By Charles Hallman
The Minnesota Lynx have two first-round picks in next year’s draft — one of which will be a lottery pick. It would appear on the surface that the newly crowned WNBA champions won’t need them to stay competitive.
“Obviously our team probably doesn’t need anything,” says Lynx Assistant Coach Shelly Patterson. “Just like Maya [Moore] came in on an already good team, the player that we choose in 2012 will be doing the same thing. She may have to sit and wait for her own turn.”
However, the Lynx do have five current players who are eligible for free agency this off season: Candice Wiggins, Charde Houston and Alexis Hornbuckle all are restricted free agents; Taj McWilliams-Franklin is unrestricted; and the team has exclusive negotiating rights on Jessica Adair.
Furthermore, Minnesota needs to find a capable point guard to come off the bench, either through trade, free agency or the draft.
Speaking of point guards…
Both University of Minnesota basketball teams may have freshman lead guards starting for them this season: Andre Hollins (men) and Rachel Banham (women). “I don’t mind starting freshmen,” admits U of M Men’s Coach Tubby Smith.
“You got to have a point guard,” notes Women’s Coach Pam Borton.
Lynx a hit on cable, in stores
The team’s three-game sweep of Atlanta posted a four-percent increase in viewers from last year’s finals on ESPN, network and league officials recently announced. The final game viewership was up 10 percent from a year ago (600,000 vs. 545,000), which also featured the Dream against Seattle, the eventual champion.
The entire series averaged 515,000 viewers; last year it was 495,000 viewers on ABC and ESPN2.
Also, the Lynx was the top selling team in league merchandise this season. Maya Moore (or anything that had her name on it) was the top-selling player on WNBAStore.com. Online league merchandise sales also increased 12 percent over last year.
Overall, ESPN2 officials also say that it had the most-viewed WNBA regular season since 2005, averaging 270,000 viewers (up five percent from 2010). Viewership of this year’s All-Star Game on ABC was up 46 percent from the 2009 contest (there wasn’t an All-Star game played last summer).
WNBA officials also announced that the 2011 regular season saw an increase in attendance for the fifth consecutive year: Minnesota (+10.8 percent) was one of three teams that saw more fans; the other two were Chicago (+29 percent) and Washington (+11.7 percent).
However, when questions come up annually on attendance figures, it’s worth asking how accurate the answers are. Do they also include ticket giveaways and tickets given to sponsors but not used? This has been a perennial problem with stated team-by-team attendance figures reconciling with actual bodies in the seats.
In her first finals, WNBA President Laurel Richie was asked by reporters in Minneapolis to clarify this oft-discussed issue.
“I will admit it is much more complex than I thought it was coming in,” replied Richie, who was named league president in April. “We have a ton of different measures when it comes to measuring our attendance,” she explained.
“We look at the number of tickets that are sold [and] the number of tickets that are out. We look at the number of people who actually make it into the game as fans.”
Despite the fan increase this season, the champion Lynx only recorded four games with 10,000-plus attendance. Three of them came during the playoffs.
“One of the things that I really want to look at,” said Richie, “[is] how we report and really decide of all the measures we look at which are the ones that are most important and which ones tell us where we are in terms of growing and building a sustainable business model for the league.”
If Richie is successful at finally determining the best system for accurately tracking attendance across the board, she will have finally solved a longtime mystery that her two predecessors, Val Ackerman and Donna Orender, couldn’t or wouldn’t tackle successfully during their respective tenures. Both Ackerman and Orender would dodge the issue whenever reporters asked about attendance.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.