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Around the Web: How will Tulsa build its fan base?

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It’s almost impossible not to be dismayed upon hearing the news that the Detroit Shock will relocate to Tulsa, which will become official today at 11:45 am (and will be livestreamed by Newson6.com).

While the WNBA does not have to suffer through the contraction of one of a second dynasty in as many years, it is sobering for the league to lose the legacy of a prominent team after such an enthralling championship series.

Shock leaving Detroit for Tulsa | detnews.com | The Detroit News
"I think it's a sad day if it's true," Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. "You certainly have to be disappointed because they've had such a successful franchise, winning championships, and you have kids here in the state of Michigan hoping to one day play in the WNBA. The state of the economy obviously is a major factor and that's such a tough thing to deal with right now."

For anyone who has ever planned an entire day around watching their favorite sports team, there has to be some measure of sympathy for Shock fans.

DC BasketCases
The BasketCases find all of this very sad. We hate it when WNBA teams fail. We hate it for the sport of women's professional basketball, but we hate it most for the fans of the failed team. No doubt there are fans in the Motor City who feel as passionately about their (former) team as the BasketCases and so many others in D.C. feel about the Mystics. We know there are . . . we've met some of them. And what's particularly sad is that the Shock failed at the box office . . . certainly not on the court.

On the other hand, there is hope.

While it may sound insensitive right now to Shock season-ticket holders, the fact remains that Detroit simply was not consistently supporting the franchise, despite being one of the league’s strongest. With new investors interested in bringing a WNBA team to a new city, it was almost perfect timing for Detroit to unload a team that it simply could not support given the current economic conditions statewide.

Rather than acquiring an expansion team with suspect talent in a league that is already suspect in the eyes of many sports fans, the WNBA’s newest city is inheriting a talented team that just made the Eastern Conference Finals without two rotation players. The team was within a few points of the WNBA Finals on the strength of the baffling athleticism of backcourt tandem Deanna Nolan and Shavonte Zellous.

If it’s possible to find hope in the uncertainty of relocating and changing management, it’s that this is a team that is easy to root for as a new WNBA fan. Tulsa could conceivably have a contender in its first year and that bodes well for garnering support for the league that Detroit simply could not provide.

As described on the Women’s Sports Talk Show this past Saturday, that bodes well for the success of the relocation.

Womens Sports Round Table 10/17/2009 - Women's Sports Talk on Blog Talk Radio (46:00-49:00)
I think that there’s an outstanding potential for one of those two teams [the Atlanta Dream or Detroit Shock] similar to the Connecticut Sun was able to start with Nykeisha Sales, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Katie Douglas, and Shannon Johnson on their roster. So they had a fairly established team in the Orlando Miracle. If either Atlanta or Detroit relocates to Tulsa, then they are going to be starting basically with a playoff team…if you’re going to fly as a franchise, it’s going to be with a team that wins.

Furthermore, if we’re going to mourn for the young girls of Detroit who lost their role models, then we have to smile for the young girls of Tulsa who just gained a roster full of new role models.

Basketball Players, Coaches Excited For Prospect Of WNBA In Tulsa - NewsOn6.com - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - KOTV.com |
TU head coach Charlene Thomas-Swinson shares that excitement. Before arriving in Tulsa, she was a WNBA assistant coach in Orlando. She says the league will provide role models for young girls and will help her pitch to potential players.

"They get a chance to see it and it's right here in our backyard. I think it's an exciting time. I think it's awesome for our game and I definitely think it will be an advantage for us as well," said Charlene Thomas-Swinson, TU women's basketball coach.

Bringing considerable talent and positive role models to a city currently without a professional basketball team does seem like a formula for success. However, for a league still struggling to establish its legitimacy, the question remains: how exactly will Tulsa build this new fan base?

During the Tucker Center's Distinguished Lecture Series last night on social media and women's sports, it was mentioned that people do not necessarily use social media -- and certainly not sports media -- to challenge their existing values, but rather to confirm or reinforce what they already believe.

As such, marketing the WNBA on the basis of supporting a cause or shifting perceptions of female athletes, might turn some people off and gives them reason to focus on the league as a political charity case rather than a beautiful brand of basketball.

