recently had the opportunity to speak with Karen Bryant, the
Vice President for Storm Operations, over the phone for about
40 minutes. Below is a transcript of our conversation. My
goals were to ask some of the questions that concern fans,
find out how the organization works, and to learn whats
in store during the offseason and next year. I want to thank
Karen for taking time out of her busy schedule for this interview
and for answering my numerous questions Scott
In terms of attendance, we know where we ended up this year
and some of the reasons why that happened. Could you give
a quick recap of what some of the challenges were?
The biggest challenge was the ownership change that came during
the strategic planning time for the Storm. Learning in January
that we had an ownership change pending was crippling to our
efforts, and I think equally importantly, to the morale of
our organization. Secondly, we anticipated a sophomore slump
in attendance which we had seen around the league with other
expansion teams heading into their second year. The first
year we obviously had the novelty of an inaugural team. We
also had the momentum of our Drive to 5500 campaign
which we didnt have in year two. The third thing that
had a significant impact on the second season was the fact
that we didnt have dedicated staff here specifically
focused on the sales and marketing efforts for the Storm.
I also think that the hype around the Mariners season this
year has definitely taken its toll on media coverage for the
Storm. While there may not be a huge crossover in fan base,
there is some because of the family audiences for both products.
Should we hope that they have a bad year next year? Im
just kidding [not really Scott].
Its great for the city. Its great to see the city
rally around a sports team again. All of those who were around
Seattle during the championship run for the Sonics can certainly
relate to that. Its exciting. And I think that all of
the sport organizations will benefit from reigniting that
passion between a community and a sports team. They have certainly
raised the bar in terms of fans expectations and the
thrill of winning and having a team thats contending
for a championship.
So moving ahead for next year, you and a couple of your staff
have said that season three started on August 15th. What does
that mean and how is this offseason going to be different?
What are some of your plans?
Well, what it means right now, is that we have begun our efforts
to recap the season having internal meetings, taking
a look at everything that we did these last two years, figuring
out what we can learn from our successes, from our failures,
looking at the ticket sales numbers and the attendance numbers.
Were also doing focus groups this week. So, theres
just a lot of information gathering happening right now and
that will continue for the next, probably, two to four weeks.
And then we will take all of that information and sit down
and start having brainstorming sessions to develop a comprehensive
marketing strategy for year three. And unlike years past,
we have dedicated staff who are charged with that mission
of building a successful WNBA organizaton. We feel like weve
had a tremendous amount of success in certain areas the last
couple of years and its just a matter of building on
that and really positioning ourselves for a really important
and successful third year.
On our forum, a lot of people have posted suggestions or things
that theyve heard about or things that their friends
have talked about who happen to be fans for other teams on
some of the things that other teams have done. How much communication
is there between the management group for each team on sharing
ideas and coming up with things that maybe work for Miami
that you guys might want to try up here?
Yes, a tremendous amount. We have regular conference calls
almost on a weekly basis with other teams. There is a lot
of conversation amongst the teams and at a league level, league
wide between ticket sales managers and their counterparts,
marketing managers and their counterparts about things that
have been successful in certain markets. There is a tremendous
amount of copycatting that goes on around the
One of the things about attendance that people have noted
is that theres about 2,000 or 3,000 core fans right
now. What kind of specific things are you thinking about for
this next year to expand that group?
Well, what we are focused on right now is that weve
had over a 150,000 people come in our building over the last
couple of years to watch Storm games. And weve got to
do a better job of identifying who those people are, and coming
up with a strategy, to not only get them back next year, but
increase the frequency and number of game they attend in year
three. And thats really our focus right now. We not
trying to grow our fan base by going out and attracting 4,000
new fans. Were going to start by focusing on the fans
that we already know have sampled our product and coming up
with a strategy to a) get them back in the building and b)
more importantly, increase the number of games they attend.
And then we will grow from there. But the first step, and
were underway with this, is our season ticket renewal
process and retaining that core group of fans that you identified.
We need to work really hard on retaining as many of those
customers, if not all of them, as we possibly can. The whole
concept of building attendance is focusing on your existing
fans and increasing their frequency.
One of the things that, just because weve been in contact
with fans from other countries through the Web site, is that
theyve kind of been scratching their heads a little
bit about our attendance problem because their
attendance at womens basketball, or even mens
basketball, is so low compared to ours. Should the WNBAs
attendance be compared to the NBA and other American professional
sports, or is there a perspective where you should be looking
at how its attended in other countries as well?
K: There was another womens professional basketball
league recently called the ABL that folded about two and a
half years ago. It averaged 3,000 fans per game. Were
now in a league thats going into its sixth year. Thats
unprecedented in womens professional sports. And were
averaging right around 10,000 fans a game as a league. That
is a heroic effort. The panic around attendance, the negativity
around it, the perception about low demand for this product
is nonsense. Its absolute nonsense.
Well, thats what I was kind of getting at. Has it been
overblown a little bit?
We had such a successful inaugural season in the WNBA and
it exceeded everybodys expectations. So in the first
couple of years we were compared against that. And yes, attendance
declined after that first year. Again, you had that novelty
factor and then, starting around year three, year four, that
comparison went away and now people are comparing us to long
standing professional sports leagues. The NBA did not average
10,000 fans until its 25th season.
Wow. Thats the kind thing that people dont hear.
They just hear the one argument.
You know, were playing womens professional basketball
in the United States of America. Were going into our
sixth season and as a league, a sixteen team league, were
averaging just under 10,000 fans a game. In the second year
of the second womens professional basketball organization
in this city during a non-traditional time of year, during
a season when we had an absolutely awesome summer, and our
baseball team is contending for a world championship, we still
averaged around 5,500 fans a game. Im celebrating. Are
we happy with the decline from our first year? No. Did we
expect somewhat of a decline? Yes. And are we working tirelessly
to make sure we get back to that benchmark? Absolutely. Thats
our goal. And we just need to keep plugging away and doing
what we know we do best and maintaining strong relationships
with our existing fans and empowering them to help us spread
the word about this great product. The WNBA is a great product.
And I think everybody who has come into KeyArena over the
last two summers and experienced Storm basketball has really
appreciated the entertainment value and what this league is
all about and the opportunities it creates, the role models
it creates. Weve all got our work cut out for us over
the next eight, nine months to spread the word about what
happens in Key Arena 16 nights every summer. And just get
more people to be a part of it. Thats the only thing
that I often get frustrated or disappointed by is that there
are often magical moments in that building between players,
between players and fans and more people need to experience
that because its something unique and something very
Thats certainly something that weve tried to focus
on. And I think more people are starting to hear that. So
Ive got a couple of questions about players. One of
the things that seems like its a pretty big issue is
player fatigue just because so many of the players play internationally
in addition to the WNBA. And a lot of them end up playing
year round it sounds like. Is there something that the WNBA
is doing with FIBA, and the WNBL to coordinate schedules or
allow for more rest? Im sure those leagues are getting
just as frustrated as we are when their players come back
to them tired and injured.
Well, all I can tell you is that it is a topic of discussion
every year amongst league officials and team officials, the
players union, the players and its something were
going to have to continue to work through as this league evolves.
We obviously have to be respectful of the European leagues
and other basketball organizations. But its definitely
a concern and its first and foremost a concern of the
players. Their health, their ability to stay injury free.
We have such a short training camp followed very quickly by
a very intense season. Starting a professional sports league
is an evolution and its going to have some growing pains.