*After five years of running the WNBA, the league’s president, Laurel J. Richie is stepping down.
Business Insider via the Associated Press reports that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was informed of Richie’s decision during a discussion the two had last week. The reason for Richie’s exit stems from a desire to pursue other opportunities that include being an advocate for girls and young women.
“I would say it was an amazing ride,” Richie told the AP in a phone interview, adding that she was not forced out. It was her decision to go.
“It feels like it’s time,” she said. “I think really taking stock at what’s been accomplished in the last five seasons. I’m proud of the work that we were able to accomplish.”
“I’m sorry she’s leaving. She did an excellent job over the last five years but there remains a lot of work to do,” Silver said. “Obviously I made comments not so long ago about my disappointment, it was not about Laurel in anyway, but where the WNBA stands in its 19th year as we go into its 20th year.”
Silver’s comments were made about six weeks ago as he shared his thoughts on the WNBA, saying that the league “would have broken through by now.”
“My comments were directed at my disappointment having been someone with Val Ackerman and Gary Stevenson who wrote the original business plan for the WNBA,” Silver said. “I thought we’d be further along, predicted we’d be further along. Sold to owners in the WNBA and NBA on premise that we’d be further along by now.”
Silver went on to echo Richie by emphasizing that it was her choice to leave the WNBA.
Since becoming the league’s president in May 2011 and the first African-American to lead a major sports league, Riche five seasons were marked by her taking the lead in improving the visibility of WNBA players. Her accomplishments include completing an eight-year collective bargaining agreement with the players to ensure some financial stability for the teams as well as extending a contract with ESPN through 2025.
Yet despite an impressive Finals to close out the WNBA’s 19th season with strong ratings, the regular season had its lowest average attendance in league history. According to the AP, the low turnout stemmed from San Antonio moving arenas while its normal home court was being renovated. In addition there was Tulsa announcing it was moving to Dallas in 2016, WNBA star player Brittney Griner’s arrest for domestic violence coupled with her brief marriage and divorce to All-Star Glory Johnson, not to mention Diana Taurasi sitting out the year after being paid by her Russian team to skip the WNBA season and Candace Parker missing the first half of the season to rest.
In terms of WNBA teams, 2014 saw Richie overseeing the purchase of the Los Angeles Sparks by Guggenheim Partners and Magic Johnson.
As the WNBA immediately begins its search for a new league president, NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum will oversee the WNBA until a new president is hired.
“We will take however long it’s necessary to do a thorough process,” Silver told the AP. “The discussions with Laurel happened over a very quick period. It was unexpected. We don’t have a secret list in the drawer.”