A New Leader Who Knows No Boundaries

Laurel Richie, President of the Women’s National Basketball Association, is the first African American woman to lead a pro sports team.

When Laurel J. Richie took on the role of WNBA president last May, she had two main tasks. One was to increase the visibility of the woman’s basketball league, and the other was to oversee all of the league’s day-to-day operations.

Energetic and unvarnished, the Cleveland native who became the first African American woman to lead a pro sports team tackled the first task by meeting with every one of the basketball teams including the fans and team owners.

“I hit the road and made sure that I was visiting with all the teams, players and our partners. It’s been a very steep learning curve, and I have fallen more in love with the league than I did when I first started,” adds Richie, who has more than three decades of experience in consumer marketing, corporate branding and public relations.

Richie, who was recently named one of the 25 Influential Black Women in Business by The Network Journal, was the obvious choice to lead the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association). Prior to joining the WNBA, she was the Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Girl Scouts of the USA, where she was responsible for communications and marketing for the brand.  Both organizations are full of role models for women and young girls. Richie drew from her experience at Girl Scouts of the USA, and has been diligently working to increase attendance and field a much greater awareness of a sports league, which is now entering its 16th season.

“My 13 year-old niece said it best, when I was telling her about the opportunity with the WNBA,” shares Richie. “She said; ‘Auntie Laurel, I think you like working on things that have to do with girls and women,’” recalls Richie. “The Girls Scout is really focusing on raising the next generation of leaders, and the women of the WNBA are role models for millions of girls across the country,” Richie adds.

The longest, continuously running women’s professional sports league in the country, the WNBA is comprised of the best female basketball players in America. Three out of the twelve teams have female ownership stakes, and although the basketball league is entering its 16th season, the game is still not as popular as tennis or its male counterpart, the National Basketball (NBA). Something Richie fully intends to change.

“I would love to have the same level of coverage within the sports media, general media and lifestyle media that our colleagues in the world of professional tennis are able to secure,” shares Richie, who is continuously pushing boundaries to change the way female athletes are perceived. “We have a very diverse fan base of strong African American following, youth following, and we also have a strong following of women. I am working very hard on gaining increased exposure for our players, so they can become a household name that they are supposed to be. The level of play in the WNBA is at its peak, so it’s not really about the game, it’s about exposing the game to a broader base of fans.”

As Olympic season looms, Richie, who has a long track record of developing award-winning campaigns is certainly hoping to not only raise awareness of the league, but to also end the year with a pot of WNBA gold.

“Our 15th season was a perfect season for us. We ended up with our viewership and attendance being up and a terrific playoff series. I am really excited about heading into our 16th year, for we are in an Olympic year and the USA women’s basketball team will be comprised of women who are competing in the WNBA.  I am certainly excited that they get a chance to showcase their talent on an international stage and do it in support of the country.”

For WNBA news and tickets to upcoming games visit http://www.wnba.com



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