For the next 20 weeks, to commemorate the WNBA’s 20th season (the MSR having covered each season), the MSR sports section will feature a column or article on the W in our “20 in 20” series.
This week: The W’s No. 1 saleswoman
It’s not often when the head of a pro sports league is seen taking selfies and glad-handing with common fans, sitting among them as well. Or fist bumping this reporter and politely correcting him afterwards on the proper way of flashing the “W.”
“It’s nice to see a sister in charge,” said Chauntyll Allen of St. Paul, who briefly chatted with the WNBA’s fourth president, Lisa Borders. “I got to say a couple of things.”
Last Saturday night, after she handed the Minnesota Lynx players and coaches their 2015 championship rings, Borders worked the “room” where nearly 10,000 people were in attendance for the team’s season opener. Madame President earlier told the MSR, “I am the number-one salesperson for the WNBA. That is absolutely true.”
She heads a league that is celebrating 20 years, but to too many eyes — media, Joe Rockhead males and others — it has been 19 years too long. “We are 20 years old, which is remarkable by any standard,” continued Borders. “But we are just getting started. We’re young and nimble.”
The president and this reporter briefly touched upon several topics:
On ESPN The Magazine’s May issue that featured Maya Moore and other present and past stars on its cover: “It’s the hot topic.” She pointed out that the cover alone was impressive: “It’s clear that there is a fascination, a real embrace of the WNBA and women’s professional basketball.”
On the four-letter sports network: “It’s clear that they are absolutely committed to the WNBA,” said Borders on the network’s WNBA season slate of games.
On her “W” fist bump, which she introduced last month at this year’s draft: “That was intended. That excitement is authentic. I am a fan.”
On her 60 days (this Saturday) as president: “I’ve heard from my colleagues at the staff level in New York. Now we want to go to every team, the owners and the fans. Then we will know even more.”
Minnesota served as the first stop on Borders’ 12-city tour of her league’s 12 franchises. After that tour is complete, she believes she will have “a robust and comprehensive picture” of the WNBA.
Later, in response to a reporter’s question to players’ concerns about how the league is marketing them, Borders said, “That was constructive criticism. What we will do is start with social media. We’ve invited our players to reach back to their undergraduate programs or their home country if they are international. We’ve never done that before.
“We will start at an organic level. The folk that actually play the game know it the best,” said Borders, adding that the W’s marketing efforts will include using the Rio Olympics later this summer as a marketing platform because all 12 members of the USA team are WNBA players.
“You best believe we will be marketing that every day,” she pledged. “We will continue to pitch our stories about the league and all the special things we will be doing this season, including the Olympics.”
Finally, as Borders closed our one-on-one conversation, she said her job is simple: “We want to endure not just [for] another 20 years, but 120 years,” she declared. The WNBA after all is a business, and “My job is to drive revenue. My job is making sure that we bring in as much money as we possibly can.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.