As the new president of Sparks Vanessa Shay intends to attract fans

This undersized high school point guard was never destined for WNBA stardom on the pitch. but Vanessa Shay is getting a chance to make a mark in the league now.

As the newly hired president of the Los Angeles Sparks, Shay will be tasked with leading the team to new commercial success, capitalizing on the growing growth of women’s sports as she competes in a crowded sports market. Having held a vacant position for more than two years since former president Danita Johnson joined DC United’s front office, Shay will be responsible for attracting more corporate sponsors and increasing fan attendance for one of the original three final teams. remained of the WNBA.

With the championship already in its 26th year, Shay told the Los Angeles Times that he believes, “The next 25 years of the sparks it’s a completely different platform ”.

After a short stint as the newborn girl’s head of revenue San Diego Wave FC and 13 years with AEG, Shay will take some time to study the inner workings of the Sparks and decipher the best way forward. During her first few hours on the job, she already knew the Sparks needed a brand awareness campaign to remember the three-time WNBA champions in Los Angeles.

“I believe that in recent years, due to the pandemic and many other circumstances beyond the control of the WNBA or the Sparks, we have lost who we are,” said Shay. “I don’t think the Sparks are number one for every traditional sports fan in Los Angeles and we need to change that. We must make sure that the fans of the Ramfan of the Dodgersfan of the kings of Los Angeles I’m also supportive and I’m a fan of the women’s professional sports team that has been here for 25 years ”.

The Sparks, who won them last championship in 2016, led the league in attendance for three consecutive years, averaging over 11,000 in 2019, before the pandemic closed the arenas in 2020. When the Sparks returned to the home market in 2021, they played at the Los Angeles Convention Center. . The limited seats for 11 of the 16 home games have reduced their average attendance to a minimum of 1,144, according to Across the Timelinea women’s basketball database.

Attendance across the league has increased, averaging 2,606 across the WNBA due to pandemic guidelines for indoor venues. Yet fans have expressed their interest in other ways. The WNBA celebrated its 25th season with the most watched regular season since 2008, with a 51% increase in admissions over the 2020 season.

The league will be counting on a big payday when its TV contract is negotiated in 2025, and Shay said his role in helping set the WNBA for the best broadcast deal is to build the Sparks fan base. and show broadcast partners that interest in women’s basketball is still high.

The Sparks are expected to get a boost this year by returning to the Arena, where they will face the Minnesota Lynx in Tuesday’s home opener. Last year, when the Sparks moved from the Convention Center to their downtown headquarters, then known as the Staples Center, they drew an average crowd of 2,398 spectators during their last five games, nearly three times the Convention Center average.

As one of four professional teams currently vying for time at the Arena, the Sparks have consistently faced scheduling jams for the popular venue which also hosts concerts and other sporting events. Before being pushed to the Convention Center last year, the Sparks were forced to host playoff games at Long Beach State’s Pauley Pavilion and Walter Pyramid.

The Sparks huddle up before the match against the Connecticut Sun.

The Sparks reunite before their game against the Connecticut Sun on September 9, 2021 in Los Angeles.

(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Scheduling conflicts plague many teams across the league, including attendance leaders Phoenix Mercury. The team that went to the WNBA Finals last year had multiple playoff games moved to nearby college arenas when the town’s Footprint Center was hosting a concert and “Disney on Ice.”

Shay, who has been AEG’s vice president of global partnerships for 13 years, knows Arena. He could walk through its hallways with his eyes closed, he said, and his existing relationship with the arena-owned group should serve the Sparks as they aim to attract more fans and prove their home games worth.

“If we run out of Arena, they won’t hurt us,” Shay said. “We need fans, we need a fan base, we need to show ownership of these venues that women’s sport is profitable for these arenas and it’s something real that fans demand. So if we can do it together as a community, I think all the tides will rise with women’s sports. “

After skipping the playoffs for the first time since 2011, the Sparks are hoping a rebuilt roster will give their fans something to cheer about. Head coach and general manager Derek Fisher added the natives of Southern California Jordan Canada and Katie Lou Samuelson, young point guard Chennedy Carter and an established WNBA star at center Liz Cambage. Canada, a five-year WNBA veteran who is in her first full-time starting position after supporting Sue Bird in Seattle, leads the Sparks with 15.5 points per game.

Emphasizing the history of Canada as a UCLA and Windward star, Sparks owner Magic Johnson took to Twitter to encourage fans to play Sparks games. Shay will take the marketing campaigns from here.

“On the ground, we are moving forward quickly,” said Shay, “now commercial operations must catch up.”