Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘WNBA’ tag

1997-2003 Cleveland Rockers

one comment

Women’s National Basketball Association (1997-2003)

Born: October 30, 1996 – WNBA founding franchise.
Died: December 26, 2003 – Rockers cease operations.

Arena: Gund Arena (11,751)

Team Colors: Black, Silver, White, Orange & Cyan

Owner: Gordon Gund


The Cleveland Rockers were one of the eight original franchises of the Women’s National Basketball Association when the league began play in the summer of 1997.  The Rockers were operated by Gund Arena Company, the owners of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.

During the Rockers inaugural season, the team signed women’s basketball legend Lynette Woodard.  Woodard was 37 years old at the time.  She never previously had the opportunity to play professional in her home country, although she gained considerable press attention in 1985 when she became the first female member of the Harlem Globetrotters.  Woodard started 27 of the Rockers’ 28 games in 1997 and was sixth on the team in scoring with 7.8 points per game.  She went to the WNBA’s Detroit Shock in an expansion draft in 1998 and retired after one final season.  Woodard was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004.

On the court, the Rockers see-sawed between winning seasons and truly terrible campaigns, but still managed to make the playoffs in five of their seven years of play. Their deepest postseason run came in 1998 when they won the East Division and then advanced to the playoff semi-finals before losing to the Phoenix Mercury 2 games to 1 in a best-of-three series.

On September 19, 2003, Gund Arena Company announced it would no longer operate the Rockers after seven money-losing seasons.  The announcement concluded a rough week for women’s sports in the United States, as the 8-team Women’s United Soccer Association had folded just four days earlier due to similar reasons of financial exhaustion.   Some Rockers fans questioned the timing, given that the Gund ownership had just invested considerable money into NBA #1 overall draft pick LeBron James and could expect to reap a huge windfall in new revenue with James’ arrival.  The WNBA kept the Rockers franchise alive on paper until Christmas time as it sought a buyer for the Rockers in a new market, but none materialized.   The league officially terminated the Rockers franchise the day after Christmas in 2003 and the Rockers players were put into a dispersal draft in early January.


==Key Players==

  • Merlakia Jones
  • Eva Nemcova
  • Jennifer Rizzotti
  • Lynette Woodard



Not much Rockers footage to see here, but this is about all you’ll find from the Rockers on YouTube at this point.  This was from ESPN’s “WNBays” ad campaign from the 1999 season, which featured customized ads for each franchise based around a semi-fictional funk band.


WNBA Media Guides

WNBA Game Programs



Written by AC

April 11th, 2013 at 11:54 pm

2000 Sacramento Monarchs

leave a comment

2000 Sacramento Monarchs Media Guide
Women’s National Basketball Association Media Guides
130 pages

It’s one of the hoary old standards of any group ticket sales department: buy a block of 20 or more tickets and we’ll put your name in lights!  In other words, we’ll put the name of your camp/church/school/business/bachelor party up on the Jumbotron for all to see.  It’s a value-add that thrills fans and requires no expense and very little work from the ball club.  Pretty much a win-win all the way around.

Except not so much for the Sacramento Monarchs of the WNBA back in the summer of 2000.  The club stumbled into a national PR dust up over the issue of welcoming lesbian groups on the ARCO Arena videoboard.  In doing so, the Monarchs ultimately brought the topic of WNBA fan demographics and marketing tactics into the national conversation.

So here’s what happened.  A group of lesbian Monarchs fans, which included some season ticket holders, purchased a block of 40 tickets to a game during the summer of 2000.  When their ticket sales rep asked for a name for the videoboard, the group leader said the name was the “Davis Dykes.”

Now I’m going to interrupt the story right here and insert an unsolicited opinion, while acknowledging I don’t have all of the facts.  But it seems to me that this group of fans – which, again, included season ticket holders who presumably loved the Monarchs – put their club in a really difficult position here.  I can’t think of any scenario where I would have allowed a derogatory term for someone’s racial heritage, sexual orientation or religious beliefs on the scoreboard at any of the teams that I worked for, regardless of whether that term had been co-opted, re-framed or embraced by the group it used to be directed against.

But back to the story and the Monarchs first misstep (in my opinion).  Saying no to the “Davis Dykes” group name was an easy call.  Most teams would have done it, I believe.  But then the front office let themselves get drawn into a negotiation over alternative names, which later was leaked to the press.  And in doing so, the Monarchs and the WNBA appeared to reveal a sense of unease – or at least uncertainty – about how to reconcile their sizable GLBT fan base with the modern-day cliche of positioning sub-Major League sporting events as “affordable family entertainment”.

After rejecting the “Davis Dykes” name, the Monarchs front office also surprisingly (to me, anyway) rejected the name “Davis Lesbians”.  Ultimately, the two sides agreed on the name “Davis Rainbow Womyn”.  When the press got hold of the situation, it provided a couple of unhappy PR outcomes.  First, fairly or unfairly, it created the perception that the Monarchs were uncomfortable in acknowledging the obvious presence of lesbians in their fan base.  Second, the rather silly progression of the haggling from “dykes” to “rainbow womyn” provided an irresistible rhetorical truncheon with which knuckle-dragging WNBA antagonists could pummel the four-year old league on the internet and in the broader popular culture.  A ready-made punchline to assert the view that the WNBA was both figuratively and literally too gay – i.e. a slow/boring/lame/unathletic game attended by too many homos.

But there was a happy ending of sorts…

During the ensuing off season, Monarchs owner Joe Maloof took a personal interest in the issue.  In July 2001, the Monarchs hosted a Gay Pride Night, with cooperation and promotion from some of the women from the Davis Dykes group.   The game drew 9,365 fans to ARCO Arena, a surge of more than 15% over the team’s average that season.

In the year following the Monarchs/Dykes dust up, lesbian marketing among WNBA clubs drew substantial press coverage from the likes of USA Today, Time Magazine, Business Week and ESPN, with a focus on what the strategy meant for the league’s stagnant crowd building efforts.   But James Bowman of the Swish Appeal blog makes an argument here that the WNBA’s outreach to a lesbian audience is more of a pendulum swing, rather than a consistent strategy.

The WNBA is still grappling with much broader issue of crowd building, but the Monarchs no longer are.  The Maloofs folded the team in November 2009 after thirteen seasons of play.





Written by AC

May 7th, 2012 at 10:58 pm


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: