NEW YORK — Donna Orender is stepping down as president of the WNBA at the end of the year to launch her own independent marketing, media and strategy company.
The former PGA Tour executive has been in charge of the women's league since 2005, and was instrumental in negotiating an eight-year extension of the league's television rights contracts that ensured up to 30 games would be shown annually on ABC and ESPN2. She also negotiated a six-year contract extension with the league's players association that ensured labor peace.
"While delivering a major-league experience on the court, the WNBA is truly a beacon for global, social and cultural change off the court," Orender said in a statement. "The opportunity to play a role in growing this league, building its business and leveraging the power of sports to truly help change people's lives has been extraordinary."
NBA vice president Chris Granger will assume Orender's duties on an interim basis beginning Jan. 1, 2011, and a search for her permanent successor will begin immediately.
Orender plans to serve as a consultant to the WNBA while launching her own company.
"Donna's contributions to the WNBA and women's sports have been extraordinary," NBA Commissioner David Stern said. "Under her leadership, the WNBA has continued its growth and further solidified its position as an icon for social change, achievement and diversity.
"We are grateful for her passion and dedication and look forward to her continuing counsel as we build upon the success she helped sustain."
Orender replaced Val Ackerman, the league's first president, in April 2005, and has helped the WNBA grow attendance, TV ratings and sponsorship activations over the past five years.
The league has lost three teams — Charlotte, Houston and Sacramento — in the last four years, and another sold and moved — the Shock, from Detroit to Tulsa. But Orender has said she is confident there is now stability among the remaining 12 teams.
Among the league's new marketing deals this past season were Coca-Cola, Pirate's Booty and Jamba Juice, and four teams had new sponsorship deals that include logos on jerseys — Phoenix (Lifelock), Los Angeles (Farmer's Insurance), Seattle (Bing) and New York (Foxwoods).
"It was simply time for me to take this step in my life," Orender said. "My work on behalf of women and girls around the world will only deepen as will my ongoing engagement in sports. I am pleased to be able to continue my involvement with the WNBA as I move ahead."