Laurel Richie becomes president of WNBA

By Off the BASN Wire
Updated: April 21, 2011

Laurel Richie and former NBA coach Lenny Wilkins

Laurel Richie and former NBA coach Lenny Wilkins

NEW YORK, NY—The WNBA went for business acumen instead of basketball experience in naming the league’s third president on Thursday.

Laurel Richie became the head of the 15-year-old league, taking over the helm five months after Donna Orender stepped away from the job in December.

Richie comes in at a time when the league appears to have reached its equilibrium.

The WNBA begins its 15th season in June, following a relatively quiet offseason that included no team relocations or franchise foldings. This is in stark contrast to a year ago, when the league lost the Sacramento Monarchs, nearly lost the Atlanta Dream before a new owner stepped in, and watched the Detroit Shock franchise move to Tulsa.

Unlike previous presidents Val Ackerman and Orender, who had basketball in their blood, Richie has no basketball experience listed on her bio. She is rooted in the business world. A veteran marketing executive, she last worked as the Chief Marketing Officer of the Girl Scouts of America.

Richie has also worked for the national advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather, developing campaigns for such companies as American Express and Pepperidge Farm.

And her job will be the continued marketing of the WNBA to the mainstream sports audience.

The WNBA is no longer an upstart. The league is established and has weathered a multitude of storms, including franchise foldings, relocations, and last-minute efforts to secure new ownership. It is still standing in an economic climate that has brought many businesses down.

But the product is worth selling. The quality of play is better than ever, unquestionably the best in the world. The shrinking of roster sizes, with 11 players per team, has left room for only the best of the best. This draft class will bring some of the most talented young players on the planet into the fold, including Maya Moore and Australian Elizabeth Cambage.

Richie’s background with the Girl Scout organization, where she began in March 2008, provides a template for selling the concept of the empowerment and capabilities of young women.

Her experience working with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program will give her perspective on the power of the grassroots experience.

The WNBA always has had to be both big and small, appearing formidable for the sake of marketing the league as a major player, but staying accessible to its fan base. It’s not always an easy straddle.

“The WNBA is comprised of the best female basketball players in the world, and I’m looking forward to working with these talented women as they strive to achieve their professional goals both on and off the court,” Richie said. “I am fortunate to have worked with an organization as inspiring as Girl Scouts, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to build upon the successes of the WNBA and help grow this league into a world-class business.”

Richie will take over as WNBA president on May 16 and will report to NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver.

The league’s season opens on June 3.