BY Deidre Silva 06:50AM 06/10/2011

Silva: Excuses for not attending WNBA are inferior

No one would attend a minor league baseball game or watch college hoops if all anyone wanted to see was a sport’s best product. So why is that excuse OK for not watching the WNBA?

Lauren Jackson and the Storm had a bad night Thursday. / Christian Petersen, Getty Images

Last night, the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm hosted the Minnesota Lynx at KeyArena, the team with this year’s No. 1 and No. 4 draft picks.

The champs ended their home winning streak at 22 games, losing 81-74.

The rookie sensation and top overall recruit for the Lynx, Maya Moore, scored 14. Moore is the latest signing – and the only woman ever – to Nike’s legendary Air Jordan brand.

Sounds like an awesome setup for a game. And, in another sporting universe, it may have been a marquee affair.

But this is the WNBA, where games don’t warrant a media “marquee” billing.

Yet, the WNBA, reprising its role as basketball’s red-headed stepchild, is back for its 15th year. And along with another year, come the recycled arguments that that WNBA offers an inferior game –as compared to the NBA – and, as such, its status as a lesser sport is why television viewership is lower than it is for the NBA and why fewer people show up to support WNBA teams.

Yawn.

Rightful or not, comparisons between the two leagues are unavoidable if someone is looking to pick such a fight. But I refuse to waste a drop of digital ink on the merit of one league’s product over the other.

I will, however, delve into the theory that the WNBA’s attention woes stem from the idea that the women’s game is lesser as compared to the men’s.

That argument has little merit.

If people waited to watch only the best-of-the-best, why watch any NBA regular season game? Or college game? Why attend a minor league baseball game? Or any Kansas City Royals game?

Why people watch, attend – or don’t attend – any sports event often has little to do with whether the product on the field or court is the finest the sport has to offer. This means that the reasons people enjoy various sports are unquantifiable.

That makes for a challenging business model.

“With only 7,500 seats, our fans are closer to the action,” said Aaron Artman, Tacoma Rainier team president. “There is an intimacy here that the fans appreciate. They can smell the newly cut grass and hear what the players and coaches are saying.”

So, even though the product on the field of the Mariners’ AAA affiliate is widely acknowledged as, by definition, not the caliber of the major leagues, the fans still bother to come.

The Storm’s CEO, Karen Bryant, bristles at a comparison between the WNBA and minor league baseball.

“The WNBA isn’t a feeder system into anything,” Bryant said. “We are the pinnacle of women’s basketball.”

However, Bryant concedes that there is something about the intimacy both environments offer, saying that baseball “purists” appreciate a similar quality in minor league baseball that basketball purists appreciate in women’s hoops.

John Wooden, the storied UCLA coach whose teams amassed 10 NCAA titles between 1964 and 1975, was an outspoken supporter of the women’s game. Wooden wrote an article called “Why I am a UConn fan” for Sports Illustrated in April 2003, just after the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team won the NCAA championship. Wooden said that UConn reminded him of his UCLA teams.

“The top women athletes play a more pure game than the men,” Wooden said.

But that is only one man’s opinion.

Interestingly, Bryant said that one of the WNBA’s largest growing segments of fan base is basketball coaches.

“Coaches appreciate what we do because they can actively witness the strategy between the coach and players,” Bryant said. “Studying the NBA has no relative value to a high school coach.”

Bryant says that athletes in both leagues have comparable training, strategy and tactics but that is where the similarities end.

“A dunk, for example, is the least athletic play in basketball,” Bryant said. “How is watching someone 7 feet 4 inches tip his hand over the rim called athletic?”

Sure, but it is pretty entertaining to watch the 6’4” guy put an exclamation point on a drive by levitating 34 inches and finishing with a posterizing dunk over his flailing and gape-mouthed opponent.

The exciting dunking scenario supports Bryant’s point about how the NBA isn’t relevant to youth coaches because explosive dunks are rarely applicable to youth players. Most of these coaches will never design plays around a kid’s vertical leap. Point given.

Doesn’t mean a youth player shouldn’t aspire to such an intimidating and indisputably sensational play.

Of course, we’re not going to see the Los Angeles Sparks’ All-Star Candace Parker shatter the glass anytime soon. That’s too bad for the WNBA because shattered backboards make for great television, conversation and headlines.

“Detractors [to the WNBA] say that the women’s game doesn’t have the athleticism that the men’s game does,” Bryant said. “I think that what they really mean is that they miss the very physical play. The contact. On the other hand, we hear that the women’s game is ‘graceful.’”

And, if you’re looking for more signs of grace, you can also look off the court. The WNBA hasn’t had teammates pull guns on one another the locker room. No WNBA player has thrown anyone through a plate-glass window.

