With labor peace, WNBA eyes ways to keep growing

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NEW YORK (AP) — WNBA President Laurel Richie was all smiles after the annual Board of Governors meetings this week.

It's hard to blame her.

The league has labor stability after a six-year collective bargaining agreement was ratified in March. The WNBA also is in the midst of a long-term television deal with ESPN for the next decade.

"There was a lot of talk about momentum, and what's the next phase, how do we accelerate our growth?" Richie said in an interview with The Associated Press. "The 2016 season will be our 20th season, and how do we want to mark and acknowledge that? There was great energy."

Washington Mystics general manager and coach Mike Thibault echoed Richie's sentiments.

"Our league's in a very calm situation," he said. "We're not asking every day what's next? I think we are trying to find ways to keep growing the league. That's the emphasis at a lot of these meetings right now. We're not in any way shape or form living day to day. We have stability. It's a nice place to be in right now."

With stability comes talk of expansion. Richie reiterated what she's been saying for the past year — the league is always thinking about expanding.

"That's a recurring theme and topic. We don't have a date in mind — stay tuned," she said. "That's because we have 12 teams right now that have been with us for the last five years. It's a sign of stability and breeds the question of what's next when you have that kind of foundation."

Five teams are profitable, according to the WNBA president, and a few others are very close to breaking even.

"I think we've seen great progress and those who are not yet profitable we see that gap getting smaller," she said.

Six teams were in the black in 2013. One team that hasn't been profitable either year was the Los Angeles Sparks. But Richie has utmost confidence that the new ownership group, led by Magic Johnson, will turn things around.

"They got a late jump last year and I know they are already making a big difference," she said.

Los Angeles and New York are looking to hire new coaches and both teams expect the process to be completed soon.

On the marketing end, Richie was happy to see the league's schedule was released Thursday — the earliest it's been out.

"It gives our teams more of a chance to sell tickets and let our fans know when the games will be," she said.

Games will start June 5 — three weeks later than last season.

"We are part of a global community and there will be a give and take with our schedule," Richie said. "The benefits of a later starts to the schedule are that we increase the number of games when kids aren't in school and that's a good thing for us. We look forward to maximizing it. When it falls in this time frame it gives us a boost and shot in the arm at the beginning of the schedule, which is a good thing."


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