SBJ/September 1 - 7, 2003/This Weeks Issue

WNBA foresees bump in team revenues

Despite a dip in average attendance for its regular season, the WNBA expects to see increased team revenue figures this year, thanks in part to the individual team ownership structure adopted this year.

"We feel very good about where we ended up," said WNBA President Val Ackerman.

Average attendance for the league's 14 teams was 8,830. Last season the league averaged 9,228 per game.

The league had 16 teams in 2002, but with restructuring in the off-season, NBA operators of WNBA teams in Portland, Miami, Utah and Orlando decided to cease operations instead of making the transition to ownership of the teams.

Two teams, Orlando and Utah, were relocated to Connecticut and San Antonio, respectively, and both did well given their respective circumstances, Ackerman said.

The San Antonio Silver Stars, owned by Spurs Sports & Entertainment, averaged 10,384 fans a game, which was 17.6 percent higher than the league average.

WNBA on TV
2003 2002
No. of games
Rating
No. of games
Rating
ABC
7*
0.8
NBC
10
0.9
ESPN
12*
0.29
ESPN2
9
0.24
10
0.26
Oxygen
13
0.2
NA
NA
* Includes All-Star Game broadcast
NA: Not available
Note: Original broadcasts only
Sources: WNBA, networks
WNBA ATTENDANCE
Year Avg. attendance Pct. change
2003 8,830 -4.3%
2002 9,228 1.7%
2001 9,075 0.0%
2000 9,074 -11.1%
1999 10,207 -6.1%
1998 10,869 12.4%
1997 9,669 NA
NA: Not applicable
Note: This season’s average reflects a late-season adjustment in
attendance figures as originally reported
Sources: SportsBusiness Journal research, WNBA box score figures

The Silver Stars' success "speaks volumes to the receptiveness of the market, but also to the hard work the Spurs put into [the team]," Ackerman said.

The Connecticut Sun, on the other hand, averaged only 6,025, but team and league officials say they are happy with where the team ended up attendance-wise, especially given the fact that the Sun had relatively little time to promote itself in the market.

The WNBA did not grant Connecticut a team until earlier this year, which gave the team only about two months to staff up and begin team operations. In contrast, San Antonio was granted a team last fall and had been preparing for a team for three years.

"I'm very proud of our staff and what we've done in the short time we've done it," said Chris Sienko, general manager of the Sun. "And I think the Mohegan Sun as the ownership group couldn't be more happy with what's been accomplished this year."

Overall, Ackerman said she's pleased with what the league and its teams were able to do this season in light of a slumping economy and the off-season obstacle of having to complete a new collective-bargaining agreement with players. The last-minute labor deal interrupted teams' sales efforts in what typically is a "critical selling time" for the league, Ackerman said.

Despite the dip in average attendance, the league is expecting team revenues to be up this year in comparison to last, thanks in part to the new operating model, which places more accountability on teams to generate revenue.

The revenue increase came mainly from an increase in local sponsorship sales and ticket sales, Ackerman said.

Even with an increase in revenue, teams may still find themselves in a difficult financial position, since teams under the new ownership structure are now responsible for player costs and many teams committed extra staff and resources as a result of the new ownership structure.

Russ Bookbinder, senior vice president of business operations for Spurs Sports & Entertainment, said the group is "thrilled" with the team's first year but added: "It's certainly no bonanza financially. We went into this with eyes wide open understanding what this business is about. We're committed to it. We believe in the long-term future of women's basketball."

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