LAS VEGAS — Cathy Engelbert sounded extra like a tactician than a cheerleader for the WNBA, and that was a superb factor.
How Engelbert spoke was as necessary as what she stated at this previous weekend’s All-Star Sport, her first official occasion as new WNBA commissioner. Enterprise-focused sturdy management is what the league wants. However there nonetheless must be a responsiveness to some long-running frustrations of gamers and followers.
Engelbert formally took over on July 17, so detailed solutions about particular points weren’t anticipated throughout her information convention forward of Saturday’s All-Star Sport. WNBA followers had been in search of proof of eagerness to deal with info gathering and downside fixing. As former CEO at Deloitte, the place she labored for greater than three a long time, Engelbert needed to be adept at each.
Saturday, she boiled down her focus within the WNBA to what she known as “Three pillars: fan expertise, participant expertise and economics.”
“If we work on these from a league perspective,” Engelbert stated, “and in working with the house owners of the groups and the gamers, I believe a number of the opposite issues that folks complain about shall be solved.”
Engelbert steps into the job simply because the league and the gamers’ union are negotiating a brand new collective bargaining settlement that must be in place earlier than the 2020 season.
It was notable the league despatched out a launch about these talks final Thursday night time: “Earlier in the present day, the WNBA and WNBPA held a complete and productive assembly relating to the Collective Bargaining Settlement. We’re inspired by the discussions and look ahead to extra conferences within the close to future.”
Clearly, that does not say a lot. But the general public acknowledgement of the discussions in the course of the All-Star break was a constructive signal for a league that generally fails to speak.
From the gamers’ perspective, higher journey experiences and their day-to-day consolation stage as elite athletes are priorities, together with wage points. Excessive journey delays — journeys with mechanical and/or climate delays taking 24 hours or extra — occurred to the Aces final season and the Fever this season. However even the typical journey day within the WNBA might be taxing, particularly issues like gamers caught in center seats on prolonged industrial flights. Constitution flights for all journey aren’t doubtless anytime quickly, as they’re value prohibitive. However having the choice to constitution for a restricted variety of journeys, in addition to getting higher seats and lodging for coach journey, might assist considerably.
“Inside participant expertise is well being and wellness, in addition to clearly the journey challenge,” Engelbert stated. “So I’m going to work tirelessly on this specific challenge, whether or not it must be negotiated inside the CBA, or now we have flexibility to have a look at enhancing the participant expertise, significantly the journey expertise.”
A number of the gamers have had preliminary conversations with Engelbert, and their suggestions is constructive.
“We’re simply attending to know her now,” stated Sparks ahead Nneka Ogwumike, president of the gamers’ union. “We’re actually excited to have her on board.”
Mystics ahead Elena Delle Donne, one of many All-Star Sport captains, stated, “I believe she’s acquired that enterprise thoughts that we have to assist change issues and actually take an enormous subsequent step. She appears tremendous assured and prepared.”
A part of Engelbert’s information convention was additionally about USA Basketball’s enhanced coaching program for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It isn’t a WNBA-managed program, however eight WNBA gamers are dedicated to being accessible for 5 coaching segments that may happen from November 2019 to April 2020 and embrace exhibition video games towards faculty groups.
The WNBA can profit from the visibility and advertising and marketing across the gamers being in the US many of the winter, fairly than enjoying abroad or not competing in any respect. The U.S. staff is in search of its seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal.
Attempting to extend visibility for the WNBA is two-fold: The league seeks to do this each nationally/internationally and regionally. There was extra success with the latter, and a few franchises get extra recognition of their native markets than others.
The All-Star Sport in Las Vegas was an instance: Aces proprietor, MGM Resorts Worldwide, had signage at Mandalay Bay and different resorts on the Strip promoting the sport. On the whole, the Aces — in simply their second season in Las Vegas — have moved excessive on the listing relating to participant expertise and advertising and marketing.
However not like the NBA, the place there is a stage of billionaire sameness amongst house owners, the WNBA has disparity in that regard. The WNBA groups owned by firms like MGM, or by NBA groups, have deeper pockets than different groups.
That reality has a wide-ranging affect, past how a lot a franchise might spend to placed on an All-Star Sport. It impacts points such because the relative lack of participant motion in free company, due to the “core” participant designation and different restrictions that primarily work to maintain stars long run on the groups that draft them. There’s some good in that, nevertheless it additionally has produced some stagnation. And it largely prevents the WNBA’s free company from being newsworthy — a stark distinction to the NBA.
Engelbert stated she would go to all 12 WNBA franchises earlier than the playoffs start in early September. There’s lots to absorb, as groups have totally different strengths and weaknesses primarily based on geography, historical past, possession standing and fan base, amongst different issues.
“This is without doubt one of the issues clearly I did in my prior life,” Engelbert stated, “with the ability to look throughout a wide range of firms and produce finest practices in to ensure that, in our case with the 12 franchises, we’re all thriving.
“And in the end that we’re sharing what does and does not work. Some practices will not work in some markets. The NBA has a number of success, and we’re leveraging off that functionality within the W, as effectively.”
The NBA and WNBA are in utterly totally different locations, although, and Engelbert should maintain that in thoughts. That stated, the NBA wasn’t at all times the self-perpetuating advertising and marketing big it’s now.
Finding out what helped the NBA develop after which immediately making use of it to the WNBA will not essentially work, although. There nonetheless must be an understanding of the obstacles that ladies’s sports activities typically face in acceptance. But in addition, optimistically, that consciousness might be paired with enthusiasm to domesticate potential fan bases that could be much less served by different professional leagues: the LGBTQ neighborhood, businesswomen who confront their very own glass-ceiling challenges, households in search of reasonably priced leisure choices, as an illustration. Equally, the WNBA can also use its gamers’ off-court qualities — most are faculty graduates, and several other have entrepreneurial pursuits together with proudly owning companies and actual property — to lure sponsors.
“I believe now we have a novel alternative to supply our property as a platform to firms for partnerships, sponsorship,” Engelbert stated. “And actually use that platform to boost the variety, inclusion and dialog in society.
“One of many causes I took this job, fairly frankly, is I noticed large potential and momentum because it pertains to the model of this sport, of this league, of those ladies and their tales.”
Engelbert will do her job by speaking up the WNBA, definitely. However backing that up with actual motion is how she will be able to actually distinguish herself. And it is precisely what the WNBA wants.