With Lisa Borders stepping down as the WNBA president in October, there is a national search for her replacement. Then, on Thursday, Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike announced that the WNBA Players Association will opt out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) after the 2019 season.
This raises the stakes in the search for the next WNBA president. Here are six people who should be considered for the role.
Val Ackerman, Big East Commissioner
Ackerman is best known as the first president of the WNBA, where she saw the league grow during its first eight years and guided the transition from a league of NBA-owned teams to a model where non-NBA team owners could also acquire teams.
After leaving the WNBA, Ackerman became the president of USA Basketball from 2005-2008 and the United States representative for men’s and women’s basketball on FIBA’s Central Board, from 2006-2014, before leading the Big East through major changes after college conference realignment. The WNBA will likely embark upon major changes starting in 2020, and these are the types of things that Ackerman has a great deal of experience in.
Though she helped launch the league and create a baseline of support, the next president has to grow that support. However, because Ackerman could have done some past marketing campaigns differently and some teams folded under her watch, she would have to provide convincing proof that she could get the job done at this delicate point in the league’s history.
Kim Ng, Major League Baseball’s Senior Vice President for Baseball Operations
Ng has worked for Major League Baseball teams or the league office since 1991, mostly in areas like salary arbitration. And her experience working in salary arbitration is a transferable skill to the WNBA for potential CBA negotiations as well.
Though Ng is one of the most powerful women in sports and poised to move up in her career very soon, Ng’s first love is baseball and she has interviewed for several teams’ general manager positions in the past. If basketball isn’t something that interests her, then this position isn’t for someone like Ng.
Dawn Hudson, former NFL Chief Marketing Officer
Hudson served as the NFL’s marketing boss from 2014 to April 2018 when she stepped down.
The NFL is the most popular major sports league in the United States, but the league has faced a number of public relations crises, such as head injuries among NFL players and the national anthem protests beginning in 2017. But the NFL has been able to create campaigns to broaden its appeal despite those things. Before going to the NFL, Hudson was the Vice Chairman of the Parthenon Group and, before that, President and CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America from 2006-2007. She also was the former chairperson of the LPGA’s Board of Directors.
Hudson said in articles that she is a sports fan and wants to move away from marketing roles. The WNBA president is ultimately the top marketer of the league, but Hudson has been in CEO-level positions before and the WNBA presidency could be a good fit for her.
Pamela El, NBA Chief Marketing Officer
El is the top marketing officer of the NBA, which has established itself as America’s most global sports league. She has worked on the NBA’s annual Playoffs and Finals campaigns and overseas to spread its presence throughout the world. El also works on WNBA marketing campaigns, including the annual “Watch Me Work” videos fans see each year.
Before coming to the NBA in 2014, El was the Senior Vice President of Financial Brand Marketing for Nationwide Insurance, and she also served in a similar role for State Farm Insurance, which is an NBA partner.
Marketing is an important job requirement for a WNBA president, which is one reason Laurel Richie came on board from 2011-2015. El, however, already is familiar with the WNBA and its “Watch Me Work” campaigns and, as the league boss, she could focus primarily on those things to broaden the league’s appeal through advertising and communications campaigns alike.
Mark Tatum, NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer
Tatum is the second in command for the NBA. Day-to-day, he serves as the head of business operations which includes marketing and communications. He is also the acting WNBA president until a replacement is named.
Before becoming the deputy commissioner in 2014, Tatum was the NBA’s Executive Vice President of Global Marketing Partnerships and most of his experience in the NBA and elsewhere has been on marketing and corporate partnerships — something the WNBA specifically can use more of as it grows.
There is no requirement that the WNBA president be a woman, though every president and candidate besides Tatum has been female. However, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is only 56-years-old and doesn’t appear to be retiring any time soon. Therefore, Tatum could grow into this role by spearheading many of the partnerships that the WNBA needs. It will be interesting to see if he takes a more active role as the interim WNBA president.
Bethany Donaphin, WNBA Director of Operations
Of all the WNBA’s full-time staff, Donaphin is one of the highest-ranking members at the league office, with her work focusing primarily on the WNBA.
Donaphin oversees player management, officiating and basketball operations for the league. Before moving into her current role last May, she was in the NBA as Associate Vice President of Basketball Operations. She is also a former WNBA player herself, playing for the New York Liberty during the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
Of the six candidates, Donaphin would be the dark horse. If she was to advance, however, it would be the first time that a former WNBA player became president of the league. If anything, Donaphin would provide more empathy for current players than others on this list given that she was a player herself within the last 20 years.
Any other people whom you believe would be great in the role of WNBA president? Let us know in the comments below.