In fact, aside from a smattering of nude photos and Phoenix All-Star Diana Taurasi being wrongly accused of having taken a banned substance, the biggest “social impropriety” that can be leveled against the WNBA is that some of its players are lesbians, as are some of its fans.

Purity and comparisions aside, Bryant maintains that women’s basketball is a mainstream sport.

No, it is not. And that’s OK.

The NBA was once a quaint game, too, appreciated only by the game’s purists. It wasn’t mainstream 15 years after its inception. In fact, even in 1981, more than 30 years after the NBA was founded, most of the league’s championship series between the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets was televised on tape delay.

So don’t get defensive, WNBA. You have time.


YourThoughts

  • Suds

    WNBA = NBA or not. I couldn’t care less. “Professional” basketball is dead to me.

    I’m sure it doesn’t help that the WNBA plays an indoor game during the summer months. As much as they try to say they’re not governed by the NBA; until the WNBA plays the season when it’s supposed to be played. they’re just an NBA sidelight.

  • Suds

    WNBA = NBA or not. I couldn’t care less. “Professional” basketball is dead to me.

    I’m sure it doesn’t help that the WNBA plays an indoor game during the summer months. As much as they try to say they’re not governed by the NBA; until the WNBA plays the season when it’s supposed to be played. they’re just an NBA sidelight.

  • Chris

    Why do WNBA fans always bash the NBA? What is it with niche sports fanatics that makes them bash the mainstream sports?

    Karen Bryant:
    “Studying the NBA
    has no relative value to a high school coach.”
    “A dunk, for example, is the least athletic play in basketball. How is watching someone 7 feet 4 inches tip his hand over
    the rim called athletic?”

    Wow! That’s so out there, I don’t even know how to respond to that. Probably not even worthy of a response. It is comical how WNBA fans love to bash the NBA, NHL fans bash the NBA, and MLS/European soccer fans bash MLB and NFL.

    I can tell you right now that spewing falsehoods about sports and leagues that so many people love won’t help the WNBA, NHL, or MLS  reach mainstream status. In fact, I think those tactics only make people resent women’s basketball, hockey, and soccer, which contributes to keeping them down.

    • Fanfeedback

      Chris,

      Thanks for your comment. I am, in fact, an NBA fan and have been since I was a little girl, so my intent was not to bash the NBA nor any other sports league for that matter. I was simply trying to convey some of the merits I also appreciate and love about WNBA basketball. I was also attempting to counter some of the “spewing falsehoods” about women’s professional basketball. I appreciate the point you’re making and disllike bashing of other sports leagues, too, so we can agree on that; it appears that I offered a poor choice of words and miscommunicated my point.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Best,
      Karen Bryant
      President & CEO

  • Chris

    Why do WNBA fans always bash the NBA? What is it with niche sports fanatics that makes them bash the mainstream sports?

    Karen Bryant:
    “Studying the NBA
    has no relative value to a high school coach.”
    “A dunk, for example, is the least athletic play in basketball. How is watching someone 7 feet 4 inches tip his hand over
    the rim called athletic?”

    Wow! That’s so out there, I don’t even know how to respond to that. Probably not even worthy of a response. It is comical how WNBA fans love to bash the NBA, NHL fans bash the NBA, and MLS/European soccer fans bash MLB and NFL.

    I can tell you right now that spewing falsehoods about sports and leagues that so many people love won’t help the WNBA, NHL, or MLS  reach mainstream status. In fact, I think those tactics only make people resent women’s basketball, hockey, and soccer, which contributes to keeping them down.

    • Fanfeedback

      Chris,

      Thanks for your comment. I am, in fact, an NBA fan and have been since I was a little girl, so my intent was not to bash the NBA nor any other sports league for that matter. I was simply trying to convey some of the merits I also appreciate and love about WNBA basketball. I was also attempting to counter some of the “spewing falsehoods” about women’s professional basketball. I appreciate the point you’re making and disllike bashing of other sports leagues, too, so we can agree on that; it appears that I offered a poor choice of words and miscommunicated my point.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Best,
      Karen Bryant
      President & CEO

  • Jill R.

    WNBA = graceful?  OK, sure, I guess I can see that.  WNBA = not very physical?  Well, I think that anyone that has played against reigning MVP Lauren Jackson might disagree with Bryant on that point.  

    • Fanfeedback

      Jill R.,

      To clarify, my point was not that the WNBA isn’t physical; it was simply that many non-attendees I talk to say that they don’t attend and are not interested in watching WNBA basketball because they dont’ believe it’s physical enough. Thanks for your interest in this story and for taking the time to comment.

      GO STORM!

      Best,
      Karen Bryant
      President & CEO

  • Jill R.

