WNBA — It’s Not ALL About The Benjamins

2010 WNBA Champs, Phoenix Mercury, being honored at the White House

It’s about the Benjamin-inas! Or whatever the female counterpoint is of Benjamin…

The WNBA, or Women’s National Basketball Association, isn’t the first league that one thinks of when you bring up financial sports juggernauts. Most people would even go as far as to falsely categorize the Lynx, Mystic or Shock as early 90’s American Gladiators rather than professional basketball teams. I actually think some of the names overlap. 

The WNBA doesn’t have a big television deal, or merchandise sold in sporting goods stores yet the league remains in business year after year, despite less than stellar profit margins. In fact, the NBA pays the WNBA upwards of 10 million dollars yearly in “bailout” money just to keep the teams in operation. This has been going on for the past 15 years, since the league’s inception. Though the ratings for WNBA are higher than those of major league soccer or cable hockey programming, the games still aren’t a big draw for network executives. “If you think this is going to be the NBA or get men’s college basketball ratings or baseball ratings, that’s not going to happen, but it’s a good niche and it has to be done on a realistic scale,” Len DeLuca of ESPN said of what television executives should expect of the fledgling league. 

Ten of the 15 WNBA teams are owned in partnership with male counterpoints, and it is often a mutually beneficial relationship. It is worth it for many of these successful NBA teams to invest the money in the WNBA since it is a breeding ground for young, female basketball fans that can be transitioned into fans of their benefactor teams. David Stern, NBA commissioner lists other reasons for the WNBA to stay in existence: keeping some type of basketball games played in NBA arenas during the summer time, additional basketball programming in local markets and the appeal of goodwill ambassadors for sports fans of all genders. When you look at the WNBA from this perspective, you can almost view it as the most elaborate selling tool geared towards women in the sports industry as a whole. It welcomes young female basketball fans and introduces them to the sports experience in a more welcoming environment. It is a highly experiential approach by the NBA to welcome a whole new fan base. 

Team owners who are not affiliated with a professional NBA team are understandably feeling the pressures associated with owning a struggling business in hard economic times. Sheila Johnson, President, managing partner and governor of the Washington Mystics is also a co-founder of Black Entertainment Television and is looking for ways to combat they yearly loss of anywhere from 300-400k. Independent owners like Johnson, as well as NBA owners recognize the challenge of staying financially sound while also providing inspiration for female athletes. Luckily Johnson still feels blessed to own her own WNBA franchise.

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