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Boardroom Q&A: Renee Montgomery

Renee Montgomery discusses her busy post-playing career, her role with the Atlanta Dream, and how she’d spend the W’s $75 million investment.

It feels like no matter what Renee Montgomery tries, she succeeds.

The 35-year-old multi-hyphenate won an NCAA basketball title at UConn in 2009, WNBA championships with the Minnesota Lynx in 2015 and 2017, started a successful broadcasting and podcasting career with the Atlanta Hawks (“Montgomery & Co.” and “Takeline”), has her own production company (Think Tank Productions), and is a co-owner and team president of the Atlanta Dream. She’ll also have time to participate in the BIG3 celebrity All-Star game on Aug. 21 in Atlanta.

Montgomery was in Los Angeles last month to celebrate Gatorade‘s high school and youth athletes of the year, and sat down with Boardroom to discuss her busy post-playing career, role with the Dream, how she’d spend the $75 million investment the WNBA received, and how she comes up with new business and production ideas.

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SHLOMO SPRUNG: You’re here supporting Gatorade’s youth players of the year. Why is it important for you to support this kind of cause and all these kids out here?

RENEE MONTGOMERY: I think it’s lit what Gatorade’s doing every year to put on such a big event. It happens before the ESPYs every year, so there’s that energy in the city. Not to mention it’s All-Star going on right now at Dodger Stadium. Imagine being in high school — like I was the West Virginia Gatorade Athlete of the Year. And to me that was a big deal in itself. They didn’t fly me out here for this event. So just to see the athletes of the year that are nominated to have such an event to look forward to, it makes all your work just feel validated.

SS: What did you get when you won the West Virginia award?

RM: I think they gave us a plaque, they gave me a little swag bag. And to me that was everything because I’m pretty sure I wore that water bottle out. It was more so about the athlete than the gifts, but this next-gen, just being able to be here and see the energy they have about going to college, where they’re going. It’s an exciting time.

SS: A lot of people don’t really know what to do when their playing careers end. You kind of have the opposite problem, if it’s a problem. What’s the typical day like in your post-playing life?

RM: No day is the same, but the typical day starts with emails every morning. So I wake up to Twitter and emails. Then it depends on the day. If I had a Hawks game that I called the night before that went late and it was a west coast game, I’m gonna wake up a little later. But I would say typically around 8, I’m gonna be checking emails and responding to emails. Then I start with the business and then usually later into the day starts the filming, whether that’s WNBA Weekly or Montgomery & Co podcast, and there’s usually a little bit of emails and meetings with the Dream. I try to get to the office more. I need to get in the office more, but they do a lot on Zoom to help make sure I’m present.

SS: You’re doing so many different things, from podcasts and investments, the Dream and everything else. What do you think is the most surprising thing you’re into right now?

RM: I would say the Atlanta Dream. Being the co-owner and vice president is always like, when I wake up and I have things that I need to do, I always think this is crazy. I have things I need to do as a vice president. It’s just the concept of being an executive at a big business. I went straight from being a player where everything was focused on the championship, and now I have different goals. We want to sell out, especially on the weekends. Friday night vibes, like that’s what we want. So there’s certain things now, like making sure that the Dream brand people understand that we’re a luxury brand. If it ain’t lit, if it ain’t sexy, it ain’t us. So there are just different goals that I have now.

SS: Have brands and fans gravitated toward that luxury status, or is it an effort to get there?

RM: It’s like, if you know, you know. Some brands have gravitated quickly, like Microsoft did a huge multi-year deal with us. And I’m like holy Microsoft, yes, this is what we need. Brands like that have came on board quickly and we have other brands as well, but I want more brands. In the women’s sports space, I’m so excited about the brands we do have and I’m not taking them for granted, but we want to have the same type of partnerships you see with the NBA or NFL with a sponsor in every category. We have the brand to do it.

SS: Based off the Player of the Year theme, what advice would you give to current players to prepare them for life after basketball of whatever sport they’re in?

RM: That’s one of the main things I’ve been trying to talk to the players about. What is their thing? Because right now you’re at the Gatorade Athlete of the Year awards. Your brand is growing at a rapid rate, NIL is in college now. Whether people love it or hate it, it’s a thing. So you’re a brand. You don’t have to wait until after sports anymore. It used to be, what do you want to do after sports? Now, it’s what do you want to do right now as athletes.

