How to Start a WNBA Franchise

By Nicholas Katers

The WNBA was created in 1996 by the National Basketball Association (NBA), based on the popularity of woman's basketball following the 1992 Olympic Games. The WNBA's 13 teams have struggled to turn their top-flight talent and support from the NBA into popularity among basketball fans. The Los Angeles Sparks and the New York Liberty may have created dynasties during the league's early years, but a number of franchises have collapsed in the past. Your WNBA franchise must learn from the lessons of the Portland Fire, Miami Sol and other defunct teams as you lobby for inclusion in the league.

Apply for a WNBA Franchise

Gather local investors and venture capitalists. The purpose of this group is to assemble the money needed to start a WNBA franchise. Venture capital firms like AustinVentures coupled with women's basketball fans with disposable income can help you reach your $10 million franchise fee. Your franchise will get off to a better start by exceeding $10 million in initial investments to demonstrate viability in the first season.

Produce a franchise plan. This plan for your WNBA team should account for player salaries, marketing, ticket prices and other financial concerns. The WNBA's salary cap keeps player salaries below $100,000 per season, but a full roster can push your payroll near $1 million. WNBA franchises have failed in the past due to overlooked expenses like advertising, staff payroll and securing stadium rights.

Recruit a local woman's basketball legend to act as the spokesperson for your WNBA franchise. Ask a former player or coach at a local university to approach business leaders, politicians and other community figures to gauge interest in a WNBA franchise. Your franchise's ambassador to the community should become a prominent part of the team, whether it is as president, general manager or coach.

Hire a front office, team staff and marketing department for your WNBA franchise. Your front office can be little more than your coach, a scout and interns looking through tapes for prospective players. Add a trainer and a handful of college interns in preparation for tryout camps at the start of your franchise. Your marketing department should be versatile enough to handle advertisements, ticket sales and media outreach.

Choose a list of team names, logos and colors for local fans to select for your WNBA franchise. Create a simple Web site for your franchise with an online poll asking fans to choose the franchise's symbols and colors. Print every document emerging from your franchise in team colors with the logo at the top to create brand recognition.

Solicit sponsorships. These sponsorships can come from local sporting good stores, minor league teams and businesses to increase your WNBA franchise's profile. Offer each sponsor prominent space for its logo on your court, Web site and game telecasts. The NBA will look more favorably at your franchise if you have money in hand from local businesses.

Meet with arena operators in your community. You have to find a home court for your WNBA franchise. Focus on college venues like the Chicago Sky's UIC Pavilion, where stadium fees are relatively low and seating capacity is sufficient for WNBA fans. Look for a venue with plenty of concession stands, rest rooms and side areas for activities off the court.

Reach out to the public. Do so in creative ways to improve the odds of your WNBA franchise getting approved by the league. Create online petitions circulated by your marketing department to demonstrate support for your franchise among local fans. Hold events at your home stadium to let fans meet your staff, enjoy free food and play basketball with local basketball players.

Increase exposure for your team. This can be accomplished by contacting radio, TV and newspaper reporters about your WNBA franchise. Couple a press release from your franchise staff with one-on-one calls with editors, reporters and on-air personalities to answer questions about your team's prospects. Your WNBA franchise can gain some momentum while ensuring media coverage once play starts through an initial media blitz.

Present your franchise plan, franchise fee and other supporting documents to the NBA league office in New York City, New York. The NBA acts as the arbiter for league expansion by looking at financial viability, potential fan turnout and league health. Work with a sports lawyer in the weeks preceding this meeting to determine if your franchise plan is sound.

Approach your city's NBA and college basketball teams. This outreach effort is to gain support during deliberation by the commissioner about your franchise. Speak with university athletic directors and executives with the closest NBA team to lobby on your franchise's behalf. Argue that your WNBA franchise will increase exposure to basketball in the community and bring more people out to basketball games to win support from these representatives.

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