Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Is the End Near for WNBA?

"The thing about quotes on the Internet is that you can never confirm their validity."
- Abraham Lincoln

If Mr. Lincoln was alive today, he very likely would have made this observation. The Internet is a treasure trove of information- some true, some false, and some falling in between. And, he may have applied his "quote" to evaluate information in a report published on 24/7 Wall St that predicted the demise of 10 brands in 2014. Some of the brands on the list may indeed be in late decline such as Nook and LivingSocial, but one brand on the list that surely raises eyebrows in the sports industry is the WNBA. The league just began its 17th season; are we to believe it is also the last one?

"3 to See"
The prediction of the WNBA's demise is strange given a noticeable uptick in excitement around this season. A big reason (no pun intended) for the excitement is the debut of Brittney Griner, the 6'8" center that dominated women's college basketball at Baylor the past two seasons and drafted first overall by the Phoenix Mercury. Along with Elena Delle Donne (Chicago Sky) and Skylar Diggins (Tulsa Shock), the WNBA features a draft class upon which great expectations have been placed. These "3 to see" are being looked to do more than make their teams competitive on the court; they are marketing assets that should have an impact beyond their local markets and be key elements of the face of the WNBA.

How to Avoid Extinction
No marketing executive wants to read an article predicting the death of his or her brand. The question is how do you keep your brand off such a list? The answer is relatively simple in concept yet complex in execution: Stay relevant. Brands like Nook and LivingSocial are vulnerable because their competitors have succeeded in taking much of the mind share and market share in their respective categories. The brands do not stand out as offering distinctive benefits that other brands in the category cannot deliver. A multitude of reasons could explain why a product fails, but the one reason that tends to surface more than any other is a perceived lack of a clear value proposition.

So, what is the WNBA's value proposition? If it is simply basketball to fill the void of the NBA off-season, I think we know where the brand would end up- on a list of brands that did indeed die. Fortunately, the WNBA has more to offer if it can persuade entertainment seekers:

  • Value- The cost of an outing to take in a WNBA game is a fraction of the cost to go to an NBA game. For example, season tickets for 16 Atlanta Spirit games start at $160 compared to $599 for 41 Atlanta Hawks games. Granted, the per game price ($10 versus $14) is not substantial, but the differences in number of games and price over the course of a season represents substantial savings for fans.
  • Stories- Great brands usually tell compelling stories. The WNBA must tap the unique stories of its players, going beyond the "3 to see" rookies. Social media offers a platform for engaging fans off-site to share with them the backgrounds of WNBA players.
  • Lifestyle- Promoting the off-the-court lives of WNBA players as a hook to interest casual fans and non-fans may be more controversial as there is a fine line between selling the sport and selling physical attractiveness. The LPGA has tried this approach with mixed results. It could be a component of a broader marketing strategy but not necessarily something upon which to place all hope.

Time Will Tell
Do you agree with the 24/7 Wall St. opinion that the WNBA is in hopeless decline? When next year's list comes out and the current predictions are reviewed, will we be laughing or thinking "they nailed it when it came to the WNBA?" There are legitimate concerns- average attendance in 2012 was lowest in the league's history. And, despite interest in the collegiate women's game, professional women's basketball has not built a growing fan base over the past 16 years. Time will tell what will happen, but it looks as if the WNBA is ready to mount a spirited fight to stave off elimination.

Adweek - JCPenney One of Ten Brands Predicted to Die in Next Year