The American Women’s Basketball Association, the WNBA, is doing very well. watch numbers, spectator numbers, and jersey sales; In almost everything, basketball players broke records this year. The relatively young league, in its 27th season, wants to continue in the coming years. In addition, she still finds the necessary obstacles in her path.
For a long time, the WNBA was the butt of bad jokes. “Happy news,” commented comedian Norm MacDonald in a quip Saturday Night Live when the league expanded in 1998. “It’s a pity the games are still played by women.” The WNBA is now taken very seriously. In the United States, where women’s collegiate sports are seriously overplayed, American football, baseball and the men’s National Basketball Association still dominate the league, but “The W” is catching up.
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Described by Quinn van der Velden De Volkskrant About Sports in the United States. Lives in New York.
When the scales were set recently in the middle of the season, the numbers were rosy: the number of spectators increased by no less than 67 percent compared to last season, and on average, almost a quarter of the spectators were in the stands.
The jerseys of players like Sabrina Ionescu and Breanna Stewart (both New York Liberty), A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces) and rookie Aliyah Boston (Indiana Fever) are in demand. Competition progress driven by star power. The WNBA has spent tens of millions of dollars in recent seasons to better promote its best players.
The current rivalry between the New York Liberty and the champion Las Vegas Aces, the two biggest teams in the league, helps the WNBA’s appeal. The return of Brittney Grenier (Phoenix Mercury) who returned from Russian captivity is another interesting story. Its first game of the season was the most watched in 24 years. Griner is still one of the best players.
The WNBA wants to set itself apart with innovation: the recently played All-Star Game, an exhibition game with the best players, has been piloted with a four-point streak, twenty (instead of 24) second shot clock and canceled free throws in the last two minutes. Another bit of news: During the regular season, ten cup tournament games count.
Second class treatment
When the WNBA was founded in 1996 by NBA club owners, women initially received second-tier treatment. New York Liberty has played for years in a remote stadium with only a few thousand seats. For owner James Dolan, who is also the president of the NBA’s New York Knicks, women clearly weren’t a priority. That changed when the club fell into the hands of Chinese billionaire Zhou Tsai and his wife Clara Wu in 2019.
In New York, but also elsewhere, significant investments are now being made in the WNBA. The Tsai family has invested millions in renovating facilities and expanding the orientation of Liberty players. The businessman allowed the “super team” of Ionescu, Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot to secretly travel on a private jet in 2021, which is banned in the WNBA due to high costs and competitive balance. Laughing, Tsai paid the fine of half a million dollars.
Banning private flights is a thorny issue in the WNBA. The league has relaxed its rules by making an exception for the playoffs, but basketball players still usually fly commercial flights during the regular season. The league came under fire when Grenier was attacked by a right-wing vlogger in a crowd at the crowded Dallas airport.
According to WNBA leader Cathy Engelbert, her league has crucial years ahead of it. Broadcasting rights will be sold again in 2025, two years later, players and clubs will discuss a new employment contract. “In the coming years, the course of the next 30 or 40 years will be determined,” Engelbert said.
Take advantage of growth
In the long term, players will also have to take advantage of the growth, as this rarely happens at the moment. The average salary in the WNBA is a modest $113,000, and the maximum salary is $234,000. Basketball players have not yet noticed an increase in ticket or jersey sales. In the NBA, half of the revenue goes to players, but women receive only a small share if a certain target amount is reached. So far, that hasn’t happened. “I don’t get a penny,” Kelsey Bloom (Las Vegas) famously said about selling T-shirts bearing her name.
To earn extra money, basketball players play in foreign competitions in the winter – this is how Greiner ended up in Russia. It will be more difficult than next season. Players who have to miss the start of the NBA season are not allowed to play at all. No replacement for the lost income was found.
Another problem: The WNBA, with its twelve clubs, makes room for only 144 players. Fifteen of the 36 players selected in the annual draft in April have already secured a contract. Partly for this reason, the WNBA has set its sights on expansion, possibly into two new host cities. “This is a transformation of what was once a minor league,” Engelbert said of the WNBA’s recent growth. So she will also have to shape up physically in the coming years.
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