SBD/Issue 198/Leagues & Governing Bodies

WNBA Nearing Profitability As It Celebrates Tenth Season

The WNBA is holding the All-Star Game for its tenth season tonight in N.Y., and while the league still requires “annual infusions of $12[M] or so from the NBA,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said that it “is on track to turn a small profit next year,” according to Thomas Heath of the WASHINGTON POST. Stern said that the WNBA’s “value as an ambassador that draws new fans -– especially women –- to the sport is worth the financial losses it has incurred over its first decade.” Stern: “We have a good strategic reason to support the WNBA, which is the growth of viewership and fans for basketball.” Heath notes ticket sales and local sponsorships “can help cover the [teams’] expenses,” but “real profitability lies in the multimillion-dollar television rights deals, which the WNBA does not enjoy.” ESPN/ABC Sports Senior VP/Programming & Acquisitions Len DeLuca said, “If you think this is going to be the NBA or get men’s college basketball ratings or baseball ratings, that’s not going to happen. But it’s a good niche and it has to be done at a realistic scale” (WASHINGTON POST, 7/12). WNBA President Donna Orender said the league is “very close to making money. We need to grow our sponsorship base, continue to broaden our appeal and get our attendance numbers up.” Lynx Owner Glen Taylor said, “We are still not running the league on a profitable basis, but the girls that are coming out each year from college are better. ... If we can get bigger crowds and more attendance, that’s all it would take (to be profitable)” (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 7/9).

GROWING PAINS: In Minneapolis, Pam Schmid wrote the league “continues to feel growing pains. ... Talent and a growing pool of young female basketball players have yet to translate into profitability for a league some have relegated to permanent ‘second-tier’ status.” Sports Business Group President David Carter said, “The WNBA will never be a big-time, big-money league. ... [It is] a secondary league that delivers modest TV ratings and fan support” (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 7/9). In N.Y., Harvey Araton wrote, “Generally speaking, women are more likely to watch men play on television than men are to watch women.” Also, the WNBA “must compete in a news-media climate that is overwhelmingly male.” Orender said, “The people in charge of editorial direction don’t cater to all potential readers, and they will ultimately send them elsewhere to get what they want” (N.Y. TIMES, 7/11).

Leslie (c) Says Start Up Of WNBA
Exceeded Her Expectations

SURVIVAL SKILLS: In Boston, Kelsie Smith reports the ten years of existence for the WNBA is seven years longer than any other women’s basketball league has lasted, “a surprise to many, including some players.” Sparks F Lisa Leslie said, “I really thought we would be somewhat of a summer league with reversible jerseys, and maybe play in small arenas that maybe hold 2,000 people.” Smith notes the league “turned teams over to NBA ownership groups” in ’02, and teams that were not wanted were either folded or moved to non-NBA locales. Three teams currently are independently owned -– the Sun, Mystics and Sky. Former WNBAer Rebecca Lobo: “When we had up to 16 teams at the time, the talent was a little bit too diluted. I think right now the league is where it needs to be with 14” (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/12).

YOUTH OF A NATION: In N.Y., Evan Grossman writes while the All-Star Game “is a celebration of a decade of women’s professional basketball, it is also a pep rally for the future of the league.” The “influx of youth” across the WNBA has some observers “looking forward,” and the group of young players “recognizes that it’s now their job to carry the torch into the next 10 years” (N.Y. POST, 7/12).

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