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Why The WNBA Is Failing

WNBA, NBA, Wayne Gregoire

The NBA showcases its stars. Whether it's the veteran star making a run at another title or the shiny new rookie making his debut, the league will find a way to put them in every commercial and on every billboard. It's marketing 101. If you own a dress shop, you put the most desirable gown on the mannequin in the window.


The WNBA, on the other hand, boards up its display window and hopes that people will shop their because their older brother sells the dresses everyone wants. The league has failed to do what its benefactor has, which is offering fans what they are demanding. Instead, the WNBA has chosen to copy Major League Baseball, because marketing to 65 to 70-year-old white men has worked well for that league.


Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, Wayne Gregoire

Lisa Leslie/Sheryl Swoopes

The WNBA started in 1997, and Reggie Miller's older sister Cheryl was 33 and too old to be the face of the league. The most popular female basketball players in the world were 26-year-old Sheryl Swoopes and 25-year-old Lisa Leslie. Both players were so good that some questioned and even debated if they could hold their own in the NBA.


Swoopes was a 6'0 guard and is still referred to as the female Michael Jordan. In 1993 she scored 955 points in 34 games (28.1 ppg) including 53 points against Texas. Swoopes averaged 35.4 ppg in the 1993 NCAA tournament, which included points versus Ohio State in the National Championship game, which her team won. She also led Team USA to a gold medal in the 1994 Goodwill Games and the 1996 Summer Olympics.


Lisa Leslie was known as the high school player who scored 101 points in the first 16 minutes of a game (37/56 field goals and 27/35 from the foul line). The beatdown was so significant the opposing team quit at halftime. At the University of Southern California, she averaged 20.1 ppg and set the Pac-10 Conference records for career points (2,414), rebounds (1,214), and blocks (321).


During their WNBA careers, the pair of ladies combined for 19 All-WNBA teams, 14 All-Star appearances, 6 MVP awards, and 6 WNBA titles. The league failed to promote these all-time great players, and while ratings were solid at first (mostly due to the novelty of the league), they refused to grow significantly.


SLAM, Chamique Holdsclaw, WNBA

Chamique Holdsclaw

Women's college basketball seemed to garner more attention in the late '90s than the pro game. The Tennessee Volunteers hoisted the national championship trophy in back to back to back seasons (1996-1998), led by 6'2 All-American Chamique Holdsclaw. She averaged 20.4 ppg and 8.8 rpb in her four-year career.


In October of 1998, Holdsclaw appeared on the cover of SLAM Magazin with the question, "Is the NBA ready for Chamique Holdsclaw?" She was the first overall pick in the 1999 WNBA Draft by the Washington Mystics. The league again had an opportunity to promote a player who had star appeal to both men and women but chose not to, and games averaged 1.6 million viewers.


Holdsclaw averaged 16.9 points and 7.9 rebounds on her way to winning the league rookie of the year. The Mystics drew 50% more of a crowd each game than the league average. Despite accounting for 26% of the WNBA's attendance, the Mystics hardly appeared on television and the league again missed a golden opportunity to market and capitalize on a popular player.


WNBA, Candace Parker, Wayne Gregoire

Candace Parker

The knock against the women's game from men is that they are not as athletic as their male counterparts. They pass too much, don't have great handles, and they can't dunk. Despite Lisa Leslie becoming the first player in WNBA history to dunk, Candace Parker piqued the interest of men when she won the 2004 McDonald's All-American Dunk Contest.


Parker competed against the boys and beat future NBA players Josh Smith and JR Smith, not by dunking it once, but by making several dunks throughout the contest. She committed to Tennessee where she won two national championships and averaged 19.4 points and 8.8 rebounds before declaring for the WNBA Draft after her junior year.


The 6'4 forward was selected first overall in the draft by one of the league's elite teams, the LA Sparks. Since this is one of the largest media markets in the entire world, would the WNBA learn from its past mistakes and market the new star for better ratings? No. They were content with just 413,000 viewers per game.


WNBA, Angel Reese, Wayne Gregoire

Angel Reese

After unparalleled success in the women's college game (the NCAA Women's championship getting better TV ratings than the Men's by 10 million viewers), the WNBA decided to embrace it's new golden goose, Caitlin Clark. It seemed that they finally were going to market their new star, and the number one pick's new team, the Indiana Fever will be on national television 36 times in 2024.


The league forgot, however, that their are several other budding stars in their rookie seasons this year, including Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardosa, who were both top 10 picks by the Chicago Sky. The Sky will appear on CBS twice (once against the Fever) and NBC once. The league advertised Clark's preseason debut and failed to mention anything about the Sky.


Despite getting no support from the league, the Sky's stream reached over 500,000 views. The WNBA has a real opportunity to grow their fan base and increase viewership if they just promote their stars. These women are extremely talented, and by refusing to utilize them, the WNBA is essentially killing itself.


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