The 2013 WNBA Finals features two of the best players in the league: The Dream’s Angel McCoughtry (l) and the Lynx’s Seimone Augustus (r).
By Charles Glover, Jr.
The finals for the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) began Sunday night and continues tonight on ESPN2 for a best of five series. This year’s WNBA Finals features two teams that have gone the distance multiple times over the past few seasons in exciting games. The familiarity of the Minnesota Lynx and Atlanta Dream among WNBA fans, barring any distraction, should generate more interest than previous playoff games. This rematch of the 2011 WNBA Finals has the intrigue of two teams with something to prove because the Lynx lost year’s championship and the Dream lost in 2011.
The inaugural WNBA season featured Sheryl Swoopes (l), Rebecca Lobo (c), and Lisa Leslie (r) who emerged as stars after the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
But good ratings, fan interest and clout are not guaranteed for the WNBA Finals. The WNBA has struggled to grow beyond a niche sport in America despite the international appeal of women’s basketball. America’s female Team USA basketball exploded on the national landscape with a dominating performance in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. The excellence that team displayed, along with the charisma of such stars as Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Rebecca Lobo and countless others helped create the momentum to start the American Basketball League (ABL) in 1996 and the WNBA in 1997. By 2000, the ABL folded and of the combination of the two leagues’ best players helped the WNBA continue to grow. The WNBA was considered unique because it was the only women’s basketball league to have the backing of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Early WNBA franchises had an NBA team equivalent. However, the WNBA has since grown to have several individually-owned teams.
The WNBA hopes the sport can continue to grow with the influx of notable college stars like this past season’s rookie class featuring Brittany Griner (l), Skylar Diggins (c), and 2013 Rookie of the Year Elena Della Donne (r).
The WNBA has players that have continued to grow their popularity that began in college. But the league faces numerous challenges, starting with the low salaries paid to the players. WNBA salaries range from $37,950 per year for players in their first three years, to the maximum amount of $107,000 per year for players with more than six years’ experience. The brevity of the WNBA season, roughly 5 months, gives players opportunities to improve their game and grow their brand by playing in international leagues. Of the many players who take advantage of this opportunity, the most well-known is 2013 WNBA MVP Candace Parker who has played since 2009 for a professional team in Russia. These extra chances to earn are sometimes necessary since most WNBA players do not have large endorsement deals or alternative revenue streams from cross-branding ventures.
Women’s basketball has been dominant in the World Games and Olympics since the 1990’s and women’s college basketball has continuously generated stars that eventually graduate to the WNBA. However, these developments have not translated into continuous popularity growth for the WNBA. This year’s finals features a Minnesota Lynx team that has made the finals in three consecutive years. Their opponents, the Atlanta Dream, have made it to the finals for the third time in the past four years, which is significant for a franchise that began in 2008.
Angel McCoughtry (l) and Maya Moore (r) were summertime teammates for the 2012 Olympics, now they’re adversaries in the 2013 WNBA Finals
The highlights of this 2011 Finals rematch are expected to be given by the stars of both teams that recently led Team USA to another gold medal in the Olympics. Lynx teammates Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore are both former Women’s College Basketball Players of the Year. Augustus, Moore, and the Dream’s star Angel McCoughtry have won the WNBA Rookie of the Year award (in 06’, ’11, and 09’, respectively) and Augustus was 2011 WNBA MVP. It will be interesting to see if the Dream can reverse their fortunes from 2011 and capture the franchise’s first title or if the Lynx will rebound from last year’s Finals loss and regain status as the WNBA’s best team.
Serena and Venus Williams are two of the most accomplished female athletes of all time and most marketable as well.
Like most women’s sports, the WNBA is aiming for excellence among the players to translate into increased interest in the game. Most women’s sports realize that it takes more than outstanding play to spark the kind of interest that generates large monetary rewards such as more advertisements, endorsements and branding opportunities that will increase revenues for the players and the franchises. Few female athletes have become as marketable or successful as the Williams sisters, who have been able to translate their on-court success to arenas outside of their sport.
The WNBA would be wise to implement many of the cross-branding measures that the Williams sisters continue to use. This would require a change in mindset, approach and an overhaul of the WNBA’s business model. The early era of the WNBA benefited from the players having cameo appearances in movies and television. TV Sitcom Martin and sports movie “Love And Basketball” were great chances for women’s basketball to be portrayed favorably in mainstream media. If aggressive actions are not taken to address the way the WNBA product is delivered, the game could continue to struggle for ratings, fans, attention and clout, despite the excellence of the product itself..-OnPointPress.net
Charles Glover, Jr. is a sports aficionado and management training consultant.