Editor’s note: Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans will have a weekly conversation with a newsmaker in the WNBA. This week, she speaks with WNBA president Laurel Richie, who announced a “WNBA Pride” marketing campaign. The platform makes the WNBA the first professional league to specifically target the LGBTQ community, including a nationally televised “Pride” game, Tulsa at Chicago, on June 22 on ESPN2.
Seattle Times: Nearly every team hosts an annual “Pride Night” in conjunction with the LGBTQ community’s celebration. Isn’t this redundant?
Laurel Richie: Particularly the lesbian audience has been part of our fan base since the very beginning and we have done activations and marketing to that segment of our fan base. During the offseason, we did some research to get some feedback on what we had been doing to reach the audience and what we could be doing better. Based on that research and what we had already been doing, we added in some new elements and unified them all underneath the “WNBA Pride” moniker.
Q: What did the research show?
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Richie: First we learned that about 21 percent of the sample used had been to a game and 25 percent had watched games on TV. The recommendations reinforced things we had been doing (like being in Pride parades). It also helped us understand there might be an opportunity to reach younger lesbians. Our demographic skewed a little bit older. That was very helpful learning for us.
Q: The WNBA at the league level has had a tenuous relationship with its gay fan base, so this seems like a “Coming Out” for the league.
Richie: I’m not sure I would characterize it that way. To me, we have been doing some terrific things and we’re adding additional elements, like partnering with ESPN for what we think is the first nationally televised Pride game. We built a micro website (wnba.com/pride) and CoverGirl has come on as our partner given their focus on celebrating the strength and diversity of women.
Q: Will every player be required to wear the Pride warm-up shirt? San Antonio forward Sophia Young-Malcolm spoke out against gay rights via her Twitter account last year.
Richie: This is really about acknowledging a segment of our audience. We announced this last week. If players have things they want to talk to us about or a different point of view, we’ll work very hard to be very respectful of that. But this is about diversity and inclusion and diversity of thought is one element of that.
Q: While this does fall within the wave of men’s professional leagues acknowledging its gay athletes, is “WNBA Pride” part of the new “Summer Hoops” marketing?
Richie: Absolutely. Now these platforms that we have fit together and they stand alone in a way that I think is wonderful. If you put “Hoops for Troops” next to “WNBA Pride” next to “Dads and Daughters” next to “Inspiring Women” all underneath “Summer Hoops,” you understand what the WNBA is all about.
Q: The WNBA has had its share of catchphrases the past 17 years, but I think “Summer Hoops” is the coolest. How did it come about?
Richie: I was literally sitting in my dentist chair doing my annual cleaning. He’s a really good guy and loves the WNBA. He says to me, “So, when does the season start?” We were already in season. It made me realize that we as a league need to do a better job of reinforcing when we play and owning that more overtly. “Summer Hoops” does have a “duh” feeling because there’s something obvious about it but it also feels right and feels very celebratory.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org.