LOS ANGELES — On the night of the home opener, the Sparks introduced a new employee to the media: team president Vanessa Shay, who went on to talk for about 12 minutes about her vision for the team and goals for the future. Here are some of the key takeaways from that press conference.
“Women’s sports does not exist unless the business side is supported”
Shay has some clear thoughts on how to make sure the Sparks are doing the best they can from a financial perspective. She mentioned building a better corporate sponsorship relationship with their current sponsorship group while also looking to attract new sponsors. Engaging the fanbase was another critical focus from the financial aspect of the team. She wants to increase ticket sales and increase season ticket holders. She said, “LA has forgotten about the Sparks,” and she wants to change that. The team has been around for over two decades and with the growth of women’s sports across the country, the Sparks should be leading the charge, given their location, fanbase, and history.
Shay constantly mentioned the outreach the Sparks have to do and the work that needs to be done to be active members of the LA community. She didn’t get into specifics because it was her first official day on the job, but she did discuss making it easier for both boys and girls to play basketball. “Playing soccer is very easy to do ... I don’t feel like that opportunity is met with basketball.” I initially thought it was a bit of a hot take when I heard this. Basketball is easier to play; you just need a ball and a hoop.
In contrast, soccer is much more expensive and requires more space and more people. But then I thought about it from a child’s perspective, and I realized she was right. As a kid living in Los Angeles, in a heavily populated area, good luck getting a chance to play. The courts are for the best players, and that will not be you because the adults are just better; if the Sparks can fund a program to make playing the game more accessible for the children, that would be a huge win not just for the Sparks, but also for the community.
Marketing and fashion
Media outreach is important to Shay, who said, “We are going to need to spend some money to make some money.” She wants improvement and growth across the board, from traditional marketing such as billboards to new marketing practices such as social media platforms. The main focus for Shay is better media relations and building brand awareness.
“I have really high hopes to put out a better merchandise product for the Sparks,” she said. She went on to discuss the challenges of doing so, but is optimistic about collaborating with LA designers to create a better merch product and wants the Sparks logo to be something well known that people want to wear “like the Nike swoosh, or like the Jumpman.” These are ambitious goals, but Shay seems focused on them. Anyone who has been involved with the WNBA fanbase for an extended period of time knows merch is a hot-button topic. People want merch and feel like they can not buy it. What is available is not enough and could be improved, especially compared to what the men’s merch looks like. If Shay could improve merch options and availability, she would accomplish something no other WNBA organization has done.
Just win, baby
What matters most is wins, and no one understands that better than Shay, saying, “(Head coach) Derek (Fisher) knows, our ownership knows, Ws are important for any team at the level that we play at.” There have been some signs of promise with the Sparks currently 3-5, but plenty of work is left to do. This early in the season, nothing is impossible or out of reach. This is a new era of Sparks basketball; let’s see if it’s as iconic as the eras that came before.