WNBA gaining widespread appeal.
by Ben York
For 13 extensive years, it’s been a challenge for the WNBA to generate a substantial following; not because of a lack of talent on the basketball court, but solely due to inaccurate preconceived notions, often times incredibly biased, that the women’s game isn’t as compelling as the men’s game or worthy of true respect and attention.
And while one could become blue in the face trying to dispel those notions, it’s virtually impossible to do so unless those individuals are willing to give the “W” a genuine and fair chance.
The tides have recently taken a dramatic shift in 2009, however, and the amount of admiration and reverence for the league is at all-time high.
Clearly, the WNBA Finals series between the Phoenix Mercury and Indiana Fever contributed largely to the increase in awareness but the overall enhanced momentum has been predicated on 13 teams who continually feature an immense array of talent to showcase on the floor. Not that this is anything new for the WNBA, however, not by a long shot. The league has always been comprised of remarkable players and teams, as any long-time fan can attest to. But the 2009 season surpassed even the most lofty expectations and it’s directly correlated with (as cliché as it sounds) letting the talent on the court speak for itself.
On one hand, a case could be made about how unfortunate it is that it’s taken this long for the league to garner such a following. In the year 2009, shouldn’t we be past the point of having to fight for constant viewership of women’s athletics? Shouldn’t we have the collective notion that they are just as phenomenal (if not more at times) to watch as men? Certainly, these philosophies deal issues that run much deeper than simply playing basketball and it would be careless not to bring these up.
The fact is, though, that we have needed to claw our way toward getting the league it’s long overdue attention and, quite frankly, just to convince fans to give it a single, solitary chance. More often than not, when given an unbiased look, individuals are surprised at the talent level and thoroughly enjoy watching the ‘W.’ The beauty of this is that the WNBA has never wavered in their belief in, or support of these ladies. They’ve not once said, “I told you so” after attracting new fans to the game or developed an attitude of resentment; they’ve known all along that their product is more than worthy of public recognition and deserves to be featured in the mainstream.
That dedication and devotion to the sport is finally paying off, and it’s now closer than ever to legitimately being appreciated and valued by a vast audience.
This is unquestionably evidenced by the 2009 WNBA Finals, for instance, being the most attended Finals in league history. Over 82,000 fans attended the 5 games, an increase of 43 percent from 2008. The series also had the highest average attendance each game (16,404 fans) since the Finals went to a best-of-five format in 2005. Records were broken in postseason attendance for both the Mercury and the Fever, which featured games 3-5 as sellouts. In terms of television coverage, ESPN2 saw double-digit growth in ratings over the previous year – an average of 522,000 viewers each game, an increase of 66 percent over 2008. These are indisputable signs that the “W” is on the brink of truly taking off.
Perhaps more important than data and numbers, it also shows a paradigm shift in public opinion. More and more “new” followers and fans of the WNBA are coming from an incredibly diverse group; this includes men who have previously not paid attention to, or written off, the league entirely. Ultimately, the constant and relentless display of supreme talent and unmatched basketball prowess made this 2009 season so magical. Game 1 of the Finals (a 120-116 Mercury overtime victory) was without question one of the best, if not the best, WNBA games of all time. Quite simply, it was just fantastic basketball showcased on a national level that subsequently served as a perfect testimonial to the authenticity of the league. Perhaps more amazing and historical, the same type of intensity and thrilling competitiveness continued throughout the entire series. Whether it was Tamika Catchings willing the Fever to a victory, or Cappie Pondexter and Diana Taurasi doing the same for Phoenix, this series exhibited a class of basketball that’s rarely been seen before.
The WNBA is now closer than ever towards gaining that type of high-level approval and endorsement, and the 2009 season has proven they are on an indelible track en route to the status they’ve fought so long, and honorably, to attain.
All signs point to an incredibly bright future for a league whose props are long overdue.