Sports Summit: WNBA's Richie Views Rookie Trio As 'Game-Changers'

WNBA president Laurel Richie hopes that the three top picks in this year’s draft will have a similar effect that a pair of then newcomers had on the NBA in the 1980s. .

Richie, speaking  at NewBay Media’s iinaugural  Sports Business and Technology Summit here on Wednesday afternoon, hopes  the arrival of Britney Griner, Elena Delle Donna and Skylar Diggins will be transformative for the distaff pro hoops league.

“We’re hoping this is the equivalent of [Larry] Bird and Magic [Johnson], that this will be a game-changer for us, with Elena, Britney and Skylar,” said Richie.

She credited network partner ESPN with coming up with the "3 to See" campaign, touting the talented trio that tipped while the trio wound down their collegiate careers at Delaware, Baylor and Notre Dame, respectively.

Richie said the league’s new contract with ESPN – spanning 2017 through 2022, the deal is separate from the worldwide leader’s current contract with the NBA that covers the WNBA and runs through 2016 --is a major step for the WNBA.

“ESPN is the epicenter of the sports world,” said Richie, noting that the programmer carried the WNBA draft lottery and its player selection event in primetime for the first time in 2013, as well as a season-opening doubleheader on Memorial Day. 

Richie, who was interviewed by B&C programming editor Andrea Morabito, also talked about how the league’s old logo – a computer generated image – was not reflective of the diverse athletes playing in the circuit today To that end, the logo is  a composite of 11/12 players in the league and doesn’t reflect a predominant right- or left-handed player. Richie said that when the players were informed of how the new image was formed they began using social media declaring that they were "logowoman."

She said the current draft class is the embodiment of Title IX, under which a generation of players has grown up and are now playing a faster, more athletic brand of ball.

The confluence of factors, Richie said, has resulted in improved early metrics, including biggest regular-season audience in nine years, with a season-opening doubleheader on Memorial Day. “Viewership is up. Sponsorship revenue is up,” she said. “P&G has returned. State Farm has joined our roster.”