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Volume 25 No. 151
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WNBA Leading The Way In Changing Perceptions About Women's Sports

Rodriguez credited the just-concluded WNBA Finals with helping entice many first-time fans
Photo: MARC BRYAN-BROWN

WNBA COO Ann Rodriguez believes her league is leading the charge in shifting the way fans perceive or conceptualize women’s sports. Rodriguez during the '18 SBJ Game Changers conference said, "We offer fantastic value for the money from an entertainment standpoint. Whenever we go into our markets, we’re always inviting new fans and trying to expose our product to as many people as possible.” Rodriguez attended the first two WNBA Finals games in Seattle and said she met “first-time fans there who lost their mind and can’t wait to go back." Rodriguez: "When people actually get in the building and experience the product, they become really impassioned and excited by it.” ESPN VP/Women's Sports Programming Carol Stiff touched on the network’s relationship with the league and echoed similar positive statements about the state of the WNBA. Stiff: “Regular season ratings were up 35%, the Draft was up 25% and the All-Star Game was up 20%. I just feel like we can’t wait to start talking about next year, getting into it and figuring out how we can drive viewership and grow the game.”

JOINT FINAL FOUR VENTURE? Stiff discussed the possibility of a joint men’s and women’s NCAA Final Four, saying that such talks have not yet been had with the NCAA despite interest in exploring the venture. “I know there are a lot of logistics concerning whether we’ll have enough hotel rooms, whether we need two venues," Stiff said. "CBS owns the men, we own the women, so there’s a lot to work out.” She added because ESPN is committed to growing the game and investing in its success, the net is “all ears” on any suggestions. However, Rodriguez pointed out that despite an “underlying assumption that the women’s Final Four needs the men’s help,” she believes the event “should stand alone because they do a fantastic job and there’s a lot of hunger” to make it successful. Rodriguez: “The event sells out every year, it’s phenomenal. The ratings are fantastic. ... I just don’t want us to play small here.”

POSITIVE TAKEAWAY: Last week’s U.S. Open incident involving Serena Williams was still top of mind for many, and WTA President Micky Lawler gave her assessment from the governing body’s perspective. Lawler said the incident was “extremely unfortunate” and for a moment that big to “go that wrong was terrible.” However, she added, "A silver lining is that we are now talking about fairness and we continue to push that gender equality discussion forward, making it more valid and more of a no-brainer.”