Laurel Richie, WNBA needs to go after pure sports fans

New WNBA President Laurel Richie has made marketing her primary focus. And to her credit, she’s done some great work, like landing the Boost Mobile deal. Her next task will be to identify the league’s fans and go after them to buy game tickets. To do that, she’ll need to think way outside the box.

In the past, the league has tried to court NBA fans with the idea that basketball fans will love all basketball. But that didn’t prove to be true, as quite often, WNBA fans and NBA fans are two different breeds. There is also a lot of one-way crossover; while WNBA fans sometimes keep up with NBA teams, many NBA fans don’t track the WNBA.

Another prior tactic has been to market to women, with the assumption that they will be greater supporters of women’s sports because they’re women. That has also proved to be a faulty supposition. Many women and girls have a clear bias towards the NBA, men’s college and boys high school basketball to the point where they won’t even watch girls and women play. I have written here before about my dismay at high school girls, in particular, for not following the college game (especially when they’re aspiring towards an athletic scholarship), or knowing anything about the WNBA. I’ve heard similar things from coaches, too. I also see plenty of grown players, both on the college and pro level, who will “tweet” about a TV show they’re watching when a major game – like the WNBA championship series – is on. Ditto with college coaches. I truly question their love for basketball if they don’t at least acknowledge that the game is on the other channel.

Indeed, some of the strongest support lately has come from older male basketball players and other male athletes. Bill Russell has been a regular at Seattle Storm games for years. He says that in the WNBA, the game is played “like they used to play” when he was in the NBA: team ball.

At last night’s Lynx-Dream game three, Dr. J was sitting courtside. Atlanta’s pro basketball, football and baseball teams chipped in and bought tickets for fans. Minnesota’s pro franchises did the same thing in Minneapolis for games one and two.

Shaquille O’Neal “tweeted” his congratulations to fellow LSU alumni Seimone Augustus. Chris Paul, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Magic Johnson also added their kudos to players. Singer/rapper Lil Wayne sat courtside last night as well, wearing a Seimone Augustus jersey. When the Dream were in the Eastern Conference finals, R&B star Lloyd sat courtside.

Where were some of the past WNBA legends last night? Did Missy Elliott, MC Lyte or Nicki Minaj – who rapped about Lisa Leslie last year – attend? Nope.

Last night I went to the gym to watch the second half of the championship game. I walked in and who was already sitting there taking it in but my friend, the ex-NFL player. He was there Wednesday when game two was broadcast. He’s over 50, and looks a little hard-nosed. But he knows the WNBA.

“What I’m wondering,” he said the other night, “is how can one player change a team like that?”

I raised my eyebrows.

“You mean Maya Moore?”

“Yeah!” he said emphatically. “That’s what I’m TALKIN ’bout!”

Last night we sat there and watched the close of the game together. He may not know all the specifics, but he knows enough. He asked me a few questions to get caught up.

“Is Harvey Catchings daughter still playing?”

I smiled. “Yep. She was the MVP this year. I love me some Catch.”

“Do you think Moore is as good as that one on the Phoenix team?”

“You mean Taurasi?”

He nodded.

“Not yet but -“

he said it with me “she will be.”

A little while later a friend of mine joined us. She’s a 5-foot-nothing nurse who used to live in Minnesota. And she loves sports. She enjoyed every minute of the fourth quarter.

“They will be happy in Minneapolis because all the rest of the pro teams suck,” she said in her African accent.

My football buddy gestured toward the TV at one point and said, “I don’t see how you couldn’t love this.”

Laurel Richie needs to go after the sports fan. Female, male, whatever race and whatever age – although starting with older folks might be a good idea. But court the fan who loves and appreciates all sports. It would not take much to get my two friends, and others like them, to buy WNBA game tickets in the summer time.

If the sports fans are brought on board, they could help get others to see what they’ve been missing.