That spectacular feat is attributed to the marketing work of NBA Properties, where Rick Welts, 45, is the chief marketing officer.
"We're poised for an unbelievable second season," says Mr. Welts. "We're projecting an average attendance of 10,000 this year."
The National Basketball Association devoted much if not all institutional ad time in NBA broadcasts during the second half of the season to the WNBA. It put into heavy rotation a spot featuring the league's three best recognized players-Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo and Sheryl Swoopes-walking down a hall into the blinding white light of the big time. The "We got next" spot-a deft theft from a scene in "Reservoir Dogs"-oozed attitude.
Much work was invested in giving the WNBA its own identity, right down to the basketball. Mr. Welts recalls how he shot hoops with executives from NBC and Spalding Sports Worldwide in Madison Square Garden using multi-colored balls to test which one would look best on TV.
Working with TV partners ESPN, Lifetime and NBC, NBA was able to sell exclusive, fully integrated packages to Spalding, Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola Co., General Motors Corp., Nike and others.
Advertisers' faith in the NBA marketing machine was such that the league could command prices ranging from $1.5 million to $3 million for three-year deals.
"The wisdom of that approach was pretty evident to all of us," says Mr. Welts. "From a marketing perspective, this was the most radical departure from traditional sports marketing, and it will be the key to our long-term success."