With JohnWallStreet on vacation this week, Sportico offers a five-part series of news articles and columns taking a peek inside Joe tsai‘sand Global BSEsports businesses. Today’s guest columnists are New York Liberty Governor Clara Wu Tsai and Team CEO Keia Clarke.
Birthdays are often a time of reflection, both a memory and a celebration of how far we have come. For the New York Liberty, the original team of the WNBA, this throwback to 25 years is even more emotional. In this commemorative year, the climax of the postponed 2020 Olympics, the final stretch of the second straight WNBA regular season affected by COVID-19, and the responsibility to honor those who paved the way in the early days of the league have all created a time for reflection and gratitude.
During the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, our country experienced greatness on American soil, when the National Women’s Basketball Team dominated the world and went undefeated to win gold. They’ve been training for 10 months in preparation for now, but these women, pioneers in their own right, have become the catalyst to establish much more, a full-fledged league.
Before the Atlanta Games, young girls in the United States did not have a professional basketball league to aspire to. There had been several failed leagues before the WNBA, but her roster represented a fresh start, an intentional endeavor to show what is possible when you invest in the world’s greatest female basketball players. In the beginning, it was the NBA Governors who stepped up and put women in the spotlight in a way we’ve never seen before in team sports.
The measure of success in women’s sport has often been measured solely by the expectation and desire for a positive financial return. In recent times, however, it has become evident that the strongest business leaders understand the cause and effect of a quality workforce, a positive culture, a commitment to justice. social and the importance of achieving equality.
Good business is about people. And in the case of professional sport, people are the product too. The WNBA as a league, led by New York, has been a walking event since its inception. In an 80% black league with many queer and proud players, the WNBA is a movement in itself.
Fairness was the model when the Liberty was acquired in January 2019 by the Tsai family. In no time, and despite the effects of COVID-19, the team witnessed several franchise change improvements. First up, a new home at the Barclays Center in the heart of Brooklyn, an arena the team shares with the Brooklyn Nets. Then, a state-of-the-art cloakroom built by a group of women entrepreneurs, architects and designers. Front office staff more than doubled, with dedicated business leaders within each vertical and additional support through shared services with the Nets. For us, these tangible short-term efforts are made for intangible long-term gains.
The Fan Project, an in-depth study by the Sports Innovation Lab, further supports the good that comes from investing in women’s sport. Notably, female sports fans are loyal to brands that invest in this space at much higher rates than sports fans in general, and reward those sponsors with immediate commitment and expense.
This research also found that social topics fuel the conversation and, more importantly, increase viewership. This has been the case in New York and the WNBA, with an average audience up 68% after the 2020 ‘Bubble Season’, which was dedicated to raising awareness of the #SayHerName campaign and the fight for justice for Breonna Taylor.
The best part of celebrating 25 years is seeing, playing and going out, fans who want to represent their community. The league’s iconic orange hoodie and growing retail support, as the Liberty quickly rose to number one in WNBA merchandise sales following the selection of the team’s top overall pick in 2020, Sabrina Ionescu, are two indicators that fans want to be a part of. something bigger than themselves.
On the court, WNBA players compete at a higher level and more qualified than ever. Basketball has evolved with higher score, pace, and overall entertainment value. The elite talent and renewed dominance that began during those 1996 Olympics continues today as we watch the WNBA, the best female athletes in the world.
In New York, the process is still early, but we are seeing the dividends of this causal relationship between investment and positive results. In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, media coverage of Liberty increased by more than 24% year-on-year. The official move to Brooklyn in 2021 also presented new opportunities for investment and partner alignment. Brands in new categories, such as Empire BlueCross BlueShield, HelloFresh, Talkspace, LVMH and Withings, rose to the challenge, strengthening the case for increased funding.
The time to invest in women’s sport was yesterday. Betting on women is no longer enough. It is time to raise the stakes and commit equitable resources that translate into better economic conditions and better conditions.
To survive and thrive for another 25 years, business investment must be greater, national media coverage must be greater, and overall fan support must continue to grow. Simply put, the future success of the WNBA is a responsibility we all share.
Who has the next one?
Liberty Governor Clara Wu Tsai is a businesswoman, investor and philanthropist. Through the Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation, she pursues philanthropic investments that advance knowledge, innovation, creativity in the arts and social justice.
As CEO of Liberty, Keia Clarke leads and manages all business aspects of the organization, including strategic planning, revenue, income statement and operations. Clarke works closely with stakeholders on key elements of team activities, including growing the fan base, maximizing sales and fan engagement, and improving business performance..