With 5:06 remaining in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals, Seattle’s Sami Whitcomb made a 3-pointer to put the Storm up by 13 points against the Washington Mystics. It was in that moment that Storm Senior Director of Marketing Kenny Dow knew his team was going to win the championship. He was seated courtside behind behind the basket, along with Seth Dahle, who was running the team’s Twitter account.
“In our scenario, we had all the graphics prepped, so once she hit that, we started prepping everything, and we were ready to go with the win,” said Dow. “We were taking advantage of what we were seeing from fans on social and at the watch party and getting that out there… It was a very fun experience, being able to take what happened in the arena and tell that story in a unique way and give content to our fans.”
In fact, Dow realized there was so much going on that he didn’t even have time to bask in the celebration.
“Looking back, you win, and Seth and I didn’t really take in the moment,” Dow said. “We just went to work, so it’s interesting looking back. In the digital landscape, you just have to go. We were just pumping out content for 45 minutes straight afterward.”
Even before winning it all, the team had high expectations. Heading into the playoffs, the Storm had the luxury of a strong regular season and thus high spirits.
“Being the number-one seed, we were confident,” Dow said. “We wanted to exude that confidence, partly to translate into ticket sales, and also to show content and be more bold, like ‘We’re going to win this thing.’… There was no reason for us to shy away.”
Despite the confidence, the Storm’s future came into question in Game 4 of the Conference Finals against the Phoenix Mercury. Sue Bird suffered a broken nose in the 86-84 loss, and the teams would face off in a decisive Game 5. However, Dow and his team were unfazed — in fact, they capitalized.
“The coolest thing we did during whole playoff run was something unprepared,” Dow said. “[Bird] broke her nose in 2004 and then won championship, so we went out with that digitally with an email to fans, quoting Sue saying, ‘I will play in Game 5.’ Through the mask campaign, we put that out there, and fans made nose bandages, and we had t-shirts available in the team shop with a mask on it that said ‘Legend.’ The ‘Fear the Mask’ thing took over.”
Bird came out with a vengeance in Game 5, with an explosive, 14-point fourth quarter as the Storm went on to earn a 94-84 win and a trip to the WNBA Finals. Throughout the rest of the playoffs and beyond, the legend of Bird continued.
“The ‘mask mentality’ became real, and fans owned it,” Dow said. “At the championship rally, Sue had the mask strapped to her pocket, and she had it at FIBA. We jumped on it and were able to adjust our strategy to focus on Sue and the mask. We even used a Batman quote.”
Dow’s work didn’t end after the playoffs ended. The Storm still had its championship parade and rally, and a number of Storm players competed in FIBA World Cup action afterward.
“We continued to hit the video content on social, and we did emails to people and got media involved and players doing media appearances,” Dow said.
Much of the Storm’s strategy during the playoffs and after the win was playing into the community aspect with its #WeRepSeattle campaign (which became #WeRepS3ATTLE to acknowledge the team’s third championship).
— Seattle Storm (@seattlestorm) September 16, 2018
“Our messaging was #WeRepSeattle — bringing a championship home to Seattle, like ‘This is for you,’” Dow said. “A lot of teams talk about playing to that city mentality. We really own that in what we do as an organization. We’re in the community 12 months out of the year — we do so much community work. #WeRepSeattle goes beyond basketball. It’s very organic, and we feel that Seattle love between our fans and players.”
“What makes Seattle so special is its support for women’s sports and the WNBA, and it’s so apparent people love to play here,” he added.
Thank you, Seattle! ???????? pic.twitter.com/jQgCKHwJi4
— Seattle Storm (@seattlestorm) September 16, 2018
Dow also mentioned that having other leagues in Seattle supporting the Storm meant a great deal to the team. The Seahawks, Reign, Sounders and the University of Washington all chimed in on social.
“It’s big-time, and the WNBA is big-time, and Seattle really proves that, which is exciting,” he said. “Everyone in our city supports each other. Everyone is supporting each other, and that helps grow our digital following, that crossover from digital teams.”
The fan connection with the players is what sets the WNBA apart from other leagues, according to Dow.
“The great thing about the WNBA and the Storm is that what separates us from other sports is that access to players and unique touchpoint with fans,” he said. “I think the key focus we try to think of is, ‘What is the content that our fans want?’ We try to look at analytics and what our fans are responding to and engaging with.”
Although the Finals and ensuing celebrations may be over, the offseason still brings content opportunities, so Dow and his team will continue to showcase Storm players. On top of weekly player profiles, they are promoting the players who are competing abroad — an Instagram takeover by Whitcomb, who is competing in France, for example.
“It’s about our players and telling the story of our players and how they’re developing their game overseas,” Dow said. “We’re building them up as basketball players and people, and creating that touchpoint for fans to get to know our players and get invested because our team is going to be around for a while.”