    WNBA = graceful?  OK, sure, I guess I can see that.  WNBA = not very physical?  Well, I think that anyone that has played against reigning MVP Lauren Jackson might disagree with Bryant on that point.  

    • Fanfeedback

      Jill R.,

      To clarify, my point was not that the WNBA isn’t physical; it was simply that many non-attendees I talk to say that they don’t attend and are not interested in watching WNBA basketball because they dont’ believe it’s physical enough. Thanks for your interest in this story and for taking the time to comment.

      GO STORM!

      Best,
      Karen Bryant
      President & CEO

  • Hannah Kelly-Glasoe

    I never played basketball, other than YMCA ball in elementary school. I played Soccer, Fastpitch and ran cross country instead. I’m a sports fan, but not really a basketball fan. I started going to Storm games in 2007 and was instantly addicted. The other fans around me were so infectious it was amazing. I bought season tickets the next season (bought the cheapest seat in the house because I was a poor starving college student). I’ve been a season ticket holder ever since, and have now convinced my mom and best friend to buy season tickets next year and will probably buy another seat just for myself to have when I want to bring other friends.

    I think I’ve been attracted to the WNBA because of how personal the experience is (the players are so nice to fans, and even go out of their way to make the experience on and off the court special for fans. Specifically I remember the season ticket holder party last year was on my birthday and both Swin Cash and Ashley Robinson went out of their way to tell me happy birthday in person, on Twitter and on Facebook. I realize it seems like nothing special, but it was literally the best birthday I have ever had. I appreciate that it’s affordable and that I can support a professional women’s sport.

    I’ll never compare it to the NBA, because they are two different types of basketball. I prefer the women’s game 100 times over. Until the Sonics come back, I don’t have a team to root for anyway. And Karen, please give ARob and Swin some serious praise for all they do in the community. ARob has especially gone out of her way on more than one occasion to make my day and put a smile on my face. I never forget it!!!!

  • Hannah Kelly-Glasoe

    I never played basketball, other than YMCA ball in elementary school. I played Soccer, Fastpitch and ran cross country instead. I’m a sports fan, but not really a basketball fan. I started going to Storm games in 2007 and was instantly addicted. The other fans around me were so infectious it was amazing. I bought season tickets the next season (bought the cheapest seat in the house because I was a poor starving college student). I’ve been a season ticket holder ever since, and have now convinced my mom and best friend to buy season tickets next year and will probably buy another seat just for myself to have when I want to bring other friends.

    I think I’ve been attracted to the WNBA because of how personal the experience is (the players are so nice to fans, and even go out of their way to make the experience on and off the court special for fans. Specifically I remember the season ticket holder party last year was on my birthday and both Swin Cash and Ashley Robinson went out of their way to tell me happy birthday in person, on Twitter and on Facebook. I realize it seems like nothing special, but it was literally the best birthday I have ever had. I appreciate that it’s affordable and that I can support a professional women’s sport.

    I’ll never compare it to the NBA, because they are two different types of basketball. I prefer the women’s game 100 times over. Until the Sonics come back, I don’t have a team to root for anyway. And Karen, please give ARob and Swin some serious praise for all they do in the community. ARob has especially gone out of her way on more than one occasion to make my day and put a smile on my face. I never forget it!!!!

  • Mchedester

    Perhaps nobody should need an excuse not to watch something of no interest to them.  WNBA players and fans should be happy with the handouts from the NBA.  Stop trying to justify this charity as a business.  Just be happy you are getting the handouts in order to exist.  Because you could never exist on your own.  

  • Mchedester

    Perhaps nobody should need an excuse not to watch something of no interest to them.  WNBA players and fans should be happy with the handouts from the NBA.  Stop trying to justify this charity as a business.  Just be happy you are getting the handouts in order to exist.  Because you could never exist on your own.  

  • Old Goat

    We don’t have to watch it. Of course there goes ticket sales and TV viewing percentages which will, if it hasn’t already place the team in the red. We’ve seen this before in the Seahawks and more recently the Sonics. Of course both owners wanted new palaces paid for mostly with taxpayer money and although the Mariners have theirs it’s always the fans the owners blame and then like the small minded brats they are threaten or actually move the team by virtue of sale to out of town crooks with no regard for those who supported it for years during good and bad. As a northwest fan I have learned to be disinterested in our local teams, not due to the lack of championships, but simply that they are non competitive year after year and continue to make or fail to make moves to improve the team; please see Doug Fisster and (although time will tell) the Pineda trade that broke up potentially the most talented 1-2-3 staff in the majors. I’m still a fan of the game, but if overpriced ice cream tastes like baking soda I’ll switch brands or stop buying the product until it improves. Here’s to football season!

