Richie set to take over as WNBA president

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NEW YORK (AP) - Laurel Richie acknowledged she doesn’t know a lot about the WNBA’s history. Still, days after being hired as the WNBA’s third president, she called it a ‘dream job.’

“I am learning along the way,” Richie said Tuesday on a national conference call with reporters. “I have been, as part of the interviewing process, spending lots of time with many, many people with the NBA and WNBA. I am on that learning curve.”

A chance encounter with Seattle Storm CEO Karen Bryant at a luncheon in February led to the league’s interest in the veteran marketing executive for the vacancy created by Donna Orender’s departure nearly two months earlier.

Richie, hired last Thursday to take over the league entering its 15th season, has more than three decades of experience in consumer marketing, corporate branding, public relations and corporate management. She has worked for Ogilvy and Mather, an international advertising company, and served most recently as senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Girl Scouts of the USA.

“This opportunity for me feels like a culmination of everything I’ve done at Ogilvy and all of the work at Girl Scouts,” Richie said. “It is an interesting opportunity that’s full of challenge, and it is a chance to sort of celebrate and recognize and elevate the great things that women are doing.

“For me, it’s a dream job.”

NBA commissioner David Stern downplayed Richie’s lack of basketball background as a negative factor, citing her experience as a synchronized swimmer to show her interest in sports.

“We found somebody who was adept with respect to sports … culturally adept at understanding what impact the game and the players could have on the community, the global community.”

Stern then used his personal history as an example.

“My own basketball background was ripping up my ACL in a lawyer’s league,” he said. “So I don’t think it’s essential to have played the game at a high level at all.”

Richie, who acknowledged she’s watched WNBA games on TV but never attended a game, will officially take over on May 16. She intends to immediately visit teams around the country to familiarize herself with the league’s owners, players and even fans. The WNBA season begins June 3.

“I absolutely plan on hitting the road,” she said. “I start on the 16th and my bags are already packed. A priority for me is to really get into the market, to get to a game so that I can wipe that off my record, to really meet with players, meet with owners, meet with fans, meet with sponsors, meet with the media.”

Stern denied any notion the NBA was involved in the day-to-day operations of the women’s league, saying it would be run by Richie and Renee Brown, the senior vice president of basketball operations for the WNBA.

Stern said Richie’s job will be to continue the work of her predecessors, Orender and Val Ackerman, and that she didn’t have any special directives other than “to make all of our teams in the league very profitable.” Five teams have marquee jersey sponsorships, attendance at games has risen, and the WNBA is in the midst of an eight-year deal with ESPN.

“We’re doing OK, making a living,” Stern said. “Our teams are doing better than they’ve ever done. … We’re getting to a point where we think this may be the season where it’s break-even and better for all of our teams.”

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