Sports Illustrated decided to celebrate the WNBA’s 25th season with a cover story on the league, but it wasn’t the feel good story many readers were expecting.
In fact, the magazine seemed to go to great lengths to chide people for not religiously watching the league and spent most of the piece complaining about what the WNBA thought they deserved
The article, which was written by Kate Fagan, sets the tone for what’s to come on the cover by claiming that there are “no excuses not to watch.”
As if that wasn’t condescending enough for those that just don’t enjoy female basketball, the cover story had a tagline that read, “Why it’s time to buy in on the WNBA( and why the reasons you haven’t are flawed)
Not only did this article practically browbeat fans that might just not have any interest, it also explained away their own failures as someone else’s fault.
For example, instead of owning up to the fact that their constant grandstanding on social issues makes them a polarizing entity, they blame the lack of coverage as the reason why the league isn’t bigger.
And here’s the thing. There’s not even anything wrong with their grandstanding politically. In all honesty, seeing the players don jerseys with the phrase,” say her name in support of police shooting victim, Breonna Taylor was beyond touching.
They also wore jerseys with the words black lives matter, which was another great way to bring attention to the problem of police brutality.
With that being said however, politics has a way of dividing people and the WNBA runs the risk of doing this every time they speak on a social issue.
Beyond that, this idea that more coverage should be devoted to their league when they can’t justify the attention is absolutely insane. It also goes to show how delusional some of this thinking really is.
“People in every other industry understand that demand is created by the marketers and the decision makers” Nefertiti Walker, who is a professor of sport business at the UMass-Amherst claimed in a statement,”
“they know: people watch what you tell them to watch, what you create bells and whistles around them watching.”
While that kind of thinking may have worked for other sports leagues, it hasn’t been the case for the WNBA, and the problem is multi pronged. Along with the aforementioned political stances that alienate some viewers, they also don’t have a lot going for them when it comes to ways to reach a mainstream audience.
And that’s not necessarily the WNBA’s fault, but it isn’t the media’s fault either. It just all comes down to the fact that like some other sports in the world, there isn’t as big of an audience for it.
One could also make the claim that this comparison between men and women’s sports is unfair due to a variety of different factors.
For instance, most reasonable people in today’s age aren’t going to turn off a game just because it is women playing versus men playing. That might be what the WNBA wants to blame for their problems, but it seems to be a preference issue.
Think about it like this. Whether WNBA fans want to admit it or not, they bring a very different style of play to the game than the men do.
Unfortunately for the league, this results in slower paced games that don’t bring the same intensity level. That doesn’t mean there is no intensity there, especially since these teams are all fighting for a championship, but it’s not at the same level.
Then there’s the problem of emotional investment and while Dr. Walker is right in the fact that bells and whistles attract a crowd, they seem to forget that there isn’t a lot of those to work with here.
“ According to Sports Business Journal, Each NBA game has an average of 1.2 million viewers, while WNBA games have less than half that amount, resulting in a significant revenue gap. “
“For example, Entertainment and Sports Programming Network(ESPN) paid the NBA 2.6 billion dollars for the rights to broadcast basketball games in 2019. This is a staggering number compared to the 25 million dollars ESPN paid the WNBA for the rights to broadcast their games”
Kagan even admits that she pitched idea after idea to increase attention for the WNBA during her time at ESPN, but they either were complete disasters or shot down outright.
The million dollar question here is what is there to market when it comes to the WNBA? Seriously, the league is down to 12 teams, they play a partial season that has trouble popping a rating on a slow night, and take every opportunity they can to make something political.
All this does is create a never ending cycle that allows the WNBA to repeatedly play the victim complex while doing nothing to actually change.
The league also has the added benefit of being subsidised and championed by the NBA on a constant basis, giving them more opportunities to play victim. Some of the players even have the gull to bite the hand that feeds them.
Maybe their delusion can best be summed up by the statement made by Sue Bird, who claimed during the article that “every direction we turned, we were walking into a wall for representing the folks at society’s margins.”
This was followed up by A’ja Wilson, who claimed that “people think you’re supposed to look and talk and be a certain way but the WNBA blasts all that stuff out the water”
This is where we see the victim complex at its fullest. Now, they do deserve credit for sticking up for the social causes they have and staying true to themselves the whole way, but that doesn’t mean they are deserving of your attention.
That also doesn’t mean anyone needs an excuse not to watch what people see as not as entertaining as their male counterparts.
Finally, this means that the burden falls on the WNBA to make themselves watchable, and they just haven’t done that. There’s been no improvement of play, no change in gimmick and nothing that brings something new to the table.
In the end, there are a variety of ways that the WNBA can remedy this, it’s all a matter of how they do it though. For example, maybe they can find ways to start courting overseas talent that would otherwise stay clear of the WNBA.
At least that way, the league brings an uptick in talent, which could theoretically improve play. It also might allow for the WNBA to finally find more appealing talent that they can market to the general audience.
Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but it could really improve the on-court product if the best players in the world were playing.