With 20th season ahead, league sees attendance, ratings drop
The WNBA is targeting a branding effort for its 20th anniversary next year after its 2015 regular season brought record low attendance, a drop in television viewership on ESPN and the relocation of an underperforming franchise.
|Year||Average per game (change from prior year)|
NA: Not applicable; 1997 was the WNBA's inaugural season.
BY TEAM (2015)
|Team||Average per game (change from 2014)|
|Atlanta Dream||6,122 (+4.4%)|
|Chicago Sky||6,894 (+3.1%)|
|Connecticut Sun||5,557 (-7.1%)|
|Indiana Fever||7,485 (-5.3%)|
|Los Angeles Sparks||9,065 (+9.4%)|
|Minnesota Lynx||9,364 (+0.3%)|
|New York Liberty||9,159 (+2.3%)|
|Phoenix Mercury||9,946 (+4.1%)|
|San Antonio Stars*||4,831 (-37.4%)|
|Seattle Storm||6,516 (-3.0%)|
|Tulsa Shock^||5,167 (-7.2%)|
|Washington Mystics||7,714 (-7.9%)|
Note: Teams played 17-game home schedules.
* Played the 2015 season at Freeman Coliseum because of renovations at AT&T Center.
^ WNBA owners in July approved the relocation of the Shock to play in Arlington, Texas, starting in 2016.
Compiled by Brandon McClung
“We are looking forward to next year being our 20th season and using that as a platform to galvanize our fans,” said WNBA President Laurel Richie. She declined to reveal the number of profitable WNBA teams this year because the league is still gathering financial data.
The WNBA this year drew an average of 7,318 fans a game, down 3.4 percent from last season and the lowest gate in the league’s 19-year history.
Combined television viewership on ESPN and ESPN2 fell by 14 percent to an average of 202,000 viewers. ESPN2 carried 10 games and ESPN carried one game this year, compared with 19 games on ESPN2 in 2014.
Viewership on NBA TV this season increased by 8 percent to a record average of 56,000 viewers over 52 regular-season games, compared with an average of 52,000 viewers over 44 games last season. The league said that five of its six most-watched WNBA games on NBA TV aired this season.
The league reported some success in the digital arena. It saw its mobile page views on WNBA.com grow by 26 percent. WNBA Instagram followers were up 51 percent this season. The league has more than 9 million likes and followers across all its digital platforms.
Richie said the WNBA’s sponsorship business was strong this year given the addition of Pepsi, Nike and Harman as league partners, all of which are also NBA partners.
“We had a pretty terrific year on the sponsorship front and nine out of our 12 teams now have marquee partners, and there will be more to come by the end of the calendar year,” she said. “Our work is to do everything we can to help all of our metrics.” The team marquee partnerships include jersey sponsorships.
The league’s gate was stung by a 37 percent drop in attendance in San Antonio, where the Stars, which at 8-26 had the worst record in the WNBA, were forced to relocate to Freeman Coliseum this year because of renovations at the team’s regular home, AT&T Center. The team drew 4,831 a game, the lowest in the 12-team league.
|Even without Diana Taurasi, Phoenix led the league in attendance.
The defending champion Phoenix Mercury led the WNBA at the gate with an average attendance of 9,946 despite losing Diana Taurasi after she chose to skip the WNBA season.
“Coming off a championship season creates momentum, and casual fans come and experience our atmosphere,” said Vince Kozar, vice president of business operations for the Mercury. “The first hurdle is getting people in the door. Once we do that, the brand and the quality of the game is so far ahead of what it used to be.”
Once the WNBA completes its postseason in October, Richie said the league will create an expansion committee and begin studying whether to eventually grow the league.
“I am in the process of reaching out to our board to put the committee together,” she said. “I want to make sure we are thoughtful and have both the league and team perspective.”