Some things just make sense.
It’s why I reached out to Chris McGowan, the president and CEO of Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, a couple of times in the last few weeks. Among other things, McGowan oversees the Trail Blazers for owner Jody Allen.
I couldn’t help but wonder as Oregon Ducks sensation Sabrina Ionescu became the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft how fortunate it might have been if Portland happened to have a franchise.
Can you imagine?
The Ducks women’s basketball program sells tickets. The Oregon State women’s program sells tickets. Their Civil War matchups have become a hot-ticket highlight.
Compound that with the success across the city of Merritt Paulson’s Portland Thorns. All they’ve done is become the greatest success story in women’s professional sports on the planet, averaging more fans per game (20,098) than even the Trail Blazers (19,633).
Throw in Allen, who assumed ownership after the death of her brother. Everyone knows Jody co-founded Vulcan Inc. Also, that she likes to develop real estate. But what you might not know is that she was the executive producer of a documentary released in 2013 titled, “Girl Rising.”
It told the story of nine girls from nine different countries and their struggle to overcome cultural and social barriers. And right about now, if you’re like me, you’re thinking that Portland should be lobbying for a WNBA franchise.
Said McGowan: “We haven’t looked at the WNBA since I’ve been here and it’s not something we’re currently looking at.”
Well, they ought to be.
Portland’s initial foray into the WNBA was clumsy, brief and all wrong. The Portland Fire joined the league in 2000 and packed up at the end of the 2002 season amid restructuring of the league. The WNBA was in transition, women’s basketball hadn’t yet found a foothold in our state, and tickets were a tough sell.
Average WNBA attendance last season rose to 6,535. Television ratings for the league have swelled in the last two seasons, too. The talent pool has grown. Interest in women’s sports has increased, especially in the Northwest. And despite these things, for the last decade the WNBA got stuck on 12 teams.
Time to make plans to add Nos. 13 and 14. Portland should be one of them, too.
I like the league’s stability. The existing franchises have grown deep roots in their cities. The movement and instability that rocked the launch of the league in 2000 hasn’t been present in the last 10 years. The Tulsa franchise moved to Dallas (2016). The San Antonio team moved to Las Vegas (2017). But both of those relocations were born of sound strategy and opportunity, not desperation.
Portland is ready, isn’t it?
Ionescu was drafted by the New York Liberty. Her Oregon teammates, Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard, became top-10 picks themselves. Oregon State’s Mikayla Pivec was drafted by the Atlanta Dream. And those who believe the interest in women’s college basketball in our state might wane with their departures aren’t paying attention.
Oregon’s Kelly Graves has five McDonald’s All-Americans joining his program next season. Also, Stanford graduate transfer DiJonai Carrington announced that she’s narrowed her choices to Baylor, UConn and Oregon. Meanwhile, Scott Rueck at OSU has a tremendous front court coming back next season and added five-star point guard Greta Kampschroeder to his 2021 class.
The Ducks and Beavers are just getting started. And a source confirmed this week that ESPN, which has seized the women’s basketball interest, is busy trying to put together a nationally televised game next season in Eugene that would feature South Carolina and Oregon. They’re not doing it to be kind. They’re talking with the top-two teams from last season because there’s some unfinished business and that game would be a ratings hit.
McGowan told me on Wednesday that he thinks Oregon could be a good place for a WNBA team. But he added, “we aren’t looking to acquire more teams.”
The world is busy fighting a pandemic. We keep being told that we’ll live differently after this. That we’ll adopt new habits, practices and that more people will work from home. It’s a good opportunity for us all to re-evaluate things. And Trail Blazers Inc. should do that, too.
I don’t know Jody Allen that well. But she’s struck me as thoughtful, interested and engaged in her time running the empire. Space, Technology, Science, Real Estate, Film, Philanthrophy, an NBA franchise, the NFL’s Seahawks, etc. — I can’t help but think Allen wakes up with her head spinning.
Someone needs to ask her a question: Any interest in buying into the women’s basketball revolution going on in Oregon?
The WNBA back in Portland just makes sense.