this, television viewership of WNBA games was its highest in six years. Not a bad list of feats for Richie’s “rookie” year as WNBA president; she assumed her duties in April 2011.

“I don’t know if I’m all the way to [being] a veteran yet,” admitted a smiling Richie.

The first Black woman hired to lead a U.S. professional major league continues to make history; Richie recently was in town to give the Minnesota Lynx players and coaches their 2011 championship rings and see last year’s championship banner raised to the arena rafters — both historic firsts inside the downtown Minneapolis arena.

Now in her “sophomore” season, Richie briefly reflected on her first year. “I think you can’t really understand the league until you’ve been through one season,” she proudly pointed out. “Did it go too fast? I don’t think it went too fast, but it does go quickly.”

Richie mentioned at last year’s All-Star Game that she wanted to devise a “master plan.” “I feel like that it is absolutely taking shape,” continued the president, calling it her “three-bucket” approach to moving the WNBA forward in attendance, partnership and viewership. She also wants each of the 12 franchises to better define “who we are approaching and how are we approaching them,” said Richie.

“One of the things that are wonderful about the WNBA is the diversity of its audience. So as we look for our corporate partnerships, we also should look at our grass-roots partnerships. We really are focusing in on the different segments of that audience.”

If she were to rank the three — attendance, partnership and viewership — attendance at games “is critical” at first, she said. “I really want more people to come to games. A very close second would be the partnerships.”

Finally, because of the three-week Olympic break that is expected to begin in mid-July, there will not be an All-Star game this year, says Richie. Since all 12 members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic basketball team are league players, “I think first and foremost this is a tremendous opportunity to showcase the talent of the WNBA. It’s an incredible opportunity for them to compete on the international stage.”

This also present media — at least those who actually cover women’s sports — “a double-interest” opportunity this season to cover both the W and the Olympics, Richie pointed out.


More overlooked history

She’s now a longtime ESPN analyst, but Carolyn Peck’s place in history mainly has been filed as a FIDO — forgotten, ignored, denied or overlooked — which happens to Blacks on a regular basis.

First of all, Peck is the first and only Black woman to win a Division I women’s basketball national championship in the 20th century when she coached Purdue to the 1999 title. Secondly, she then went and built the WNBA’s then-Orlando franchise in its beginnings as the team’s first head coach and general manager.

“It [was] an exciting opportunity to build the team around a Connecticut player in Nykesha Sales and then adding Shannon Johnson and a third-round draft pick that still remains in the league — Taj McWilliams-Franklin — and she’s now playing with Minnesota,” notes Peck.

“One of my college players, Katie Douglas, was in the transition to go up there [to Connecticut] and play and had success up there.”

Now this summer the franchise, which later was sold and relocated to Connecticut, celebrates its 10th year in the league. After she left Orlando a year before the team moved east in 2002, Peck coached at Florida for several seasons before she took on her present role at ESPN.

Sadly, she’s more known today for her analyst work than for her franchise-building work. Read more about Peck and Sales in this week’s “Sports Odds and Ends.”


Did you know…?

Who is the first Black female owner in the WNBA? How many other Black females are also WNBA team owners? (answers in next week’s “View”)

Answer to last week’s question, “Who is the first woman to referee an NBA playoff game?”: Currently, the only female official in the NBA, Violet Palmer, in 2006 officiated a playoff game — Game 2 of a first-round series between Indiana and New Jersey. She is the first and only Black female referee ever hired by the league, but Jackie White is the first-ever Black official to referee an NBA game between the Chicago Bulls and the Cincinnati Royals in 1968.


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