- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Washington Mystics are having one of their best years from a business perspective. A boost in sales efforts has led to significant increases in attendance, season-ticket sales and sponsorship revenue.

Despite a 10-16 record before the break for the Beijing Olympics, the Mystics’ attendance at Verizon Center rose nearly 1,200 fans a game over last season, a 15 percent bump, with total ticket revenue up 17 percent, team officials said.

Meanwhile, season-ticket sales for the season were up 20 percent from last season, bringing the team’s base to nearly 3,000.

“We’ve had a pretty good year from a business standpoint across the board,” Mystics CEO Greg Bibb said.

The Mystics now rank fourth in the WNBA in attendance at just under 9,000 a game behind New York, Detroit and Los Angeles. Only the defending champion Phoenix Mercury have seen a larger attendance boost this season.

Team officials said they made several changes in the offseason that have led to the increase ticket sales. They began advertising for season tickets in October, about three months earlier than in past seasons. Meanwhile, the sales staff has doubled and includes more experienced sellers.

“We have more people selling, and we have leaders in our sales department that come to the team with a few gray hairs,” said Bibb, who joined the team in September.

Bibb said the team also has been able to boost sales by offering a wider variety of season ticket plans. This year, the team offered 10 different plans, including three- and six-game plans that allow fans to pick which games they want to attend.

The slowing economy actually might be playing a role in the sales increase. The Mystics offer some of the least expensive plans among the local teams, with packages starting as low as $99 a seat for a 17-game full-season package.

With more sales comes more revenue, and the Mystics have already surpassed the total ticket revenue from both 2006 and 2007 with four home games left on the schedule. Meanwhile revenue from sponsorships, which typically constitute between 40 percent and 45 percent of all revenue to the team, is up 60 percent this season because of partnerships with Sibley Memorial Hospital, Under Armour and several other high-profile companies.

The improvement of the bottom line comes after five years of decline for the team and marks the first period of significant growth since Lincoln Holdings purchased the team from Wizards owner Abe Pollin in 2005. League officials gave credit to the ownership group, led by team president Sheila Johnson and Lincoln Holdings managing partner Ted Leonsis.

“It’s an impressive increase,” said WNBA commissioner Donna Orender, who is following the U.S. national team at the Olympics in Beijing. “What they have is great management and accountability. Everyone in the organization is accountable for the team’s growth.”