THERE USED TO BE A WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TEAM HERE | Dyspathy
Successful insurgent leagues worked because they served as laboratories for innovation. The ABA introduced the three-point line and the AFL changed football with motion offenses and the two-point conversion. Insurgent leagues located franchises in markets with few pro teams. The WNBA offered NBA towns a brand of pro basketball that differed little from the parent league except for gender.

This is a political obituary because the WNBA is more about politics than basketball. It was and is a cynical attempt by David Stern to capitalize on third-wave feminism and, despite the efforts by marketers and apologists, it hasn’t worked. The NBA sponsorship, rather than nurturing the WNBA, relegated the league to an unimpressive woman’s auxiliary of the main brand. It’s finished in Detroit and, once David Stern retires, the WNBA will probably fold altogether.

Unlike marketing campaigns, attendance figures and tv ratings don’t lie: this league doesn’t actually inspire that many young girls. Or anyone else.

The obvious target is women, however Rob Parker suggests that the lack of support from women in Detroit was partially responsible for the Shock’s need to relocate.

No Shock Here: WNBA Leaving Motown? - ClickonDetroit.com- msnbc.com
Still, the saddest thing is that the Shock did get the support it needed from women. If enough women took their daughters to the game, the team would not have had to rely on men showing up. For whatever reason, it just didn’t happen in the type of numbers needed to make the Shock a successful organization at the gate.

While it is really difficult to support Parker’s claim with substantive evidence, Mechelle Voepel suggested back in December that the league does need to think proactively about reaching out to women. Saying that women did not support the league in Detroit is no reason to believe they won't support the league in Tulsa. And now is as good a time as any to think outside of the box.

Thinking pro-actively amid the Comets fallout " Mechelle Voepel

I especially believe more women who are not "traditional" sports fans can be brought into the fan base if they’re approached in the right way.

There are still a large number of women in this country who came of age before Title IX and never had the opportunities to participate in sports that are available now.

But there are also a lot of women in their 30s and 40s now who DID participate in sports in high school and maybe even college. However, they’re juggling careers and children and maybe just don’t think they have time or desire to watch sports that don’t involve their own kids or isn’t something their husbands/boyfriends/girlfriends/partners/whatever are watching.

It’s imperative for the league to reach out to both those groups of women and make them feel they are "part" of something by coming to a WNBA game.

While thinking pro-actively about marketing to women will be important to making this franchise successful, it will also be important to think about ways to connect to a Tulsa sports fan base that does not seem overly enthusiastic about this team.

Will Tulsa See The Shock?|NewsChannel 8

…a News Channel 8 Pulse Poll showed at one time that nearly 70-percent of respondants said they would not go to a game.

In the 2003 WNBA Finals, The Detroit Shock once drew more than 22,000 fans. The BOK Center only holds 18,000. On average, attendance at games in Detroit was 8,011.

Investors say that if they get 5 to 6,000 fans at home games, they can make it work. Tulsa will find out if they are right when the next WNBA season gets underway downtown next March.

As of this morning, 68% of the 1306 people who took the New Channel 8 Pulse Poll said they would not attend a game.

The advantage a smaller market like Tulsa has over some other NBA cities is that it is not only the only professional basketball in town, but it is also an opportunity for the league to take some of its best talent and think very deeply about ways to market the game that simply honors the talent of the athletes.

Rather than simply asking people to "Expect Great", the league will have to develop advocacy for women's basketball that speaks specifically about why people should pay for the right to see a game in person. People will need more than hope to sustain a professional basketball franchise.

Transition Points:

- Also from the Women Sports Talk Show:

If Tulsa gets Detroit, whatever money they pay will go to the Davidson family. If Tulsa gets Atlanta, presumably they will take over the payments to the WNBA. So from the WNBA league’s point-of-view, they would love to see Detroit hang on and Tulsa pay the payments for the Atlanta franchise which will then go into the league offices and be distributed out to the rest of the teams.

 - From KTUL.com:

No word yet on what the team would be called, but you can cast your vote for the new name by clicking here. We also want to know if you'd attend a WNBA game at the BOK Center. Vote in the Pulse Poll on the KTUL.com homepage.