January 30, 2024
WNBA Golden State’s first president is ready to set a vision
Jess Smith: “There is a lot more to come.”
SAN FRANCISCO — With Warriors owner Joe Lacob — the man who declared back in October that his new WNBA franchise would win a title in its first five years — sitting in the front row, Jess Smith laughed, smiled and said the only thing she could when asked about Lacob’s declaration: “I love it.”
WNBA Golden State, as the still to be named team will be called for at least a couple more months, announced Smith as the franchise’s first-ever team president on Tuesday morning, touting the 37-year-old New York native as an innovative business leader and the perfect fit to set the team on its inaugural course.
On Tuesday evening, with her husband Scott, 4-year-old daughter Kipton, best friend, mother and mother-in-law sitting in the front row next to Lacob, Smith shared both her excitement and her vision for the first new WNBA franchise since 2008.
“This process has been really affirming,” Smith said. “Coming to this organization, and being in women’s sports for the past four years, I have thought a lot about intentions and why you are here and what your vision is in terms of what we are building. Being genuine was really important to me, and through every single meeting it was beyond apparent that the same expertise and passion and drive that they have every day for the Warriors is exactly what they want to replicate here.”
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Warriors team president Brandon Schneider indicated that the team’s name and branding will likely be revealed in the next two months. The team is moving forward with locker room facilities at the Chase Center and the team’s practice facility in Oakland. More than 4,000 season ticket deposits have been paid to date and a general manager will likely be named within six months. That general manager will be in position to hire the basketball staff, including the head coach.
“This was the first domino because there is so much we need to do, business-wise,” Schneider said. “We have a huge list of people interested in being a general manager. People have reached out. So we’ve started to curate that.”
But getting Smith in place is a huge first step following the team’s announcement last fall.
“We were looking for somebody who had cross-functional leadership experience, we were looking for someone entrepreneurial and innovative, someone who is really going to push the envelope,” Schneider said. “And we wanted someone who is the right cultural fit. We think she checks every box.”
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Smith, Schneider said, was the unanimous pick of the executive team, including owners Lacob and Peter Gruber.
While Lacob already declared his quick title intentions, Schneider said the team will expect consistent sell-outs as well.
Smith joked, “I don’t think they will let that one slide.”
The growth of women’s sports, and women’s basketball in particular, provides an opportunity for the Warriors and for Smith on the business side. The product is both proven and infinitely easier to sell.
“You have investment coming in at the ownership level, you have partners understanding what they are responsible for, you have media and broadcast deals and you have consumers rewarding thenm for all of those decisions,” Smith said. “There is a lot more to come.”
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Smith’s biggest early challenge will be generating excitement for a team without players, a coach or, at least for a little while longer, a brand. She did the same thing during her four years at Angel City FC of the NWSL.
“Being part of women’s sports is about a vision. It’s about emotion and about folks coming together to build collectively and I think inviting people into that process in the earliest phases is such a powerful thing,” Smith said. “So it’s about making sure we have the vision, that people know exactly who we are, what we’re going to do and how they can be a part of it with us.”
Smith’s voice choked with emotion when asked how her stature as a woman leading this team would impact young girls across the Bay Area.
“I was one of them,” Smith said. “So that’s a little emotional for me to hear, but what an honor to be able to build something I hope they will be incredibly proud of.”
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Written by Michelle Smith
Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for ESPN.com, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as Pac-12.com and WNBA.com. She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.