The boisterous Seattle Storm fans who gathered at Ozzie’s fell quiet for the first time Wednesday afternoon, eagerly awaiting their team’s first-round pick in the WNBA draft.
And then they were quiet some more, trying to puzzle out the name Ezi Magbegor.
“I was like, ‘What the hell just happened?’ ” Storm fan Lizette Arroyo-Dillard said. “I’m OK with it, but I was like, ‘Who is she again?’ ”
Like their beloved point guard Sue Bird, the 75 or so fans in attendance improvised in the face of uncertainty, latching onto Magbegor’s home country of Australia.
“Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!,” a few fans shouted. “Oi! Oi! Oi!” the whole room responded.
Fans of the Storm have plenty to cheer about, regardless of the background of the draft pick that sent many to their phones for answers.
As the Storm gears up to defend its 2018 WNBA title, the organization is being buoyed by a surge of new interest that could help it win a financial crown as well. There’s buzz about the team’s realistic pursuit of a second consecutive title after earning Seattle’s third in September. Bird returns for her 17th season with a cast of young stars than includes 2018 regular-season and Finals MVP Breanna Stewart.
Fans have responded with increased ticket and merchandise sales in the six months since winning the title. As the May 25 opener against the Phoenix Mercury approaches, team officials believe interest will continue to grow.
“It’s similar to the growth that we experienced in 2011. When we won the championship in 2010, the next year was one of our best growth years from attendance and ticket sales and viewership and merchandise, all of that,” Senior Vice President of Ticket Sales and Services Kyle Waters said. “I really have the luxury of looking at it from an apples to apples comparison seeing how it feels. We’re doing a little bit better this time around than we did last time, but I think that has to do with (the fact that) we have younger players and there’s more confidence going into this next season that we have a real chance of repeating as champions.”
The Storm is No. 1 in the league in merchandise sales, boosted by a record-breaking 48-hour period following the championship victory. Ticket sales are up every way you can count them. The team is approaching 1,000 new season-ticket purchases. Combined with its usual 80 percent renewal rate, Waters says the team could sell more than 2,500 new season tickets this year.
Ticket packages like weekend and half-season plans have doubled and group outings have increased by 30 percent. Single-game tickets for the 2019 season went on sale Wednesday, so it’s too early to say how those will go, but the team expects to see similar spikes in interest.
The Los Angeles Sparks, Minnesota Lynx and Phoenix Mercury surpassed Seattle in average attendance in 2018, but Waters says that could soon change.
“We’ve always been top three regardless of team performance on the court,” Waters said. “And now that we just won a championship, I think we’re just on the heels of being No. 1 again in the WNBA.”
Waters said there was a surge in season-ticket sales in the weeks after winning the title and sales have continued to be steady.
“Most of those new season-ticket holders are people that attended the playoff games and saw how awesome the atmosphere was at the playoffs,” Waters said. “We were getting large, capacity crowds at those. Once they saw how amazing it was, they wanted to be a part of it and go all in.”
Arroyo-Dillard and her husband Allen consider themselves all in a year after buying season tickets for the first time last year. Longtime fans, they say they’ve found the experience to be greatly enhanced by buying season tickets and becoming “Storm 360 members” with special privileges and access to quarterly team events, such as Wednesday’s happy hour draft party.
“Literally, it’s the best decision we’ve ever made,” Arroyo-Dillard said. “It’s amazing … just being able to see a lot of behind the scenes. There’s a lot of fan experiences, there’s different events, you get to meet the players, they have giveaways. They feed us! They really wine and dine you, which has been amazing. More than that you get to attend every game knowing you have your seat and you get to know the people around you. That’s been another one of my favorite things. You can tell I’m really shy.
“It’s exciting that a lot of people are recognizing it, they’re embracing and now they want to be a part of it.”