Lynx draft four new players
Beginning in May, the WNBA will be a Friday night television destination. Last week the league and the E.W. Scripps Co., owners of ION Television jointly announced a multiyear agreement to televise regular season games on Friday nights, over 15 weeks, from May 26 to Sept. 8.
“Access to watching WNBA games is in high demand, and Scripps’ dedicated Friday night lineup of WNBA games on ION will become much-desired appointment viewing for WNBA fans,” said Commissioner Cathy Engelbert in a statement.
The media company launched Scripps Sports last December, and the WNBA is its first sports property. ION is available over the air, on cable and streaming.
WNBA games have been on several networks in the league’s 27-year existence. First on NBC (1997), then Lifetime (1997-2000), and on Oxygen (2002-04), before it finally landed on ESPN in 2007, mainly because it was piggybacked on the network’s huge television deal with the NBA. CBS Sports Network and Twitter also have done games in recent years.
Locally, finding Minnesota Lynx games on television and radio over the years was like “Where’s Waldo.” Bally Sports North (formerly Midwest Sports Channel, then FSN) has been telecasting Lynx games since 1999. The first season the channel did a double-digit number of games (16) was 2017, and last season 32 games were shown. Three radio stations have broadcast Lynx games—KFAN from 1999-2003, KLBB from 2004-05, from KLCI, 2006-2019—but they haven’t been on radio since 2019.
ESPN said that WNBA telecasts last season were the most-watched since 2006. The regular season was up 20 percent; the full season was up 22 percent; and the postseason was up 22 percent. The semifinals were up 45 percent, and the opening round of the playoffs was up 50 percent.
Engelbert and other league officials are hoping that the W, which starts its first-ever, 40-game schedule in late May, can capitalize on the growing interest in women’s sports, especially women’s basketball.
Last month’s NCAA women’s tournament, including the Final Four, drew record ratings. The April 10 annual draft viewership was up 42 percent from last year, making it the most-watched raft since 2004, said ESPN officials.
The WNBA-ION deal, according to The Sporting News’ Sara Tidwell, could potentially be good for several reasons, including broader exposure and as leverage when the league renegotiates its ESPN media deal after this season. ION is the nation’s fifth-largest network in over 100 million homes and 79 million paid subscribers.
ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC will telecast 25 games nationally as well as playoff coverage this season. “The number one thing to capitalize on is the momentum, to continue to plan around marketing the players so they become household names and building rivalries,” stated Engelbert during her pre-draft remarks earlier this month.
Lynx sign 4 of 5 draft picks
WNBA training camps are set to begin April 30. Two weeks ago, the Minnesota Lynx signed four of their five 2023 draft picks: Diamond Miller (No. 2 pick), Dorka Juhasz (No. 16), Brea Beal (No. 24) and Taylor Soule (No. 28).
In a virtual interview, the MSR asked both Beal and Soule how much playing for Black coaches during college helped prepare them for the next step in their careers. Beal played for South Carolina’s Dawn Staley and Soule played for Virginia Tech’s Kenny Brooks.
“Playing under [Staley] there’s been so many moments where she spoke out on things that people wouldn’t necessarily speak out on,” said Beal. “So just to be coached by somebody like that and encourage us to speak on what we feel… It was great to be there,” she added.
“I came into college very timid, very shy,” continued the guard. “Watching this powerful Black woman…lead a team like ours [a majority Black team], that really encouraged me, molded me to be the person I am today—a little more outgoing.”
Said Soule of Virginia Tech’s Brooks, “Not only was he a Black coach, he is also a ‘girl dad.’ It was great to see how our leader encouraged us to speak up, to be strong women, to be a strong Black woman, whether that was on the basketball court, or whether it was in our community…”
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