For me, people would ask me and I’d say I want to get into entertainment. That means I want to host, I want to be an analyst. So it’s not even a thing they have to wait to do anymore. I was with Paige [Bueckers] and Aliyah [Boston] doing an OTE broadcast and they’re in college right now. That’s what I talked to them about. Like, you’re a brand right now.

SS: Is there a business venture you haven’t gone into yet that you want to pursue?

RM: There’s plenty I haven’t gone into yet, but the thing that’s top-of-mind for me is productions. You see all the cameras around us, and a lot of times Sirena Grace, my wife and co-founder of [Think Tank Productions], we’re pitching ideas to other people. And then we started to see that our ideas were getting picked up a lot. So we saw there’s something to this. So that’s how we came up with Think Tank Productions, because we have a lot of ideas and we want to see them through. That’s what’s really exciting for me.

SS: As an athlete, how validating is it to see these ideas come to life?

RM: Man, it’s crazy because when you have an idea, your first thing is like ‘are people going to care?’ Every time we have an idea, we ask why would people watch? Why would people care? Is this even entertaining? So when it gets picked up and people are like ‘yo, I messed with that,’ I’m like ‘what?’ Because it’s just something that started so small, an idea in my notes or Sirena’s notes, and then you see it in real life. The Montgomery & Co. podcast is that thing.

SS: Where do you get your best ideas from? I get really good ideas in the shower.

RM: Oh my gosh, I have this thing I call shower thoughts. By the way, in Cali I think a lot of people would have different answers than shower thoughts [laughs].

SS: That can be an answer, too.

RM: For me, my imagination has been with me. I’m very energetic and have high energy. All that just never left as a kid. Some people are just called big kids, and that’s where my ideas come from, and Sirena is the same. We’ll just be sitting in the room and we’ll be like ‘oh, this will be hilarious if this happened’ or, ‘oh, he should have done this.’ And then it would be a cool concept if this whole thing was different. And that’s how we just start to bounce [ideas] back and forth. And that’s how production ideas come about.

SS: So the WNBA recently raised $75 million. What do you think should be the league’s top priorities on how to best spend that capital?

RM: That’s tough because with the WNBA, I’m a real fan of the W even though I’m no longer playing and I’m a co-owner and vice president. I’m a fan most of all. So as a fan, what I want to see is more access to content, more marketing, more avenues of how to digest women’s sports. What I mean by that is, if I wanted to know anything about an NBA player, I could Google it and there’s probably 20 articles on that player or topic. I don’t know if it’s the same for WNBA players as it is for men’s leagues.

And of course the travel. I was a player, so I’ve been in a situation where I was on a back-to-back and the flight got delayed and we had to go directly to the gym to play. I was in those situations before. So I think the hotel stay and how you travel is so important because that’s how you recover. The marketing and the travel are the first two places I’d start.

SS: You’ve played across all levels of professional basketball, including overseas during the offseason. How much money do you think a player would realistically need to make in the WNBA so they wouldn’t also have to play overseas?

RM: I think that’s player based. Some people could say they could make $250,000 and live comfortably. And where you’re living might matter because we see right now with inflation and everything going on, that all that matters. But I think we all understand and there’s a dramatic disparity. So we know that the prioritization clause is coming into hand, so that’s going to have a big play in things. But for me, I just think that we need a big deal, one of those big TV deals that just dramatically changes the scope of contracts.

SS:  Back in the day, even in baseball and football, all these players had to work offseason jobs.

RM: Yeah. We’re not abnormal [laughs].

SS: And then when it got to a point where they didn’t need to do that, it was an enormous step in the growth and development of that sport.

RM: It is. It’s a growth process, but there’s a certain avenue to get to that. If you look at the NBA deals with the $220 million max, it only started once the new TV deal hit. So for me, it’s less about the growth of the league, but we’ve proven the numbers are there now. So it’s just on who’s going to lean in? What broadcaster, what company, what conglomerate, what streaming platform is going to put one of those big contracts up that changes the landscape of all contracts?

SS: Call them out. Who do you want?

RM: I want whoever’s gonna put the money up. I don’t have a preference. That’s why I said streaming. Everything’s changing now. So it doesn’t even have to be your typical cable network that puts money up. I don’t care who puts the money up, because Amazon’s got just as much money now as almost any other company. So I don’t care who it is, but somebody needs to. That’s my point.

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