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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

How the Seattle Storm have won over a lot of fans

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The Seattle Storm play their first game of the season on Sunday, so in honor of the occasion I headed down to a downtown Seattle Starbucks to indulge in some pre-game coffee. After all, players on the Storm aren’t just going for the game against the Dallas Wings — they’re getting ready for the season.

Like many professional athletes who could be in their 20s or early 30s, the players of the Storm are on the clock 365 days a year. Even when the team doesn’t play, there’s always more on their plate. Seattle is a top ten sports market, meaning that there are a lot of Seattleites who are avid sports fans. As the Storm have won three WNBA championships and reached the finals seven times in the past 10 years, a lot of those casual fans will take notice when the Storm are on the road, and come to watch.

And they’re watching. For an average of about 26 million viewers each week during the regular season, the Storm are America’s most watched professional women’s team. That means that, beyond the front office, executives who work with the players to strategize and execute their games are paying attention to what the Storm have done to win. From their business dealings to marketing strategy to social media outreach, it’s obvious that the organization has the best interests of the players in mind, and takes its obligations to them seriously.

The Storm began their business endeavors well before they began competing for championships. The franchise was founded in 1999, and, when the team’s backcourt ace Cappie Pondexter announced she would be leaving the team for an overseas tour the following season, the Seattle Reign’s WNBA team took over the team and transformed it into the Storm.

When the Storm got to the finals for the first time, owner Paul Allen was curious about the inspiration behind the team’s name, so he talked to former coach Anne Donovan about it. Donovan told him that her late daughter Maddy was her inspiration for the name, and they decided to adopt that name.

Since then, the Storm have gotten their name from the names of their first-ever opponents, and have three more all named after different streets: the Chicago Storm, San Antonio Storm and Chicago Storm are all named after streets outside their hometowns. The goal is to build up those fan bases and the Storm did very well during the 2017 season. Their local support turned out in full force for a championship game that drew 14,342 fans, which was an average of 18,617 per game. Not bad for a team that had never won before.

Despite being one of the leaders in basketball, the Storm keep themselves in shape by playing games with Seattle players on the Oregon Institute of Technology. They also train with Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. With players like Amy Rodriguez and Lauren Jackson on the roster, the Storm have five ex-NBA players on their roster.

But while there’s a strong connection between the players and their Seattle fans, there are also divisions between the players and the fans. The players and some of the fan base feel that Seattle fans don’t embrace them the way some fans in other cities do, and the issue of unequal prize money has become a thorny subject.

In 2014, Pondexter filed a complaint against the league, arguing that it was trying to pay less money to the women’s national team than to the men’s national team. The case was heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, and eventually dismissed. While the case still impacts Seattle fans in other cities, it’s unlikely that it will play out here. The state of Washington declined to intervene in the case, and in any event, fans in Seattle shouldn’t expect that issue to flare up again.

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