Sports will be forever changed because of the coronavirus outbreak, predicts WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.
The W commish talked with reporters last Friday, including the MSR. “Everyone is making so many predictions,” she said. “All I know is predictions today will be wrong, not only in the future but maybe even tomorrow. Things are changing every day.
“Even if we conquer this pandemic,” she continued, “life isn’t going to be the same in live sports. So we’ve got to find different ways to engage those fans.”
Engelbert was among other pro sports commissioners who recently met with the White House via conference call and discussed how to resume, such as the NBA and NHL, or how to start their respective seasons, such as the W and Major League Baseball.
The MSR asked Engelbert, the only female in the group, if America’s longest-running women’s pro league is being taken as seriously as the male-run leagues. She responded, “I think we have a strong voice.”
She later added, “We all have obviously similar challenges as to how we think about starting up sports with or without fans, and the different complications and logistics that come with that. I think what’s helpful is hearing the other commissioners talk about challenges.”
WNBA team training camps were scheduled to open this week, and the 2020 season was set to start on May 15. Both are now on hold.
“Our goal is to have a season when it’s medically advisable and feasible,” Engelbert said, whether it’s with or without fans, whether it’s at a neutral site or multiple sites or back in our arenas. Other than deferring training camp and the tip of the season, we haven’t taken any of our other options in our scenario plan off the table.”
The commissioner added that she and league officials won’t be rushed into starting up until it is safe to do so. “You need to be all working together,” Engelbert said. “I think we have the opportunity to collaborate with the state and local governments…the cities and the states in which we play.”
Engelbert said she is convinced that sports in post-COVID America will be remarkably different. “We’re going to have to figure out ways in the meantime as we figure out how we come out of this pandemic.
“We have to be thinking about the different ways to engage that fan, whether it’s from merchandise, whether it’s from a watch on broadcast, whether it’s could we actually have a fan replicate the feeling in an arena by pumping noise into an arena.”
Elevating the WNBA
For the first time on its main channel, ESPN televised last week’s three-round WNBA Draft. We asked WNBA Commissioner Engelbert if she will advocate for the four-letter network to do this in coming years as well.
“Our overall strategy is to look at getting more WNBA games on more platforms where our future fans and our fans of today are consuming their live sports,” she told us. “We’re in constant communication working together to elevate the WNBA.
“We hope that the success [of last week’s draft broadcast] will lead into further success and top billing, not just on ESPN but all the media partners that we have.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.