Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

WNBA's Ritchie Dials A Presidential "Boost"

(Guru’s note: Material and some quotes for this post drawn from team, wire service and other website reports.)

By Mel Greenberg

The WNBA received a presidential “Boost” Monday and this one did not involve any White House offerings from Mr. Obama or First Lady Michelle in support of the women’s pro basketball league, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary season.

Less than four months on the job as the WNBA’s third president who was hired because of her superior background in the marketing world, Laurel Ritchie has apparently hit the jackpot with Boost Mobile.

The league and Boost Mobile, a non-contract wireless phone provider which is owned by Sprint, announced a multi-year agreement in which the company will be the league’s sole “marquee” partner and beginning with Tuesday night’s games the Boost logo will be on the front of players’ jerseys among 10 teams, the exceptions being the San Antonio Silver Stars and Phoenix Mercury, which have existing separate deals with other providers.

San Antonio’s agreement is with AT&T and Phoenix’s deal is with Verizon, but both teams will still be part of the league agreement.

No financial figures have been offered but Sports Business Journal reported the agreement is valued for the league at eight figures. Ritchie had discussed the negotiations with the league’s teams in recent months during her inaugural tour after the season got underway in early June.

Curiously, while detractors of the WNBA, founded by the NBA, have been projecting the current NBA lockout to potentially be the nail in the WNBA’s coffin, Steve Gaffney, vice president of corporate marketing for Boost, in discussing the agreement, told the New York Times, “With the W.N.B.A., we feel we hit the nail on the head.”

He said Boost found the league attractive because of the WNBA’s attraction to young, urban, multicultural fans that Boost considers its core customers.

So instead of hammering the WNBA’s demise, apparently we now have a case in which a strong financial deal has been hammered into the league’s future.

The deal is said to be the largest in WNBA history.

Although the deal comes during Ritchie’s watch in the WNBA, she told Sports Business Journal talks were already under way prior to her hire.

“The WNBA had been thinking about this for quite a while,” Richie said. “The process was well under way before I got here.”

Richie stated the deal “is transformative in its size, scope and breadth. Our focus is making the partnership as robust as we possibly can, and while I know there will be a lot of attention to the jersey component, we will be doing a ton of other activation programs.”

Boost Mobile will become only the second national brand to have league-wide signage on jerseys, the other being Adidas, the WNBA’s official outfitter.

Besides the jerseys, Boost Mobile becomes the title sponsor of the WNBA All-Star Game as well as the presenting sponsor for this year’s WNBA playoffs and Finals. The company gets signage in each arena and will be the sponsor of next spring’s draft.

Other amenities for Boost Mobile in the deal can be found in the league’s announcement on its WNBA.com website.

In recent seasons, five WNBA teams have entered into separate deals to have sponsorships on jerseys valued at $1 million, according to past reports.

The Washington Mystics in April announced a partnership with Inova Health Systems. That move followed last season’s agreement between the New York Liberty and Foxwoods Casino, which is a rival entertainment complex located near the Uncasville-based Mohegan Sun.

That’s also the home of the WNBA Connecticut Sun; the former Orlando Miracle purchased in 2003 by the Mohegan Indian Tribe and brought north to play at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Other jersey deals have been made between Phoenix and LifeLock; the Los Angeles Sparks and Farmers Insurance, and the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm with Bing, the Internet search engine owned by Microsoft.

Postseason Awards Watch

No, the Guru is not yet ready to declare whom he’ll be voting for in terms of the annual postseason awards.

There may be only three weeks left to the regular season but a lot of basketball has yet to be played in terms of how the final standings and statistics will look.

However, he is beginning at least to think of the core group in certain categories and so here is the thought process at the moment.

Coach of the Year

John Whisenant, New York Liberty – Considering low expectations, adjusting to a new home and trying to replace two veteran post players gone from a year ago, the Whiz has been doing it with smoke and mirrors, his White Line defense and Cappie Pondexter’s game-winning in-your-face heroics at the finish. In third place right now, the Liberty can rise, fall or stay put but for their play to date, he has to be under consideration.

Lin Dunn, Indiana Fever – Some will say no surprise that Indiana is at the top of the heap in the East, considering the veteran group led by Tamika Catchings. But Dunn gave the roster depth and milked it, especially in the wake of starting point guard Briann January’s knee injury early in the season.

Mike Thibault, Connecticut Sun – The finish in the standings will be the thing to add or subtract to his chances.

Cheryl Reeve, Minnesota Lynx – Yeah they are loaded. Yeah they got the best rookie in Maya Moore. But plenty of people at the beginning of the season still said “Show me.” And you might have all those great components but you still have to put it together and get the deal done. And at this hour, she’s done all that to be a leading candidate.

