WNBA President Lisa Borders held her final press conference of the season prior to the WNBA Finals. From the players wearing shirts last year to protest the anthem to the leagues growing attendance, nothing was off limits. But, as is every sport right now the topic of visiting the White House and the anthem protests were top of mind.
Glad to see and ENCOURAGE our players to do more than just ‘stick to sports.’ With great power and visibility comes great responsibility. https://t.co/WkxMyJPMt1
— Lisa Borders (@WNBAPrez) September 24, 2017
Q: Last year when some of the players initially wore the shirts, there was a fine, you all rescinded it. I know you had a lot of dialogue with the players. The players I’ve talked to said they feel like the league has done a really nice job being in support with them. Can you walk us through that whole process of where you guys were last July to where you are now with that situation?
LISA BORDERS: Sure. Last year was my first year and it was an interesting year in and of itself. We had terrific business results but we had things happen that had never happened in our league or in any other league. And I think it was a time for us to stop and reflect on what our rules were, whether it was about uniforms or anything else, and give it a really hard look.
And that impetus actually came from the outside; as you know, the issues around violence and communities who felt disenfranchised. So that conversation started external to the WNBA, but was very quickly internalized with our players and with our staff at the league.
So the initial response, was almost automatic. If you wear the wrong shirt, if you wear the wrong socks, you automatically get a fine.
What we had to do was stop, take a breath, step back and evaluate exactly what was going on in the context of what was going on across the country. Those conversations were very fruitful. They were very productive and constructive.
Our players have been very open, not only then but they continue today. We talk to them regularly but I think the conversations are more intense, and I think they are more insightful.
You know, as a little girl, I was taught you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. You should listen twice as much as you talk. So that was the perfect manifestation of that teaching, and I continue along with the rest of the folks at the league to do just that; listen twice as much as we talk.
Q. If a player or a group of players or a team from that wins a championship refuses to the to go White House or if they get invited to the White House and refuse that, will you support that wholeheartedly?
LISA BORDERS: Here is what I would tell you: We support our players and their right to express themselves freely and fully. That’s guaranteed by the Constitution. So us supporting it is just the right thing to do, but that’s who we are. This is the culture that we have created; one that is inclusive and enjoys spirited debate and perspective from every point of view.
I would say the players will decide as an organization, as they always do, at the franchise level, whether they will go or whether they will not go and we will support our players.
Q. Do you view the Lynx as a model for WNBA franchises, not only the community involvement but the ownership involvement here? Not saying that 11 other franchises can exactly duplicate the culture that’s been created here, but do you feel like if other teams are able to take the best aspects of what Minnesota has done here, it could raise the league to an even higher level?
LISA BORDERS: Minnesota is undoubtedly one of our best franchises on and off the court but I would tell you, there are many attributes of many of the other teams that you may not be aware of. So I think there are probably pieces of every team that we could take and roll it up into the perfect team.
So have they done some fantastic things in Minnesota? Absolutely. But the same can be said of Connecticut or L.A. or Washington or Chicago. So I don’t want to isolate one group out and say they are the very best.
I think we’d have to take a study of all of them and say, what are the attributes of the best team and you’d have to decide what you’re going to measure before you could say, “this is the best.”
Q. A lot of fans throughout the league have been frustrated at the lack of availability of merchandise in stores like Walmart or Target. I was wondering if the league was going to address this, or what plans they have to expand on the merchandising to be able to get WNBA-related stuff to the fans who want to buy it the most.
LISA BORDERS: Sure. Thank you for that question. As I mentioned, merchandise sales are up 18 percent, so that says there’s a demand, right? There’s a demand for it. And as we have the privilege of being broadcast on networks like ABC, part of the ESPN and Disney family, we know that that’s only going to increase the exciting basketball and folks want to wear those jerseys. The short answer is yes. I don’t know a time frame. Do you know somebody at Walmart that I might call?
I’m happy to make a call and go see anybody, anywhere, any time. When we look at viewership being up seven percent, and ratings being up 16 percent on ESPN2, we know that people are paying attention. We’re grateful to our broadcast partner.
ESPN, as you know, has been with us since the beginning. So the short answer is yes. Retail numbers are up. The merchandising is flying off the shelves; the merchandise that we have, but we need to have more.
I also hear we need to have greater variety, and people are telling me we need it for babies and pets. So I got it. I got the memo. Thank you for that.
Q. What do you think of the Williams Arena and the University of Minnesota community, just in general for a WNBA Finals?
LISA BORDERS: It’s awesome. First and foremost, hats off to Glen Taylor, the owner of the Minnesota Lynx and Timberwolves, putting air conditioning up in here. It’s almost like a meat locker; it’s so cold.
But when these fans get in here and we know there’s going to be a ton of them; we are in Minnesota and we are in Game 1 of The Finals, everyone is going to be very comfortable.
So being able to support a local school — this school is where Lindsay Whalen graduated. She’s a native daughter, right. Lindsay is the winningest WNBA player in history. She’s remarkable. This is her school. But it’s a school that is local to the Minnesota Lynx market.
So we are thrilled to be here. It’s an interesting arena. It has a raised floor. There are not many of those left in the country. The players like it just fine. It doesn’t matter what I think. It matters what the players think, and they are comfortable playing here. So that’s a thumb’s up.