Laurel Richie is destined to take the WNBA to its highest level.
Entering her second year as president of the 16-year women’s professional basketball league, Richie has more than three decades of experience in consumer marketing, corporate branding, public relations and corporate management.
As the first African-American woman to head a national sports league, Richie has quickly become a role model and shown young girls that you don’t have to play a sport to impact a league. As the WNBA season is in full swing, Richie talked with the Recorder about its popularity, how she hopes to improve the league and what she loves about her job.
Recorder: How excited are you about this WNBA season? The league is 16 years old.
Richie: I think this is going to be a great season. It’s an Olympic year so we’re not only excited about our WNBA season but also watching our WNBA players compete on an international stage.
Speaking of the Olympics, what would you like fans to know about how the WNBA works in an Olympic year?
I look at it as a double year for fans. They’re going to get the full WNBA season and we’ll have a break from mid-July to mid-August for the Olympics. The 12 members of the senior women’s USA basketball team are all WNBA players, so while our season is taking a break, WNBA fans will still be able to see players competing during that time.
Also, our teams are doing really fun things during that time. They’re planning send off, welcome back and viewing parties. We’ll also be doing fit clinics during the break and players will be making appearances. It will be an exciting summer.
Where do you see the league heading?
First and foremost, we’re really proud to be the longest, continuing running sports league in the country. Entering our 16th season, the game keeps getting better and more competitive because the athletes are better skilled and they’re stronger than they have ever been.
We had a great season last year where it was our fifth straight year seeing an increase in attendance, we saw our viewership on ESPN increase and we entered into eight new partnership agreements. There is a lot to be excited about around the WNBA.
What do you attribute such success to?
I think it all goes back to the level of play. With a year under my belt, the game is really good. It’s fast, aggressive and the women are very, very skilled athletes.
The environment within the arena is very unique. It’s high energy and our fans are very passionate and noisy. There is a nice sense of community even though we have a very diverse fan base that is united by their love of women’s basketball.
I think the success is really about the game and the experience.
What do you love most about your job?
I love going to the games. The hardest thing has been not being able to cheer. I have loved getting to know our players and some of our fans.