- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 27, 2009

A week ago at Verizon Center, the Washington Mystics faced a 10-point halftime deficit against the Chicago Sky. Coming out of the locker room, the Mystics took control and cruised to an 81-72 victory.

Guard Alana Beard, who scored 31 points in the game, said the energetic home crowd of 11,745 played a role in the Mystics’ come-from-behind victory.

“I definitely thought the crowd was an advantage,” Beard said. “The crowd really helped us get back into it.”

This season, Washington has averaged 11,104 fans through three home games. According to Greg Bibb, Mystics chief operating officer, that’s a 41 percent spike from 2008.

The Mystics are quite familiar with the fan support they experienced against Chicago. Despite having an all-time winning percentage of .396, the team has led the WNBA in attendance six times. (The total number of tickets distributed determines average attendance.)

In 1998, the Mystics’ inaugural season, the team finished 3-27. Despite the dreadful start, the Mystics drew the biggest crowds in the league, averaging 15,910 fans a game. The Mystics also ranked first in attendance the next two years and from 2002 to 2004.

There are several reasons why the Mystics have always had a dependable fan base. The most recent development is the team’s 4-2 start this season, including its first 3-0 start. Under first-year coach Julie Plank, the Mystics have a fresh outlook and a newfound mental toughness.

Forward Chasity Melvin, who played for the Mystics from 2004 to 2007 and returned this season, said she believes crowds will continue to increase if the team continues its winning ways.

“We had fans when we were losing, so if we win, the fans are going to come out,” Melvin said. “The fans want a winning team. They see a good product. They see that we are playing together, having fun, and playing hard. That’s a little bit different from the past couple of years.”

Along with the recent on-court success, recent changes within the organization have contributed to larger crowds. In the spring of 2005, Lincoln Holdings took over the Mystics and initiated a policy of reducing the number of comped and free tickets distributed.

Bibb noted that since the change in ownership, the team has expanded its fan base.

“We experienced significant growth in our fan base because of three factors: the committed ownership of Ted Leonsis and Sheila Johnson, our passionate front office staff, and this year we have an exciting product that is putting on a good show every time we take the floor,” Bibb said.

Lincoln Holdings has also undertaken marketing ventures appealing to various age groups and facets of the population. During the Mystics’ 17-game home schedule, “we provide something for everyone,” Bibb said. From a marketing standpoint, the organization also attempts to project a specific image to the community.

“We sell the fact that we are female, and we sell the fact that we are affordable,” Bibb said, noting that the average ticket price is $20.

Beard said the reason the Mystics have had so much support through the years is simple.

“The fans just want a winning team in D.C.,” she said.

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