Deep into the mega-hyped 2017 NBA playoff season, the league produced a commercial featuring stars of the men’s game testifying to the excitement and rigor of women’s basketball. The 30-second spot reeked of an attempt to exploit the WNBA as a “cause,” and to position already well loved players as the “good guys.”
This wouldn’t be half as frustrating if the network backed up its overtures with meaningful support for the women’s league. Out of a dozen games being played this week, ESPN2 will broadcast just one. This year, Twitter is picking up some of the slack, livestreaming 20 games as opposed to the 16 regular-season games ESPN will host across mostly ESPN2 and ESPN3.
But it doesn’t need to be this way. We’re entering a known lull in the world of US sports coverage — nothing but baseball and the WNBA are running, with some scattered tennis and golf — and the talking heads and CNN-style news desks are going to gossip about the impact of the NBA Draft until football practice starts. The broadcasting space and capacity to offer substantive analysis exists if the network chooses to help us parrot some talking points at work the next morning.
Showcasing a game here or there won’t build a bridge, let alone a brand. The NBA’s success is rooted in the systematic development of player personalities and dramatized team narratives. The players, in turn, benefit from national marketing campaigns aimed at capitalizing on their personas. It’s not as though these women are without stories; most of us just don’t know them yet.
Live stream 20 free WNBA games at wnba.twitter.com.
If ESPN sent a qualified sports journalist for consistent courtside coverage, the rapport they’d build with players would translate with viewers and facilitate our emotional investment. It’s an easy fix, and a worthwhile one.
Let’s face it: WNBA play is more aggressive, technical and methodical; players get the ball low and score the deuces. When they don’t? Let’s just say three-time Olympic gold medalist Sylvia Fowles could show Kevin Love a thing or two about competitive rebounding under pressure, and then remind ourselves that she earns one one-hundredth of his salary.
I’m happy for my money to directly benefit WNBA talent, so I’m buying this season’s $17 league pass. Let’s show the networks we’ll watch.