WNBA expands its fandom to social media, fantasy gamers

This series will cover the WNBA’s 21st season with at least one story on the league weekly from the season’s May 13 opening to its closing on September 3 and through the 2017 playoffs.

Lisa Borders (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

Now in her second year at the helm, WNBA President Lisa Borders believes one of her initial goals in moving the league forward is close to fruition. “We’re trying,” she told us during a visit last weekend. “It absolutely was one of our objectives.”

Just prior to the season, the W announced a historic multiyear streaming deal with Twitter — 20 games per season will be live-streamed in 2017, 2018 and 2019, along with real-time conversation during games as well. This is the first time a professional women’s sport is being live-streamed on Twitter.

When asked, Borders told the MSR that the tweeting games idea actually came from a player.  “Jewell Loyd of the [Seattle] Storm had an ankle injury, and I checked on her,” recalled Madame President. “Part of the conversation went like this: ‘What more can we do to market the league?’ [Loyd said], ‘While I am in China, I watched the Super Bowl. We should stream our games on Twitter.’”

Borders said she took up Loyd’s idea and — almost 60 days later — a deal was struck with the popular social media platform. “We are excited to help extend the reach of women’s sports around the world by collaborating further with the NBA to be the home of weekly live WNBA games for the next three seasons,” said Twitter COO Anthony Noto in a league press release.

Only New York and Washington are not on this season’s Twitter slate of games. San Antonio makes a league-high seven appearances, followed by six each by Indiana, Connecticut and Phoenix. Minnesota appears only three times (July 14, August 25 and August 30).

Five games thus far have been live-streamed on Twitter. “We are really excited about it,” Borders said. “I think the people more excited than us are Twitter.”

Fantasy sports — an activity this reporter has avoided since it first became popular in the late 1980s — has finally caught on with the WNBA. The league and FanDuel announced in mid-May a new partnership, its first with a women’s pro sports league.

“We first launched NBA contests in 2009,” said FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles, adding that W games give users “even more opportunities to play fantasy contests.”

The “Official One-Day Fantasy Game of the WNBA” will be available throughout the entire regular season and playoffs, free to all fans via FanDuel.com, the FanDuel app, and WNBA.com.

Madame President quickly pointed out, “It’s an entirely new pool of people. It’s not just basketball that they love, it’s the gaming.”

Whether live or make-believe, the WNBA is a hit on social media, said Borders. “We are averaging just under a million people with every game we broadcast so far,” she noted. “The point is to have a variety of fans in a variety of places consuming in the way they want to consume it.

“On Twitter, it is a social media platform. For the gamers, it’s FanDuel. We’ll take that,” said President Borders.


Yes, she said it…

“They spent the week being pissed off, waiting to play the next team,” noted Washington Assistant Coach Marianne Stanley last Friday of the Lynx players after their 17-point loss. It was Minnesota’s first game after their first loss of the season a week earlier to Connecticut after a 9-0 start. “They [the Lynx] played as hard as I’ve ever seen them.”


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.