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Sports Business

Dramatic growth in male fans helps WNBA's Fever score profit for first time

July 30, 2013
KEYWORDS Sports Business

In the last two years, the Indiana Fever have hit two major milestones.

One—last season’s WNBA championship—to much fanfare. Another milestone, however, is being hit much more quietly this season. And to those on the franchise’s business side, it is arguably an even bigger milestone than the championship.

Fever officials told IBJ on Monday that the team would be profitable this season for the first time in its 14-year history. And they have no plans of going back into the red.

“We’re going to be profitable this year and we’re budgeted to be profitable next year,” said Kelly Krauskopf, Fever president and general manager. “This is something we’ve been working toward and it’s something we’re excited about.”

That’s especially good news to team owner Herb Simon, who has long championed women’s sports, but has stressed that eventually the Fever franchise has to stand on its own financially.  Simon also owns the Indiana Pacers.

Krauskopf said the team will make enough money to cover the team’s player payroll (the WNBA salary cap is $913,000) plus front office, travel and other expenses.
In general, the financial health of the WNBA’s 12 teams has been improving recently, with officials from a handful of clubs saying they’ll be profitable this year. At a time many professional sports teams are struggling to make it into the black as the economy continues its slow recovery, the mountain the Fever have climbed is no small one.

The momentum for the Fever, team officials said, has been building since 2009, when the franchise made it to its first WNBA final and came up just short to Phoenix.

Around that time, Krauskopf said, the team started gaining traction with several big sponsors. A major deal was inked with Kroger in 2009 and a sizable deal with Finish Line, which includes a company logo on players’ jerseys, was signed in 2012. Before that, major multi-year deals were reached with Community Health Network and Old National Bank.
No longer, said Krauskopf, are WNBA sponsors merely feel-good deals among those who champion women’s sports.

“We’re showing our sponsors the value of a relationship with this team,” she said.

The new sponsorship deals wouldn’t have been possible without a growing fan following, Krauskopf added.

“For the past three to four years, all of our business metrics have been trending in a positive direction,” she said. “We have seen steady growth that has been bolstered by our on-court success as well as smart, diligent work by our marketing staff.”

Krauskopf on Monday rolled out a list of the team’s business successes.

* Overall sponsorship sales are up 64 percent this season.
* Merchandise sales are up 40 percent and rank fifth in the WNBA. Krauskopf thinks that’s a clear sign that fan exuberance is on the upswing.
* Attendance year-to-date has grown 8 percent to average 7,778 per game.      
* The number of new season tickets has grown 25 percent and new season-ticket revenue has increased 61 percent.
* 52 percent of the Fever fan base is men, according to Scarborough research. In the team’s first seasons, only 28 percent of the Fever’s audience was male. The flip in audience demographic is important, Krauskopf said, because men often determine what sporting events families watch on TV and attend live.
“A lot of our male fans are just sports fans. This shows that watching the WNBA is not about gender. It’s about watching great basketball,” Krauskopf said.
* This season, page views on the team’s website, FeverBasketball.com, are up 33 percent and unique visits are up 37 percent.
* On average, 7,093 viewers tune in to watch the Fever play on WNBA Live access, a 16 percent increase over last year. Fans can watch Fever and other WNBA games via an online subscription accessible on FeverBasketball.com.
* The Fever have more than 21,000 Facebook fans and nearly 13,000 Twitter followers. Fever Star Tamika Catchings has nearly 30,000 Twitter followers.

The Fever have qualified for the WNBA playoffs in eight consecutive seasons, the second-longest streak in league history. It has seven straight years of 20 or more wins.

With the team sitting at 8-9 at the halfway mark of the 34-game season, those streaks are in jeopardy.

Despite a difficult injury-riddled start to this season, Krauskopf thinks things are still looking up for the franchise.

“This growth is just the beginning,” she said. “We’re going to continue to market aggressively and get the word out about the great product we have. We think the future here is really bright.”

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