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Will Stellar Rookie Class Revive Attendance?



Will Stellar Rookie Class Revive Attendance?

The 2023 WNBA season delivered record-breaking TV viewership numbers, together with the most-watched common season in 21 years, the most-watched Finals in 20 years and the most-watched All-Star Sport in 16 years.

And but, common attendance per sport was decrease than each season in league historical past between 1997 and 2019. Just like TV rankings, the league drew its greatest crowds in its first three seasons—1997, 1998 and 1999—and there was a gradual decline within the decade that adopted.

That pattern is starkly completely different from the NWSL, now in its twelfth season, for which attendance has elevated persistently over time.

Launching with the momentum of the 1996 Olympics, the WNBA benefited from a curiosity think about its first season, in addition to heavy advertising. “There was a whole lot of curiosity going into that first season,” 1999 WNBA All-Star Rebecca Lobo mentioned. “Individuals have been desirous to see, what does knowledgeable girls’s basketball appear to be? What does a league backed by David Stern and the league appear to be?”

The WNBA launched an iconic promoting marketing campaign with the tagline “We Bought Subsequent” publicizing its begin date of June 21, 1997. “You’ll activate an NBA sport, a playoff sport, at any level in 1997 and there was a business,” Lobo mentioned. “Enormous, large promotion behind that WNBA season.”

The primary sport in WNBA historical past, between the New York Liberty and the Los Angeles Sparks, drew greater than 5 million viewers on NBC, a quantity that has but to be surpassed.

Waning curiosity and the lack of the novelty issue are two causes for the regular decline in attendance over the W’s first 25 seasons, however the venues themselves have impacted the numbers.

The Atlanta Dream, as an illustration, used to share Philips Enviornment with the Atlanta Hawks, however the staff now performs on the Gateway Heart Enviornment at Faculty Park, citing disagreements with the Hawks’ administration. The brand new venue is almost 10 miles from downtown Atlanta and suits fewer than 3,500 followers.

The Dream bought out the vast majority of their house video games final season, in line with Throughout the Timeline. “There’s a line exterior of individuals and there’s a requirement, however they’re not capable of get in,” ESPN basketball analyst LaChina Robinson mentioned.

Some franchises that relocated have downsized their house arenas within the course of. The Dallas Wings play on the Faculty Park Heart (capability of seven,000), which is far smaller than the BOK Heart (capability of >17,000) the place they performed between 2010 and 2015 once they have been the Tulsa Shock. The Wings are planning a transfer to downtown Dallas within the close to future.

The New York Liberty performed 2018 and 2019 in White Plains, New York, after 21 seasons at Madison Sq. Backyard, as a result of MSG had introduced plans to promote the staff. Different groups have moved briefly over time for quite a lot of causes, together with renovations to NBA arenas.

All in all, again in 1997, the smallest enviornment of the eight WNBA groups was the Compaq Heart, which hosted the Houston Comets and sat roughly 17,000. In 2023, six of the 12 franchises performed house video games in venues with fewer than 15,000 seats.

This upcoming season, groups are addressing the capability challenge in direct response to the hype surrounding No. 1 total draft decide Caitlin Clark. The Aces will play their Could 25 sport in opposition to the Indiana Fever on the 18,000-seat T-Cellular Enviornment, and the Washington Mystics will host Indiana on June 7 at Capital One Enviornment with room for greater than 20,000.

The Mystics will play two different video games at Capital One this season—they’re going to host the Chicago Sky on June 6 and the Phoenix Mercury on July 16 on the house to the NBA’s Wizards and NHL’s Capitals.

For those who construct it, they’ll come. Final season, the WNBA champion Aces, whose common house court docket, the Michelob Extremely Enviornment, seats 12,000, performed their closing common season sport at T-Cellular Enviornment, drawing 17,406 followers.

With essentially the most star-studded rookie class in WNBA historical past, together with Clark, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso, the league has a possibility to construct off the elevated curiosity in girls’s school hoops and switch its attendance graph round. The WNBA Draft in April drew the eleventh largest WNBA TV viewers on file, trailing simply 10 video games, all of which came about between 1997 and 2000.

“I do really feel we’re at a spot now the place the promotion is the same as what it was in these early days,“ Lobo mentioned. “The opposite evening there was a Celtics sport and the signage on the scorer’s desk was an ESPN advert [for the] WNBA season [to] tune in to look at the Indiana Fever on the Connecticut Solar.

“I will likely be shocked if this season’s ticket gross sales don’t come near these numbers that we noticed within the early days of the league.”

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