- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 9, 2009

For Washington Mystics officials, fighting through this economic downturn is a lot like playing a game of basketball. Utilizing fundamentals, solid execution and working your butt off. It also means getting creative when necessary.

As the team prepares for the WNBA Draft Thursday evening, fans can take some comfort in knowing that the organization is still on solid financial ground, despite a recession that has forced everyone to work harder to retain sponsors and fans.

“It’s a challenging marketplace right now,” Mystics chief operating office Greg Bibb said. “That being said, I think we’re doing OK. I think we’re trending to about the same level as last year. We haven’t seen siginificant growth in corporate partnerships but we haven’t seen a drastic drop off either. And I think that’s probably because we have a good story to tell, which is that in challenging economic times, we’re a good alternative.”

Among the most recent sponsorship deals for the team was a renewal of a one-year partnership with Sibley Memorial Hospital that includes support for the hospital´s efforts to fight breast cancer. Last year, the team raised $37,000 from a jersey auction for Sibley´s breast health center.

“They were not only important because of the dollars it brings to us, but the cause behind the partnership,” Bibb said.

So far, sales of season tickets are up by a “few hundred” overall, Bibb said, and the organization set aside the day for another agressive phone sales effort. With the basics covered, Bibb said the Mystics are now focused on selling seats and a marquee sponsorship to a new three-tier club level to be located behind the basket on the event floor. The all-inclusive club will have 58 seats and feature unlimited food and beverage from one hour before the game until halftime.

“It’s a higher-end, exclusive type of opportunity and a great seating location on the event floor,” Bibb said. “It’s completely new, completely different from anything in the market.”

Meanwhile, the Mystics will focus on how they can best capitalize on the team´s No. 2 draft position. There is a good chance the organization will draft University of Maryland stars Marissa Coleman or Kristi Toliver to join fellow former Terp Crystal Langhorne.

“Should we draft one of them, obviously we’ll be trying to engage that community like we did last year with [Langhorne] and let them know that ‘Hey, now there’s two University of Maryland players,’ ” Bibb said. Obviously if we were not to draft one of those players, obviously those young women will be high draft picks and end up somewhere else, we would definitely look to have ticket packages for when they come into the market to play the Mystics.”

• Tim Lemke can be reached at tlemke@washingtontimes.com.

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