NEW YORK (AP) More than 60 stakeholders from across the women's basketball landscape got together Wednesday hours before the WNBA draft to discuss a variety of topics critical to the sport.
Viewership, attendance, the role of coaches, international trends, and player perspective were discussed during the three-hour meeting that included representatives from the WNBA, NCAA, USA Basketball, FIBA, coaches, the players' association, officials, apparel companies and journalists.
''Many people in the room have logged years supporting and promoting women's basketball and want to see it remain respected, relevant and in growth mode,'' Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman said.
''The meeting was a unique opportunity for key stakeholders to exchange thoughts and consider the questions we should be asking as we look to keep the women's game at a high level in the years to come. Hopefully we can keep the momentum going and come up with collaborative strategies that help attract more fans and keep us in step with the times.''
While there are many positives around the sport right now with the attendance at the NCAA Tournament at its highest level in 15 years and play in the WNBA at a high level, there are concerns. The number of girls playing basketball across the nation has dropped nearly 10 percent since 2000-01. In 2015, the number of girls playing volleyball for the first time surpassed basketball and it's steadily increased since.
New York Liberty coach Katie Smith was one of the attendees Wednesday, speaking about life as a former college and WNBA player and a coach. Even though she had the draft to focus on a few hours later, Smith wanted to be at the summit.
''I felt that it was important for me to join even with the draft that night,'' Smith said. ''To be in that room with all those contributors to our game and for us to have discussions how and what we need to do to grow our game in all areas is something I value and wanted to be a part of. The game has given me so much and I want to make sure I do my part in pushing it forward for all involved.''
The event was organized by Carol Stiff, ESPN's vice president, programming and acquisitions. Ackerman said that Stiff have been trying to put together the summit for a few years and that the timing worked for most people with many of the attendees in New York for the draft. Ackerman also ran a summit at the FIBA World Championship in 2010 in the Czech Republic.
''The 60 representatives from all levels have a unique perspective on the history, successes and continued opportunities surrounding the sport,'' she said.
''The discussions were educational, candid and spirted, focusing on strategies and enhancements for the future of the game. This type of dialogue is critically important as ESPN continues to expand our women's sports portfolio - specifically our women's basketball commitment at the professional, NCAA and high school levels.''
The group hopes to have another discussion down the road at potentially the WNBA All-Star Game in July or at some point later on.
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