Brian Agler, Seattle Storm – Depends on the finish now that LJ is back but the Storm did a nice job treading water in her absence.

Dan Hughes, San Antonio – With little expectations and a fast start from the gate, he was a frontrunner early. True losing rookie Danielle Adams was costly. Again, depends on the finish.

Most Valuable Player

Cappie Pondexter, New York Liberty – Depends on the finish but she has made a slew of game-winning shots and carried the team most of the summer.

Tamika Catchings, Indiana Fever – An annual candidate, the Fever finish will be a strong determiner.

Tina Charles, Connecticut Sun – Though only a second-year pro after winning rookie of the year in 2010, Miss Double Double most nights, her status, as Catchings with Indiana, will be determined by the Sun finish.

Angel McCoughtry, Atlanta Dream – She’ll be on the ballot, but at what ranking number remains to be seen.

Sylvia Fowles, Chicago Sky – The next three weeks will determine her fate.

Sue Bird, Seattle Storm – After Lauren Jackson’s injury, the defending champions would have been nowhere without her.

Lindsay Whalen, Minnesota Lynx – Lot of candidates and different people on different nights have stepped up but the point guard runs the show and Whalen has run it well.

Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury – Has to be on the ballot but could be a split here because how can teammate Penny Taylor not be considered.

Becky Hammon, San Antonio Silver Stars – Depends on finish and a split decision is here, also, when one thinks of Sophia Young.

Rookie of the Year
(Comments not necessary, just names)

Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
Kayla Pedersen, Tulsa Shock
Courtney Vandersloot, Chicago Sky
Jantel Lavender, Los Angeles Sparks
Elizabeth Cambage, Tulsa Shock
Danielle Adams, San Antonio Silver Stars – Injury may reduce standing.

Most Improved Player
(Again, body of work speaks for itself for now, so just names)

Matee Ajavon, Washington Mystics
Renee Montgomery, Connecticut Sun
Epiphanny Prince, Chicago Sky
Essence Carson, New York Liberty
Jessica Davenport, Indiana Fever
Kia Vaughn, New York Liberty

Defensive Player
(Same thing for now, just names)

Sylvia Fowles, Chicago Sky
Tina Charles, Connecticut Sun
Matee Ajavon, Washington Mystics
Rebekkah Brunson, Minnesota Lynx

Upon Further Review

Once upon a time after a former coach in the WNBA went off at a postgame press conference during the playoffs, your Guru jokingly said to a league official that a contribution should be made to the media hospitality (they once had them) feed at the next city with the money the league was going to collect after they fined the coach for comments made from the podium.

“There’s only going to be a fine if you guys write about it,” the official responded with a smile.

The Guru brings up this tale of the past in light of Saturday night’s finish in Seattle where New York coach John Whisenant accused officials of “choking” on not calling a foul on Storm guard Sue Bird defending Essence Carson, who was driving to the basket for a potential game-winner instead of the outcome going in Seattle’s direction.

As of the middle of the night Monday into Tuesday when this is being written, there has been no word of any action against Whisenant, whose tantrum was covered in the Storm postgame email report, the Associated Press story and by Seattle Times beat writer Jayda Evans, who went even further in giving a physical description of Whisenant giving Michael Price the hands-on-the-throat sign.

Furthermore, Evans in her blog also had some comments on officials by Lauren Jackson, the three-time Most Valuable Player who returned to the Storm lineup since being sidelined in late June with a hip injury.

“If there’s nothing to say and they don’t action, that will be the end of it, that’s the way they work,” one coach commented several weeks ago to the Guru who was wondering whether a fine or suspension had been issued to Los Angeles guard Kristi Toliver in that knockdown of the Phoenix Mercury’s Ketia Swanier.

“Whatever penalty they issued on the court, that may have been all that has been warranted.”

The Guru was a bit humored by Bird’s comments to Evans after the game in light of the recent Storm road loss to New York in a similar ending but one in which Bird went up for a game winner and appeared she might have been fouled but the action resulted in a non-call.

Bird was quite diplomatic afterwards shrugging the final play off saying there had been numerous opportunities before then to win the game.

Well, that was then, this was Saturday night.

Let’s go to the Guru’s version of the tape and see the verbatim of Evans’ game thread from the Seattle Times:

Bird had a little message for the pouty Liberty following a 63-62 Storm win. "I joked with them and said, 'Now we're even,'" said Bird of the one-point loss in New York earlier this month. "I got fouled at their place and you think you got fouled here."

Meanwhile, a post-sunrise game-day decision will be made Tuesday morning whether the Guru will make a quick auto return trip to Washington for the Mystics’ game against the Los Angeles Sparks.

If so, as usual, tweeting will occur from the Verizon Center. Either way, all five Tuesday games will be on the Wednesday morning roundup.

Back in 24 hours.

-- Mel


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