Besides celebrating two decades of operation, the WNBA posted some record-breaking numbers this season.
Highest attendance in five years: a nearly five percent increase over last year, led by Chicago and Indiana setting record franchise numbers. The Sky set franchise records for average attendance (7,009) and single-game crowd (16,444 on July 13 against Los Angeles). The Fever had its highest average since 2001 (8,575) and second highest single-game crowd with Tamika Catchings’ final regular-season game September 18 (17,704).
More eyes on the screen: Up 11 percent from last year in combined ESPN and ESPN2 viewership. The Minnesota-Phoenix season opener delivered the highest rated telecast on the network since 2011.
Web traffic jam: WNBA.com average monthly unique visitors up 22 percent from last year, a record. Also, a 50 percent increase in video views over a season ago. “It’s the brightest star in our crown of achievements,” declared League President Lisa Borders.
Streaming up: The W’s League Pass streaming package set a subscription increase, up 24 percent.
More “likes”: A 20 percent growth in “likes and followers” across all league, team and player social platforms — 12 million, with three million more fans from last season. “Impressions” and video views metrics more than doubled from last year as well.
Gearing up: Record sales of WNBA jersey and team merchandise up 30 percent from last year.
The above “data points,” as Borders proudly calls them, bring a smile to her face. “I am happy to report that all business metrics are positive, and the league is in the best shape it’s been in in a very long time,” she told reporters, including the MSR, during her visit in Minneapolis last month. “We recognize when one team does well, but when the league does well, everyone does well.”
Borders in a later sit-down interview told the MSR that she and the league will rely on social media more and more. “Now that we have it, we can leverage it at the league level, but the franchises can leverage it and so can the individual players,” she pointed out. “I appreciate traditional media, but we recognize we can augment and complement what’s being done externally by our internal resources.”
Nonetheless, the W still is in a longtime, uphill respect battle when it comes to equitable mainstream media coverage. At the start of the season USA Today ran a first-ever WNBA spotlight to commemorate the league’s 20th anniversary season.
“We have not only been visible in media in the traditional outlets like a Sports Illustrated. We’ve been in things like the Wall Street Journal and Fortune,” noted the W’s president.
But during the league’s championship, USA Today reverted back to its magnifying-glass-reading coverage.
Borders simply invites media, as well as mainstream sports types, to get on board. “Our focus will primarily be on the core fan and the casual fan,” she pledged. “They’re the easiest to get inside the arena.
“The game is extraordinary, but you need to be able to watch it on ESPN or stream it on League Pass using our app,” said Borders. “The number-one issue that we have is having more fans in the arena supporting the sport and supporting the league.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.