Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A quick shout out to the WNBA

Detroit beat San Antonio in the WNBA finals. It only took 3 games for them to sweep the series...their 3rd national title in 6 years. Congrats to Katie Smith, Deanna Nolan, and their amazing crew.

And by the way, congrats to Candace Parker who managed to bring home a WNBA MVP award, a WNBA Rookie of the Year award, a collegiate national championship, and an Olympic gold medal. All in 2008.

Watching Game 2 of the WNBA finals, I realized that the WNBA has come a long way. They actually had fans in the stands. They had major partners like T-Mobile presenting the MVP award. IHOP sponsored the half-time show, Discover card was all over the commercials and the arena, and the usual suspects Nike and Gatorade had their own signage up. Overall, I have to say that I was impressed. I was impressed by Katie Smith's ridiculous athleticism (and rather muscular physique) and I was impressed by the general professionalism of the event. It didn't feel like a rec league for overgrown children. It felt like a professional basketball game.

I ran across this letter written by the President of the WNBA, Donna Orender, and posted by Seattle Storm blogger, Jayda Evans. Here's the par t of the letter that struck me the most:

After 12 years, the WNBA deserves more credit for what it has accomplished -- for the athleticism of the players, for the power of the game, for the emotional connection created when our teams nakedly put their passions on the floor.

The product is great; these women are fantastic. Our fans have responded to the high level of play by pushing increased attendance -- including a record 46 sellouts -- TV ratings, Web traffic and merchandise sales. These women are spreading this work ethic and universal language around the world -- note the 41 current-and-former WNBA players on Olympic rosters in Beijing, including the 12 members of Team USA who brought home their fourth consecutive gold medal.

So here we sit after the Finals, with one team -- San Antonio -- coming up short after bringing the excitement of a championship round to their city for the first time, while another team -- Detroit -- cements its legacy as a dynasty by winning their third title in six years. We were squeezed in with the baseball playoffs and football season, competing for the eyes of sports fans, but it is worth noting that just over a decade ago, the choice to tune in to the WNBA didn't exist at all, and that is something worth recognizing.

We do need to recognize the WNBA for its success. I can't believe they actually had 46 sellouts this season. But I'm still a little disappointed about a few things:

1. The Finals could only be found on ESPN2...regardless of the baseball and football seasons, they should have had at least the FINALS with a primetime spot on ESPN.

2. The Finals didn't appear to be sold out, despite the other 46 sellouts in the league this year. If you still haven't filled your stadium at that point, start giving the tickets away. Players should never have to see empty seats in the lower bowl during the WNBA Finals.

3. Please change the color of the damn orange and white basketball. For some reason, that ball makes the athletes seem less athletic. I'm being totally serious. When that ball bricks off the back of the rim, it looks worse than the standard brown basketball doing the same thing in a college or NBA game.

Considering those are my only real complaints, it looks like things are going pretty well. Madd props to you, WNBA, for boosting your ticket sales and improving your web traffic and fan interaction throughout the season. More madd props for getting better-qualified broadcasters with cooler graphics for the half-time analysis. And madd props for staying afloat for 12 whole years--you've proved a lot of people wrong.

I look forward to next year's season already.

1 comment:

Indigo said...

Congrats to the WNBA for coming so far and also on having the staying power...even if it is totally propped up financially by the NBA...which is not a bad thing...it is key to its success and a great way to move women's sports forward. Despite all of our passion and support for female athletes (and Mad props to katie Smith with her incredible performances), the fact remains that it is tv/media and sponsorship deals that drive the business. In the case of the WNBA, congrats to them for getting their best tv deal to date - and the first to include a rights fee...but I totally agree that the finals need to be better positioned and better promoted. If I didn't work for one of the W's biggest sponsors, I would never have known they were on...and if you're one of those lucky ladies to be cruising the mexican riviera with the titanic, I mean olivia, this week, you missed it entirely...sorry girls, but Katie looked amazing...hope you tivo'd it...

Anyway, congrats to the league(s)...the only thing they need to realize is that it is OK to market to lesbian fans...they have money, they will support you, and to calm your biggest fear, yes, they are enough to keep the league going even if 'people think it's so gay'...wake up, they do already and they always will...but what the league needs to realize is that people don't care gay or straight if the quality of play is high enough and the games are accessible enough (menaning more teams in cities, more games on tv and additional media on the internet and mobile phones)...

They are moving in the right direction...and next season is only 5 months away...

Great posting Megan...