WNBA Weekly Mailbag – 2/17/10
On net losses and a twist on the double standard.
by Ben York
Before I received AJ’s message below, I had five emails with my responses ready to go today. But I felt AJ’s question was far too important (and incredibly timely) not to address first.
As you’ll read, AJ’s question is fair, on point and poignant. My thoughts on the topic are below, and I would love to hear yours as well.
As always, to be featured on the WNBA Weekly Mailbag, send your questions to Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I always hear from WNBA haters that the league can’t “pay its own way.” The logic goes: WNBA is in the red = WNBA is a total failure. Well… The NBA just announced that it expects to lose $400 million THIS YEAR ALONE. The WNBA couldn’t blow through that much cash if it wanted to. Why are the same people not saying we need to fold up the NBA? – AJ, Michigan
A: Fantastic question, AJ. I won’t pretend to have all the answers both from a fiscal or socio-economics perspective, but I do have a few thoughts on the matter. Long story short, I think it has more to do with social acceptance than with dollars and cents.
First, I think it’s important to note that everyone is hurting financially and the sports world is certainly not immune to the economic climate. The vast majority of NBA teams are currently in the midst of looking for ways to shed payroll (see ‘Philadelphia 76ers’) or dump bad contracts (see ‘Washington Wizards’). Instead of recognizing the economic issue is both global and gender-blind, the WNBA naysayers choose to project their frustrations on to the WNBA. After all, human beings (by nature) have habitually sought out someone or something to blame when things aren’t going well. This situation is no different — somehow, it’s the WNBA’s fault (or, at the very least, a contributing factor) that NBA teams are, as you mentioned, collectively losing hundreds of millions of dollars. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Individuals who have this false belief are the same ones who think a brief, 30-second commercial about the WNBA that airs during a NBA game is “shoving” the league down their throats.
Second, I believe that WNBA detractors consciously try to seek out reasons that the WNBA is “bad” or justify their belief that it’s draining money from the mothership that is the NBA. They look at the numerous WNBA franchises that have folded and make assumptions that the WNBA is affecting the NBA in a negative way. In reality, the WNBA is far more profitable than the NBA according to NBA Commissioner David Stern.
“The NBA is far less profitable than the WNBA,” he said. “We’re losing a lot of money amongst a large number of teams. We’re budgeting the WNBA to break even this year.” – David Stern, March 12, 2009
Perhaps more than anything, the reason people look to blame the WNBA has more to do with societal acceptance. The NBA is, obviously, accepted and touted across the globe. Conversely, the WNBA is not as revered. They are constantly made fun of, ridiculed, and accused of being a leach to the NBA. And no matter how many times this is continually proved false, people still find a way to blame or accuse the WNBA of not succeeding (*cough*…Bill Simmons…*cough*) and undermine both its significance and worth.
This is a unique twist on the double standard issue that has plagued the WNBA from the start. Detractors say the WNBA isn’t fun to watch, that they aren’t as gifted as the men, and that the league is a waste of time and/or money. I’ve addressed these issues in the past, but the recent admission from the NBA that it’s losing as much money as it is undoubtedly makes this topic much more interesting. As a whole, people will never call for the NBA to disband or to fold; they believe in the league and it has tremendous widespread appeal. And I agree with them, they shouldn’t — just like they shouldn’t call for the WNBA to disband. The WNBA hasn’t reached that same level of acceptance and the belief (no matter how wrong or off-base) is that it continues to be the NBA’s ill-fated stepchild.
It’s also important to note that the NBA is doing everything it can to advance the WNBA; not just because it is more profitable, but because they believe in the product. NBA players and coaches continually commend the WNBA for its talent, value and significance. If the NBA wants it to succeed, and NBA players want it to thrive, then what’s the problem?
The only way this can be fixed or remedied is when the collective audience realizes that basketball is basketball, if I can steal the WNBA’s new tagline for a moment. Until the masses see that the WNBA is an incredible, positive, and beneficial sports league things will never change. I’m hopeful that we will see that paradigm shift soon.
On a positive note, I have seen an enormous amount of progress in the last several years towards reaching that point.
Thank you for your question. — Ben