The golf industry’s thin ranks of women executives became thinner still as Donna Orender – one of the PGA Tour’s top officers – announced Feb. 15 she was leaving to become president of the WNBA.
Her decision ends a 17-year tenure with the Tour that she completes as senior vice president of strategic development, one of only three positions that comprise the Office of the Commissioner.
But the move to oversee women’s professional basketball comes as no surprise. Orender’s name immediately emerged on the short list of candidates to replace outgoing WNBA president Val Ackerman because of Orender’s business experience and roots in basketball.
Orender, who is married to M.G. Orender, former president of the PGA of America, played three seasons in the Women’s Professional Basketball League, the first U.S. women’s professional basketball league that operated from 1978 to 1981.
“I am thrilled to return to the sport of basketball, which has taught me so much and has assisted me
in developing the skills necessary to succeed in the world of business,” said Orender, whose duties as the second president of the 8-year-old women’s league will begin in April. The WNBA and its 14 teams are affiliated with the NBA.
Said NBA commissioner David Stern: “She combines a background, knowledge and passion for the sport of basketball with a record of demonstrated expertise and success in every aspect of the business of sports: television, marketing, sponsorship and new media.”
Orender has been credited with playing a prominent role in the Tour’s TV contract negotiations, which culminated in its current $850 million, four-year deal that has helped spike tournament purses to unprecedented levels. Many industry observers expected Orender would be back at the negotiating table again this summer to help forge a new TV package slated to take effect in 2007.
But PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Orender had been busy tackling other projects, and he already was prepared to proceed without her in what is expected to be challenging negotiations. Promoted to her most recent post in 2001, Orender was responsible for development and management of the Tour’s strategic direction across all business lines and had direct oversight of new media initiatives, pgatour.com and brand management services.
“She hasn’t had line responsibility for television in a number of years, but she was still part of the team,” Finchem said. “I manage television negotiations. In every league, the commissioner – it’s such a big part of their business – they lead.
And we have a broad team. I like to say that the graveyards are full of people who thought they might have been indispensable, and that certainly will apply to me one day.”
Finchem said he will not fill Orender’s vacant post; instead her duties will be absorbed elsewhere within the Tour’s management.
“We’re excited for Donna; she’s really enthusiastic about (heading to the WNBA),” Finchem said. “But it’s not going to hold us back in terms of how to move forward.”
- Mike Mazur contributed