As most sports ratings take a dive, WNBA’s on the rise

WNBA report by Charles Hallman

2020 WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson of Las Vegas Aces got little notice from the Las Vegas Review.
Courtesy of Twitter

The WNBA Finals’ television ratings showed much improvement this year while the NBA’s plummeted. According to a Sports Media Watch report, there was almost a 50% drop in television viewership of the 2020 NBA Finals compared to last year.

ESPN reported a 34% increase for Game three of this year’s WNBA Finals from last year’s third game, and a 27% overall increase of this year’s championship series compared to last year. The NHL, MLS and MLB also experienced drops in viewership.

“This year was about momentum, exposure, and not about any single game rating,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told reporters, including the MSR. “Everything got packed into a very busy time of year, the NBA usually not playing during our playoff time.

“The NHL usually [is] not playing in the Stanley Cup during our time. It’s never easy, and particularly was challenging this year because of all the other sports on at the same time.”

But despite such positives, WNBA print coverage in mainstream sports sections still barely made a blip, according to a new analysis by Lindsay Gibbs and Tori Burstein. The two women tracked playoff coverage from September 15 through October 7 in six newspapers—USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and New York Times.

Here is a brief breakdown of the W playoff coverage: WNBA 3.1%; NBA 13.4%; NFL 28.1%; MLB 20.1%; college football 12.9%; NHL 6.0%. The Chicago Tribune (with two WNBA stories) was the worst, while the New York Times (19 stories) tops the six papers studied.

Gibbs and Burstein also studied four local newspapers with WNBA teams who advanced in the playoffs: Star Tribune, Seattle Times, Las Vegas Review Journal and Hartford Courant.

The Courant had the best coverage—14% of its sports pages devoted to the WNBA. The Strib’s coverage (13.5 stories) lagged far behind its NFL (63) and MLB (62) coverage. Just 6.25% of its sports pages were devoted to the W although the Lynx made the league semifinals.

As for coverage of the two Finals participants, champions Seattle and runners-up Las Vegas, only five percent of the Las Vegas Review Journal’s sports pages went to the Aces while nearly 43 percent went to the NFL. The Seattle Times treated the Storm far better with 28 stories.

“I was surprised and disappointed to see that when we crunched the numbers, the WNBA was receiving only a paltry 3% of media coverage during the most important part of the season,” Gibbs told the MSR on Sunday. “It felt this summer like more people were talking about the WNBA than ever before.

“While all men’s sports leagues seem to be experiencing ratings nosedives, WNBA ratings are on the rise,” she pointed out. “It is so sad to see so many phenomenal stories be completely ignored by some of the top newspapers in the country. These editors are truly doing a disservice to their readers by ignoring what is happening in the WNBA, and in women’s sports at large.”

Gibbs’ entire study is found on her weekly Power Plays newsletter.

Globe-tracking the Lynx
Mikiah Herbert Harrigan (Turkey), Erica McCall (Hungry) and Temi Fagbenie (Italy) all will be in action for their respective foreign teams this week. Herbert Harrigan posted a 16-point, 8-rebound, 3-block effort in a one-point win last weekend.