WNBA: Who is the Scotiabank of Women’s Basketball?

14 03 2010

I have been stewing on this for a while, and it’s time to empty out my thoughts here for discussion.

One day I checked out the Scotiabank web site as they sponsor, among other things, Hockey Night in Canada. I was met with this:

Today our tie to hockey is stronger than ever. As the Official Bank of the NHL®, NHLPA®, NHL Alumni™ and the CWHL, we’re proud to have a partnership with hockey that stretches back almost 100 years, to The Bank Leagues, pre-NHL® pro hockey. Scotiabank has partnerships with the Calgary Flames and the Ottawa Senators whose home arena is Scotiabank Place. And we still continue to give young Canadian hockey enthusiasts a way to connect with the game both on and off the ice.

The WNBA is not a not-for-profit enterprise and does have a diverse pool of funding: Sponsors, ticket sales, licensing/apparel, and yes, money from the NBA. I don’t expect that any one company our source of funding will be enough to support the entire league. But as I mull over the current state of women’s athletics and the propensity for some to insist that they be treated like causes rather than entertainment, I wonder who or what could or would align with the WNBA in a way to make it part of their brand identity, similar to Scotiabank.

Note that Scotiabank does not sponsor the NHL® to the exclusion of all else. To their credit, when CWHL women’s hockey came asking for support, Scotiabank obliged. I don’t live in Canada and have zero skin in the game where Scotiabank is concerned except as an impressed bystander. From my point of view, Scotiabank is unquestionably supportive of hockey.

Looking at the WNBA sponsors list, I am seeing some obvious names like Spalding, Adidas, Nike, and Gatorade. Quite a sporty bunch. Some not so obvious names like Hewlett-Packard and Pitney Bowes.

I did some noodling around and found the sponsor list for Basketball Australia, which contained some repeat customers like Gatorade and Peak Shoes.

I think what I am ultimately seeking to learn: If the WNBA (not to mention other women’s athletics) suffers from an image problem – too niche, too slow, too boring, not socially acceptable – besides steps that the league itself might take or fans taking a grassroots approach to building support for the league, what organization could step up to help drive interest? For example, Discover Cards withdrew their sponsorship after the 2009 season, and I blame Discover for their lack of return because their ads painted a completely unrealistic picture of the league. Their ads featured a NBA All-Star game-esque dunking contest with some kid doing an acrobatic dunk which was to be bested by Indiana’s Tamika Catchings. The tag line was (paraphrased) “Discover Cards put you in the game.” Not sure what game, as no WNBA game features acrobatic dunking.

My view of sponsorship is that in theory, fans of the sport will be so grateful that the sponsor has helped enable the league or event that they’ll return the favor with insane brand loyalty to that sponsor. To that end I am very late on buying truckloads of Nature’s Best granola bars but I really do appreciate that they paid to show critical portions of the 2009 Tour de France commercial-free. Budweiser did the same for Olympic women’s hockey, so I have less of an excuse for not chugging a can or two with gratitude.

I assume that Scotiabank is enjoying crazy brand loyalty up there in Canada. Maybe not. But it is very easy on the periphery to equate “Scotiabank” with “hockey”.

My question, then, is what sponsor or sponsors stand out as being synonymous with “women’s basketball”?

I’m thinking LifeLock, off the top of my head.

What’s your perception?

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