It’s been about four months since Washington won its first WNBA championship in September, the first team owned by a Black woman to do so. The players and the league are currently in talks for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). And as usual, most league players are spread out across the globe playing off-season ball.
The WNBA’s typical offseason “radio silence,” says “The Athletic”’s Lyndsay D’Arcangelo, “really hurts the league’s momentum.”
“What makes it a shame,” stressed current Minnesota Timberwolves Analyst Jim Petersen, a former Minnesota Lynx assistant coach, “is that players have to go to Europe to make money.”
This fact, however, shouldn’t be a reason why the league can’t promote itself year-round as other leagues endlessly do. NBA all the time. NFL non-stop. Men’s college hoops wall-to-wall coverage.
WNBA? Out of sight, out of mind, all the time.
“I truly believe there’s no better time than now for us to take advantage and take this league to new heights,” Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said back in September. Since taking over last summer, Engelbert has touted her “three pillars” approach: “Further develop the economics of the league,” “more fans in our seats,” and “improving the player experience.” Will this finally solve the W’s woes? Thus far it’s been only talking points speaking to the choir.
“We can’t thank you enough for all your efforts in telling the amazing stories and your in-depth coverage… We greatly appreciate it,” the Commish told us longtime W reporters.
Because of consistent WNBA Casper-the-Ghost-like coverage, we might be seeing “collateral damage” among our youth, its future talent pool, as a result.
“A couple of years ago when I retired from coaching [in 2017],” Petersen continued, “I talked to the top 100 [young] women players in the state of Minnesota. I asked them by a show of hands how many of them wanted to play college basketball, and every hand went up.
“I asked how many wanted to play in the WNBA, and you know how many hands went up? Three,” he noted, adding, “If I was talking to the top 100 boys in the state and said how many of you want to play in the NBA, every hand would shoot up.”
After over two decades of the W, there must be a marketing whiz out there who could do something similar to the way their men’s pro counterparts are promoted. Why not use the same folk that over-promote the NBA, that league’s television partners ESPN and Turner Sports,
The W must abandon its “Field of Dreams” approach—they have built it, but still no one’s coming.
“I think it’s about grassroots,” Petersen said. “If the young women in the United States don’t see the WNBA as a career path, that they can have a sustainable career and make money, [if that’s not] a dream for them, then that’s a problem.”
“It was concerning to learn that fans can’t easily find our games, whether they’re looking on cable TV, social media or sports websites,” Engelbert said. “You can find other sports with one click.”
It shouldn’t be this hard, not after all these years. Save for a few dedicated women’s sports websites, finding W news specifically and women’s sports generally takes a great deal of intentional effort.
The case of gender imbalance still exists. “The men’s sports make more money, so they deserve the most attention” is a well-worn explanation that simply can’t do.
“That perception has to change,” Petersen said.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.