How to better promote the WNBA
Although it’s America’s longest running women’s pro league, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) is still seen by too many as below major league status. The MSR talked about this and related issues with coaches, players, analysts, fans and league officials throughout the league’s 17th season; their insights are included in this multi-part series on the WNBA.
The WNBA has over the course of its existence used season-long promotions that frankly bombed. “We Got Next” and posing star players in evening gowns are just two sad examples.
Prior to last spring’s draft, the W launched a new logo as part of what League President Laurel Richie called its “rebranding initiative.” Then came its “3 To See” campaign, for which the president credited ESPN with the season-long theme.
“One of the things that I think is so exciting is [that] many [fans] may have come to the WNBA to see those three [Brittany Griner, Elena Della Donne and Skylar Diggins], and then when they got into the arena, they saw Tamika Catchings, [Diana] Taurasi, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen,” noted Richie.
League officials also boast of “double-digit growth” in television viewing, in-game attendance, and WNBA.com visits, as well as a “three-fold increase” in watching the WNBA Channel on YouTube. However, the 2014 draft lacks the not-in-the-league-yet-but-star-power rookies, so the W can’t again push a “players to see” theme.
Nonetheless, the league must keep attracting fans, both in the arena and out of it. Here are six suggestions for doing so:
Increase television exposure
Despite the ballyhooing of the ESPN six-year extension signed in March, actually the number of televised games on ESPN2 was a whopping two more than last season (from 28 to 30). And again this season, it’s a Jed Clampett “piti-ful” fact that there were only six Minnesota Lynx telecasts locally while 90 percent of Chicago’s games this season were televised in the Windy City. Adds Richie, “I’m always going to say I would love to have more of our games televised, so until every single game is televised on TV, I’m going to say there is more that could be done.”
Promote what you are, not what you might be
Women’s basketball is much more a team game than the NBA. “That’s the thing I’ve noticed the most about women’s basketball,” explains Jim Petersen, Minnesota Lynx assistant coach and Wolves analyst,” the ability to get the second and third option versus the men who it’s one pass, shot or it’s all pick-and-roll, which brings a lot of dribbling but little ball movement.” “We don’t need to compare [the WNBA] to the NBA because it’s not the NBA and it will never be the NBA,” says Lynx/WNBA Analyst Lea B. Olsen.
The WNBA must finally solve those on-line technical glitches
“WNBA Live Access is terrible. You can’t [charge for] it and can’t get access to the games,” observed Phoenix guard Alexis Hornbuckle.
Have an omni-presence all year long
There should be something about the WNBA all year long — promotion shouldn’t be bear-like and hibernate in the off-season that goes through the fall, winter and early spring.
Twelve (teams) are enough
Squash any and all expansion talk: “I know some people think we could add a couple of teams and still have enough players — I don’t think that,” states Olsen.
Sell the WNBA as sports and not “family-friendly entertainment”
“I want to make sure the way in which we represent the WNBA reflects the diversity and athleticism of the players,” says Richie. “If we want to get the average Joe to come watch the game, it’s got to be based on the play of great players — people like Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson, etc.,” concludes Olsen. “We’re at that point where the level of play is there. And it will only get better each year.”
Next week: an exclusive one-on-one interview with WNBA President Laurel Richie
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.