Star power drives the WNBA just like it does for every other professional sports association. But every now and then, someone comes along and pushes that star power into a different stratosphere. Shoni Schimmel, Umatilla, came onto the WNBA scene last year as a rising star with a ready-made audience.
“The WNBA is a player’s league and the players drive business,” Angela Taylor, Atlanta Dream president and general manager told ICTMN. “Shoni has brought in a new fan base to the WNBA in the Native American community. With Shoni being the first Native American drafted in the first round, it definitely has a direct impact on the number of Native Americans that are going to be following the WNBA.”
She became the steal of the draft, and went on to be crowned the All-Star MVP. On the business side, Atlanta Dream apparel sales improved. The organization was No. 1 in apparel sales for the first time in its seven-year history, and Schimmel’s No. 23 jersey was the top seller, according to WNBA.com. Specific sales numbers were unavailable, but according to WNBAStore.com, Shoni Schimmel T-shirts price points range $21.95-27.95.
Taylor, a former executive with the Washington Mystics, Minnesota Lynx and the WNBA, said it’s one thing to watch Shoni Madness happen in Louisville, but another to see it happen in your own house. “I don’t think we quite knew what it would be,” Taylor said. “It’s a phenomenon. Shoni transcends the game of basketball in a way that you can’t put your finger on it.”
The 5-foot-9 guard out of Louisville has star power at the gate as well. Native audiences have been following her for years, and that trend exploded in her first season as a professional. Thousands traveled from around the country to see her play in Seattle last year. The Seattle Times reported that the Dream vs. Seattle Storm game in August was the only sell-out of the season for the Storm. And they came to watch Shoni play.
Shoni Schimmel, Atlanta Dream
“Our road attendance increased 12 percent from 2013 to 2014,” Taylor said. “Our home attendance increased 10 percent. There’s no doubt she attracts an audience. I was in Phoenix for the All-Star Game as well as our game against the Phoenix Mercury in August [and the Native audience was substantial]. You see it in every market. You see it in Chicago. You see it in Indiana where Angel [Goodrich, Cherokee, Tulsa Shock], and Shoni have a strong following. We saw increases all over the league. There is no doubt that a LeBron James is going to generate more interest both at home and on the road, and Shoni Schimmel certainly does that in the WNBA.”
Dream coach Michael Cooper compares her to his longtime Los Angeles Lakers teammate Earvin “Magic” Johnson. “She’s kind of like a rock star coming to town,” said Cooper, who was WNBA Coach of the Year in 2000. “Her unique ability is special for this league. Native Americans have never had a player like this, who has achieved the success she has. I love it. I think that is all part of the lore, and what makes Shoni Schimmel so special.”
Tickets are already on sale for the 2015 Atlanta Dream Classic at KFC Yum! Center on May 23 in Louisville, Kentucky. The doubleheader will match the Indiana Fever vs. the Connecticut Sun at 5 p.m. Eastern. The Dream and Washington Mystics play at 7 p.m.
“Professional sports are all about the stars, whether it’s LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning or Russell Wilson,” Taylor said. “With Shoni, it’s different. It’s not just about basketball. It’s about who she is, and that’s what makes her unique.”