Becker: Don’t forget the WNBA
Courtney Becker | Monday, August 27, 2018
Something was missing from the Sports Authorities last week.
With the first one, my colleague Tobias Hoonhout attempted to “update our readers, especially those who completely rely upon The Observer to inform them of the happenings in the real world of sports,” by writing a summer sports recap that touched on the World Cup, LeBron James moving to the Los Angeles Lakers and Tiger Woods’ return to professional golf.
Next, Joe Everett began his Sports Authority by writing: “Yesterday, my colleague proceeded to recap what has been a wild and entertaining summer of sports, highlighted of course by the World Cup and also by big names such as LeBron James and Tiger Woods, but in the backdrop the entire summer has been a sport that is quietly setting up for some intense excitement in the near future. That’s right, you guessed it: baseball.”
I will be honest, as I was reading this column, my guess was not baseball. I wholeheartedly agree that this has been a “wild and entertaining summer of sports” and that the three sports moments Toby highlighted in his column are certainly noteworthy. But both Toby and Joe failed to mention an entire league with a season that has been filled with big summer sports moments and has been intense and exciting right down to the end — the WNBA.
To be fair, they’re not the only ones who overlooked the WNBA this summer. No one will deny that viewership and attendance of the league’s games is far below that of NBA games (although WNBA TV viewership is up 39 percent from 2017 according to Sports Media Watch), but these problems stem largely from a lack of coverage from major sports media outlets.
To be clear, there are many problems with how people treat the WNBA and its athletes, to the extent that I could probably write multiple Sports Authorities on the subject. Some of these arguments, however, such as the issue of wage inequality between men’s and women’s professional basketball players, are probably too much for some readers to handle right off the bat, so let’s start with the basic point that the WNBA being unfairly overlooked by sports media outlets leads to indifference toward the league from sports fans who know little about it.
You may not have been able to turn on ESPN without seeing their wall-to-wall coverage of the Little League World Series over the past couple of weeks, but ESPN networks only aired “up to 33 games” this WNBA season, most of which only aired on ESPN2. Each of the 12 teams in the WNBA have 32-game schedules. Twitter live-streamed an additional 20 and NBA TV aired 54, but by and large, the only consistent way fans are able to watch WNBA games is by subscribing to WNBA League Pass in addition to any cable package they may pay for already. This makes it objectively difficult to keep up with the WNBA and develop an interest in the league. At least all the die-hard Little League fans out there can watch 12-year-olds play baseball on ESPN.
The omission of the WNBA from ESPN’s regular programming lineup is even more confusing when one considers the level of talent of the players in the league. One of the most exciting players this season was Liz Cambage of the Dallas Wings, who set the WNBA record for most points scored in a single game with 53 against the New York Liberty on July 17. She did that while going 17 of 22 from the field for 77 percent shooting, while also pulling down 10 rebounds. According to ESPN, the last basketball player to post Cambage’s stat line was Michael Jordan. For comparison, it took Kobe Bryant — another one of the greatest of all time — 50 shots to score 7 more points than Cambage in the final game of his career (and by the way, Kobe is a women’s basketball fan).
If you missed out on the WNBA this summer, you missed out on some excellent basketball. The parity was so strong that several teams in the middle of the standings remained deadlocked throughout the season, playoff spots and seedings came down to the last weekend of the regular season and last year’s reigning champions — the Minnesota Lynx — were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
The semifinal series started Sunday, so it’s not too late to start paying attention to the WNBA this season. This league has most certainly spent the entire summer setting up for an exciting finish.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.