- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2012

It’s been a season of on-the-job training for Laurel Ritchie, who took over as president of the WNBA last year. Coming from a nonsports background, Richie conceded she had a lot to learn.

She spent the weekend in Washington to take in Friday’s Mystics-Liberty game at Verizon Center, and, along with about 3,000 Girl Scouts, marked the organization’s 100th anniversary with a celebration on the Mall on Saturday. Before joining the WNBA, Richie was the senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the Girl Scouts of America. She called the weekend events the perfect blend of her past and present.

“When I was with the Girl Scouts, I used to say that we were always looking for really terrific role models for young girls,” Richie said. “I think the women of the WNBA are perfect for that. They are such wonderful athletes, they understand hard work, they understand teamwork. There’s great similarity in the sense of civic responsibility of the Girl Scouts and the women of the WNBA.”

Richie’s marketing savvy and corporate partnership ideas made her an ideal choice to run the WNBA. It already has paid dividends. Last August, the WNBA signed a league-wide, multiyear sponsorship deal with Boost Mobile. Five of the league’s 12 teams also have individual corporate partnerships, including the Mystics, who are partnered with Inova Health System.

A fan-friendly president, Richie encourages fans to contact her with comments and suggestions.

“Our fans taught me a lot about our league,” Richie said. “WNBA fans are passionate, they are intelligent, they know our players, and they know our history. They are not shy.”

Richie’s plans include increased partnership opportunities, additional corporate sponsorships and, eventually, expansion.

“We have heard from other cities, from corporate sponsors who want a team,” said Richie, who knows the risk that will come with expansion. Since the WNBA began 16 years ago, six teams have folded and three have relocated. But Richie is optimistic about the future, largely because of the intense and vocal fan base.

“As many people that enjoy the game on television, the ability for our fans to experience a game in person is just magical,” she said. “I want to be able to bring that to more and more people.”

Last season, the league celebrated its 15-year anniversary with the selection the league’s 15 greatest players. This year, 12 WNBA players will participate in the Summer Olympics in London. 2012 also marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which helped spark a surge of participation in sports for young female athletes.

Richie cites those milestones as reasons she believes the league is more popular than ever.

“I sense a different feeling this year than last year,” Richie said. “The women came back this year hungry and ready to compete. I am proud of the product we put on the floor.”