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Aces use TV, video production to enhance their brand

Sitting in ESPN’s Los Angeles studio, Aces coach Becky Hammon approached a conversation with the personalities of “NBA Today” in the same way she would talk to anyone else.

The hot topic during that December day was whether New York Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson could lead his team to an NBA championship. Hammon thought the answer was simple: “No. He’s too small,” she said of the 6-foot-2-inch All-Star.

The backlash she drew from fans with her comments continues now, as Brunson and the Knicks are still alive in the playoffs. Hammon and the players she’s coached to back-to-back WNBA titles just laugh it off.

It comes with the territory for the Aces, a team that stands at the cutting edge of media presentation. Six members of the organization served as on-air talent in some capacity this past offseason, including Hammon and president Nikki Fargas.

The team also employs the most robust video team in the league, allowing for three in-house shows to be produced regularly — “In the Paint,” “Unbreakable” and “Top of the Key”. This dedication to storytelling gives the Aces a competitive edge — and there’s hope the efforts will force the entire league to adapt.

“They’re becoming business moguls, and it’s really exciting and fun to watch,” Hammon said. “I’m happy as heck because you don’t have to go play overseas. You can supplement that income and still stay here and train and be with your family and friends.”

An edge now and later

Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and Kierstan Bell were mainstays at the Aces’ practice facility during the offseason, while other members of the team utilized the luxury to come and go as they tended to other responsibilities, according to head of player development Tyler Marsh.

Superstar forward A’ja Wilson traveled around the country promoting her New York Times bestselling book “Dear Black Girls.” Wilson made multiple TV appearances as part of the tour, including her debut on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” It was nothing new for the two-time MVP, who forayed into broadcasting with the SEC Network in 2019.

Between book tour stops, Wilson worked with Aces staff to refine her game. The offseason was similar for Chelsea Gray, whom Hammon calls the “brains of the operation.”

The point guard spent her offseason rehabbing an injured foot while traveling between studios to work as an analyst for NBC Sports and the ACC Network. WNBA legend Candace Parker, who played for the Aces last season and then retired before the first day of training camp this season, is a staple talent for the “NBA on TNT.” She gave Gray broadcasting tips during the offseason.

Gray said the endeavor helped her look at the game differently, adding that she sent snippets of things she noticed on the job to the Aces’ coaching staff.

“You see it and you break it down,” Gray said. “To be able to kind of verbalize what you see is huge.”

For veteran forward Alysha Clark, this was the first time in five years that she didn’t head overseas to play once the WNBA season ended. She declined offers from multiple teams to stay in the United States and develop her new cooking show.

“It’s not like it’s making any money right now,” Clark said of the show. “The thing I understand is that sometimes a short-term sacrifice is good for a long-term goal.”

Guard Sydney Colson made her debut on Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” after the Aces’ second consecutive championship. Her comedy series “The Syd + TP Show,” which stars Colson and former teammate Theresa Plaisance, came out in September.

“The analysts are sharing how great their basketball minds are and giving back to the game,” Colson said. “Since a lot of our players aren’t going overseas anymore, me and Alysha are exploring what’s next for us in our lives.”

Growing the game

Aces president Nikki Fargas’ love for broadcasting spans to her first job in 1994. She worked as a broadcaster for Fox Sports Net South and has continued utilizing the skill. Along with pairing with ESPN analyst Carolyn Peck on the Aces’ weekly in-house studio show “Top of the Key,” Fargas occasionally serves as a women’s basketball analyst for ESPN.

With the support of team owner Mark Davis, Fargas has led the charge in staffing for the Aces’ media strategy. She is focused on how to bridge the gap between college and professional fans.

“It’s for us as the league and at the team level to tap into that and utilize all resources,” Fargas said. “If you want to grow the game, you have to give (media) access. We have not arrived. There’s so much more that we can continue to do to grow the game, and people want to know who you are as a person.”

Katie Morgan, the Aces’ director of creative video production, has been working to help fans get to know Aces players on a deeper level for three seasons. She’s the only full-time employee with her title in the WNBA. The Seattle Storm hired a director of production Thursday, but no team has as many employees dedicated to video as the Aces.

“We have seven to eight video producers,” Morgan said. “That’s why the Aces are at the top of the league with fan attendance and fan appreciation, because we put out so much stuff that the fans feel connected to the team.”

It was Morgan’s idea to produce documentaries about the Aces’ championship seasons. The most recent piece, “Aces Vs. Everybody,” covered the team’s 2023 title run. It took her two months to edit. Wilson was interviewed for more than an hour for the project.

“These ladies understand how important it is that little girls and boys see their face,” Morgan said. “They get it.”

Jennifer Azzi, the team’s chief business development officer, pushed for Morgan to be hired even when the Aces thought they might not have the budget, and the results have been tangible.

The Aces sold out their season tickets during the offseason, a WNBA first. On Friday, they announced they had sold out a league record 15 of 20 home games.

Contact Callie Lawson-Freeman at clawsonfreeman@reviewjournal.com. Follow @CallieJLaw on X.

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