Women's NBA- On The Path Of Scoring Big
The WNBA wrapped up another thrilling season this Fall, scoring record highs in social media followings and merchandise sales, in addition to posting the largest game attendance since 2011.
What started off as the NBA’s little sister in the summer of 1997 has blossomed into 12 active franchises, including a recently-sanctioned 2018 team in Las Vegas. Today, the WNBA is the most successful women’s professional sports league on the planet.
Launched to exuberant fanfare after the women’s undefeated gold medal run at the 1996 Olympics, the WNBA took flight in eight markets- Houston, Charlotte, Cleveland and New York (Eastern); Los Angeles, Phoenix, Sacramento and Utah (Western).
From the outset, the Houston Comets dominated the league. Led by Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, the Comets won the inaugural championship and followed up with three more consecutive titles. In 2010, “Coop” became the first WNBA player to be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
But it wasn’t all wine and roses for the league and its talented ladies. Average game attendance started off at 9,664 in 1997, grew to 10,864 in 1998, but then fell to the 8,000 handle and below in subsequent years.
The league’s much touted ”We Got Next” logo lost momentum as fans failed to convert and the rush subsided. Over time, 6 teams folded and 5 relocated in search of more profitable homes. The Houston Comets themselves closed shop in 2008.
By 2015, the league hit the lowest average game attendance in its 19-year history at 7,318. James Dolan, owner of the NBA’s New York Knicks and WNBA’s New York Liberty, came close to handing the women’s franchise back to the league.
Though benefitting from the financial resources and marketing power of the NBA, the WNBA was still playing under the specter of its defunct predecessors.
The Women’s Basketball Association (WBA), the first women’s basketball summer league, was formed in 1992 but only lasted three seasons. The American Basketball League (ABL) came next in 1996, but collapsed two years later despite drawing large crowds with high caliber players.
But longevity proved to be its own success. From an historical context, the WNBA was also ahead of the NBA at a similar period in its development. Even at its bottom in 2015, the women’s league filled more seats than the NBA did in the mid-1960’s.
2016 brought substantial turnaround efforts at the league. New leadership, a new playoff format, and a new marketing strategy injected fresh vitality into the WNBA. Former Chair of the Coca-Cola Foundation, Lisa Borders, assumed the helm with a focus on leveraging social media and social causes to the WNBA brand.
The “Watch Me Work” advertising campaign, featuring some of the league’s top stars, provided a glimpse into the training regimen of players and was an instant hit. The ad premiered on the first NBA Saturday Primetime game of the 2015-16 season.
Utilizing new digital platforms as springboards- Twitter, FanDuel, TIDAL- and the WNBA’s launch in Electronic Arts’ video games, the ladies’ hoops game is set for a global marketing juggernaut.
More than ever since its humble beginnings 21 years ago, the WNBA is looking big to its future.
Dr.RobelynGarcia@asu.edu Twitter: @RGPhD Facebook: @RGPhD Instagram: @RGPhD
FOOTBALL April 26, 2008- Jake Long of the University of Michigan is first pick by the Miami Dolphins at the NFL draft. He signs a 5-year, $58 million contract, making him the highest paid offensive lineman in the league’s history. Long would stay with the Dolphins through 2012 and later join the Rams, Falcons and Vikings before retiring in 2017.
NASCAR April 26, 1998- Bobby Labonte wins the DieHard 500 as the only driver for the Joe Gibbs Racing team. It was the 2nd season victory for the Texas native who also took 1st place at the Primestar 500. At season start, Labonte had finished 2nd to Dale Earnhardt at the Daytona 500, but landed 6th in final points standings at year-end.
GOLF April 24, 1988- Rosie Jones wins the LPGA USX Golf Classic in a playoff against Kathy Postlewait. It was the second of what would be 13 total victories at the LPGA. The California native attended Ohio State University and turned professional in 1982. Though never clinching a Major, she placed 2nd four times in her career.
TENNIS April 29, 1978- Tennis twin prodigies Mike and Bob Bryan are born in Camarillo, California. The duo won 16 Grand Slam Doubles championships between 2003-2014 and were named ATP team of the decade. They also took gold in Doubles Tennis at the 2012 Olympics. Both played at Stanford University, winning back-to-back NCAA titles.