Greason: WNBA needs to receive more airtime to increase viewership
Elizabeth Greason | Monday, September 3, 2018
I feel obligated to add a disclaimer at the start of this column that, although we are only two weeks into the school year, much of The Observer’s readership may already be tired of this topic. But I’ll also add that my colleagues Courtney Becker and Mia Berry, who have gracefully addressed this topic in the weeks leading up to this, and I, will keep writing about it until it ceases to be an issue.
So, with that, let’s talk about the WNBA.
I excitedly tuned into ESPN2 on Sunday to watch the Atlanta Dream take on the Washington Mystics in the fourth and potentially final game of their semifinal series. But, when other WNBA faithful and I got to the channel, we were disappointed to find we were watching Prairie View A&M take on North Carolina Central with a small notification in the bottom right corner of the screen telling Dream and Mystics fans they could watch the elimination game on the ESPN app.
I’m all for ESPN showing college football, especially when it’s on on a Sunday and it’s a matchup between two historically black colleges. But, when there’s a playoff game with major championship implications that was scheduled to be shown, I would argue that it’s only right that playoff games take priority over Week 1 of college football. People balk at the WNBA’s lack of television ratings, but how can the league get higher ratings if viewers who attempt to watch are unable to do so?
I’m well-aware of the fact that moving a game to its app is regular practice for ESPN when another game runs long. That’s the beauty of modern technology. Viewers can keep watching their game if it runs over its allotted time limit or start watching a new game that isn’t yet being shown on the televised channels. The issue I have with this situation is that on Sunday, ESPN selected the wrong game to relegate to the app.
In the battle for airtime between a Week 1 college football game between two FCS schools who do not fall inside the current FCS top-25 and two of the best four professional women’s basketball teams duking it out for a spot in the WNBA finals, the WNBA playoffs should come out on top. The real problem I have with this is that it is not an isolated incident. The WNBA only gets a handful of games televised nationally each season. Among those handful of those games, a significant number get bumped to the ESPN app or WatchESPN because of another sporting event before getting picked up in the middle of the game. Maybe Prairie View–NC Central will get more viewers than the Dream–Mystics game, but the bottom line is that sometimes the viewership should not be the priority, the significance of the programming is more important.
If I had switched to ESPN from ESPN2 on Sunday, I would have landed on the US Open tennis tournament. A tennis grand slam is undeniably important. I understand why it got the main slot on the ESPN channels. But the mistake comes into play on the next channel.
And like I said, it’s not just this weekend. The real issue I have is the habitual overpassing of WNBA games, the very few that get such public attention, for a less significant sporting event. So, I encourage ESPN and other channels that broadcast the WNBA to think twice before bumping the league from its time slot. Don’t let the league and the fans down like that — players deserve better and have at least earned the right to have their games aired live.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.