Pandemic led to unprecedented WNBA media coverage

But in the off-season the league drops out of sight again

The 2020 WNBA season, with all the uncertainty related to a pandemic, the health and safety protocols inside a first-ever “Wubble” against the real-time happenings outside of it, along with the competition on the court—all this was, in a word, unprecedented.

But once the season typically ends, the W essentially becomes an out-of-sight, out-of-mind league until the springtime, when draft time rolls around. No other pro sports does such a disappearing act.

“I really hope the WNBA doesn’t vanish until the draft…” tweeted Ben W., a longtime Minnesota Lynx fan. “The WNBA vanishes off the face of the earth until the following February or so.”

We asked League Commissioner Cathy Engelbert about this during a pre-Finals media call. She responded, “Our assessment from a marketing perspective is we need to market more in the off season.”

“We were going to be doing the marketing agreements with players who didn’t go overseas so we wouldn’t have an out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Probably not as big and bold as we thought we were going to do… We are still planning on that,” Engelbert said.

The second-year commish pledged that things will be different this off-season. “We are planning a variety of things, promotional things, over the course of the off-season,” continued Engelbert.

“Absolutely I think it’s a great idea to continue having these connections with the media, because you help draw exposure to what the players are doing, the storylines, how we’re getting ready for the 25th season, how the Olympic athletes are getting ready for those national team experiences.

“So, yes Charles, absolutely, this is certainly part of our strategy, so more to come on that,” she promised.

Off-season coverage isn’t a problem for this longtime WNBA reporter, but it is for the male-dominated PWM (primarily White media) who typically treat the longtime women’s league like a pox on the sports landscape.  

Because of the pandemic, the league got unprecedented coverage. There were nearly 90 nationally televised games, and “the quality of the play on the court was amazing,” the commish reported. Viewership numbers were up: 68% increase in regular season average viewership across all networks, thanks in great part to a big increase in games on the ESPN Network, and the first-ever WNBA game on the CBS Television Network.” 

Same big numbers on social media as well: “30% percent increase in cross-platform average action for social posts,” continued Engelbert. “Without fans in the arena, we piloted a Tap to Cheer [app]. It led to an 85% increase in average weekly mobile app downloads. We had 109 million total taps.

“Key matchups and loyal fan bases further fueled that engagement,” led by Las Vegas’ 22 million taps from their fans  and over 5.6 million taps for the Sept. 13 Aces-Seattle contest, which was the highest single game mark this season.

“We’re already scenario planning for next year,” said Engelbert. “My number-one priority [for the off-season] is selling and marketing the league, continuing to sell and market the league.  The key will be to continue to market the players, the personalities, market the rivalries that were formed this year.

“This off-season has got to be a very critical time in marketing our players from young to veteran, because there’s such great stories. We’re on the tip of this exposure around these players,” she said. “We’ll be working on that, and you’ll be seeing hopefully a different way to market them in this off-season.”