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With Stage All To Itself, WNBA Has To Make Most Of This Moment

It’s a big night for Oregon’s Sabrina Ionecsu, but a bigger night for the WNBA.
It’s a big night for Oregon’s Sabrina Ionecsu, but a bigger night for the WNBA.
Illustration: Eric Barrow (Shutterstock)

The WNBA has a prime opportunity tonight.

Amidst a global pandemic that has brought nearly every sports league to a screeching halt, the WNBA will conduct their virtual draft live on ESPN tonight at 7 p.m. ET when Oregon’s sensational Sabrina Ionescu is expected to be the first player taken by the New York Liberty..

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For a league that has been actively searching for ways to expand its following, this draft could be influential in boosting the support of the league.

The WNBA will be center stage in a moment in time where nearly all other live sports competitions have been halted.

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It’s a position that has historically been foreign to the league in its 24-year existence.

The WNBA usually holds its draft in mid to late April and has to compete with the NBA playoffs. The league’s summertime regular seasons are in the heart of the MLB action and the its Finals compete with college and professional football ramping up in September and October.

This is not to say that the discrepancy between the WNBA’s audience and the rest of the major sports leagues’ is strictly a byproduct of scheduling.

Obviously, the constructs of patriarchy, race, sexism, and misogyny have had a detrimental impact on the league’s ability to grow.

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And the fact that the league is decades younger than the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL, has at times left the WNBA in an awkward position when trying to find its footing in the sphere of professional sports.

In an interview with the Associated Press in 2018, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that the WNBA has lost over $10 million every year it has operated.

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“It’s not a secret that we haven’t cracked the code on how to make money in women’s basketball,” said Silver. “We have to set this league on a path to sustainability. We need to focus on building corporate partnerships.”

In a separate interview with Bleacher Report that same year, Silver admitted that ticket revenue was also an issue for the relatively young league.

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“We’re not selling enough tickets to run a viable business,” said Silver.

Also, these issues came to public knowledge at a time where many WNBA players were upset about their current salaries and player accommodations.

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That year the league found itself at a major crossroads.

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Unsure of the long-term future of the league, it was forced to weather the storm.

Yet, recently, things have started to look a lot sunnier for the WNBA.

In 2019, the league saw a 64 percent increase in viewership from the first three games of the 2018 season.

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The league gained CBS as a new broadcast partner, and according to ESPN’s Vice President of programming and acquisitions, Carol Stiff, the league’s overall ratings are up 31 percent year over year.

The WNBPA and the league also came to an agreement on a new CBA, in January. This new deal included a 30 percent increase in the salary cap and increased max player salaries by nearly $100,000.

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It seems like the WNBA is starting to steady the ship.

But the league is still at a major impasse.

The true economic impact of the coronavirus has yet to truly take shape on a league that was already operating at a deficit.

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The need to grow is still just as pressing for the league, if not more so.

Tonight will be a huge opportunity for the WNBA to build its audience and continue its path out of the red.

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It literally cannot afford to squander it.

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