SBJ/September 24-30, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Gate down as WNBA nears playoffs

The WNBA headed into the final weekend of its 2012 regular season with average attendance down from 2011 and flat television ratings in an Olympic year that saw the league take a monthlong midseason break.

Defending champ Minnesota has enjoyed the biggest jump in attendance, up 15 percent.
Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
Through Sept. 18, the 12-team league had an average attendance of 7,449 fans a game. The league last year averaged 7,955 fans a game, according to SportsBusiness Journal research.

The Los Angeles Sparks were leading the league in attendance as of last week, with an average of 10,173. The defending champion Minnesota Lynx had seen the biggest jump at the gate from 2011, up 14.6 percent to a league second-best 9,683 fans a game.

The Tulsa Shock was last at the gate as of last week, with a 5,175 average, while the Washington Mystics had seen the biggest drop in attendance, down 16.8 percent to an average of 8,697.

Despite the drop at the gate overall, WNBA officials said the league this year did have a 1 percent increase in season-ticket renewals and a 4 percent increase in group-ticket sales revenue.

The regular season was scheduled to end Sunday and the postseason starts on Thursday. The league this summer shut down between July 14 and Aug. 15 to allow players to compete in the Summer Olympics. That monthlong break also led to a season schedule that began May 18 compared with a June 3 start in 2011.

Last year’s regular-season ended two weeks earlier than this year, on Sept. 11.

The league has altered its schedule for each of the Summer Olympics dating to 2004.

“There are always challenges during an Olympic year, with our season starting earlier and ending later,” said WNBA President Laurel Richie. “Knowing that young people are a key part of our audience, with our season this year overlapping with the school year, [it] makes it challenging.”

But Richie also said that the increased focus this summer on women’s sports from both the United States’ gold-medal-winning women’s basketball team and the 40th anniversary of Title IX helped raise awareness of the WNBA.

“We got a double whammy in a good way,” she said. “It was a great summer for women’s sports and, by extension, a great summer for the WNBA.”

On TV, the WNBA this year had averaged a 0.2 rating across ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC heading into the season’s final weekend, the same as last year. The average number of households tuning in for games was up 1 percent, to 247,000 from 245,000 last year, according to ESPN.

Ratings on NBA TV were the same as last year, averaging a 0.1 over 38 games through Sept. 18. Last year, NBA TV aired 72 games.

“Viewership is on par from last year and we are happy with that part of it,” said Richie, who is completing her second season with the league. “On the main, I am pleased with the season, though we are always looking to do better.”

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