    • Artthiel

      Old Goat, something tells me you’re still interested in the local teams if you care enough to write — and hail the coming football seasons. It helps to avoid sweeping generalities over all the teams. There’s plenty enough to pick apart the Mariners right now.

  • Artthiel

    Fatigue has definitely set in. Red Sox are always big draws, but 20,000 Thursday and 23,000 Friday are further strong evidence that the bond has been broken. 

    • RadioGuy

      The thing is, Art, I still believe there’s a lot of upside to this current collection of players.  I think the pitching staff, when healthy, is a strong point that should only improve with Hultzen, Walker and Paxton (BTW, why couldn’t Furbush get the start tomorrow instead of Iwakuma?…Charlie’s been lights-out), Montero may become a solid MLB DH (Zunino is probably the C of the future), you’ve got 3/4s of what could be a pretty good infield in Seager, Ackley and Smoak (don’t know why Triunfel is so highly-regarded that Franklin’s playing out of position in Tacoma, though) and there’s some talent in the OF with Wells, Saunders and even Trayvon Robinson if he can improve on tracking balls.  I’ve always liked Peguero and Johermyn Chavez could develop into a power hitter.  In other words, the cupboard is not bare.

      I know I’ve been one of the loudest voices on these boards preaching patience but, boy, has our patience ever been tried this year!

  • just passing thru

    hey Art, I’m with Wedge, I’m tired of it too.  It’s hard to tell from the outside looking in, but how much coaching, training and mentoring is going on with this coaching staff?  Without (much?) veteran leadership, it’s up to the coaches to guide the youngsters.  But where’s the fine tuning and adjustments (game-to-game, within the game, mechanical analysis & problem solving, mental energy & focus training) coming from?  Is it really being worked on behind the scenes and the players are just a bunch of luddites?  The biggest improvements are Saunders – who got his training elsewhere and Seager.  Where’s the corrections in Smoak’s swing (slow, hands very high, bat tucked behind head, long arc), Montero’s pitch recognition (guess what Jesus – 2 strikes on you – here comes the junk low and away), Ackley’s approach and interest/ability? to hit opposite field, etc., etc.

    As much as I love the game and the Ms, it’s getting hard to spend much more $ or time watching this team.  If there were visible signs of improvement, it’d be one thing, but they seem to be regressing, especially at home (a whole other topic that’s gotta be more mental than physical).

    Anyway, always appreciate your insights.

  • Mooringmaster

    And I don’t see much hope or help coming from below.  The AAA franchise is struggling as bad as the big guys.  If the starter does well, the pen blows it, if the pitchers do a reasonable job, the offense doesn’t match.  Very few close wins.  It often seems they can only win blow-outs.

  • Tian Biao

    At least there weren’t any of those dancing groundskeepers the last time I went.  Of course we lost that game (Dodgers 8, Ms 2). But yeah, it looks bad; none of the kids seem to be panning out, but upon closer inspection, there is still hope for the future. ‘Smoak and Mirrors’ is a lost cause, but Montero has potential, and he’s only 22, and Ackley seems to have his head on straight and could improve under better circumstances (ie if the whole team improves), and Seager looks okay. Of course now the starting pitching is falling apart; last year the pitching was okay, but  it looks like that might need fixing as well.

    I have two real gripes: one, it is hard to look around at other teams that have good players and good pitchers and see them rise up and contend once in a while, while we stay stubbornly stuck in last place, with 100 losses an annual possibility. And two, it’s just really boring to watch such a feckless offensive team. It’s not just the lack of scoring; it’s also the way they approach at-bats, hacking and flailing at any old junk the pitcher decides to toss up there. It’s just . . . why would anyone pay to see that?

    I’m tempted to tirade about that $*&# flex pricing system as well, but that would be three gripes. Okay, here goes, I’m angry about this: the Dodgers-Ms Sunday game was very expensive ($195 for five tickets, including two kids 10 and 12 who got no discounts), and they said the bleachers were sold out, but we saw lots of empty seats there. To me, that is an insult, to overcharge for such a lame team. By contrast, I bought five tickets to Citi Field in New York on May 6 this year, also a Sunday day game, and the man at the ticket window had all kinds of offers, with free hot dogs and cokes and half-price tickets for the kids, and the total for the five of us was $105. In New York!

    I believe that the only cure is new ownership, and I can’t wait for the door to hit Lincoln and Armstrong on their way out, though heaven knows when that will happen.

  • jafabian

    For years M’s pitchers complained on how the Kingdome was a hitter’s park.  The club even moved back the fences when Smulyan was owner.  The M’s still set records for offense afterwards.  Now some players think their home field favors pitchers too much.   

    Baseball is the only sport where the parks have leeway in their design.  Football, basketball, soccer, it’s all the same.  At some point I wonder if MLB will make all parks more uniform with one other? (I highly doubt it though)