OT: If we don’t cover the WNBA, who will?

2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones (second from left) is introduced as the newest addition of the New York Liberty on Jan. 23. Photo courtesy of Kostas Lymperopoulos/ New York Liberty. 

KOBE MOSLEY | MANAGING EDITOR | kmosley@butler.edu

What team did WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones play on before signing with the New York Liberty? Why is there controversy between forward Dearica Hamby and the Las Vegas Aces organization? Which former teammate did basketball legend Candace Parker just reunite with?

If you have not been tapped into publications like The Next or WNBA Twitter, then you probably don’t know the answer to any of these questions. These are just a few examples of the huge storylines surrounding the WNBA offseason — storylines that should be circulating rapidly around sports media. And yet, finding any analysis or coverage outside of a 200-word article or one-minute segment on TV is a futile endeavor.

Why is this? It’s a loaded question with a loaded answer. The common logistical answer is that the WNBA fanbase isn’t nearly as big as one for male sports like the NBA’s fanbase, and therefore the amount of coverage is proportional to how many people are seeking that information. The problem with that answer, however, it doesn’t answer the question of how the WNBA is supposed to gain more viewership if there isn’t nearly as much coverage as other professional sports leagues.

In a study done by researchers Cheryl Cooky, Michael Messner and Robin Hextrum in 2019, it was found that 95% of total television coverage, including ESPN’s “Sportscenter,” focused on men’s sports. The practically non-existent coverage of women’s sports is unacceptable. Using the WNBA as an example, the amount of coverage they receive in-season and out-of-season compared to the NBA is drastically disproportionate. In Cooky et. al’s report, it was found that the NBA receives substantially more coverage during their offseason than the WNBA does when they are in season. 

A WNBA season lasts from May to September. During the heart of the regular season, after the end of the NBA postseason, the only other major sports on are baseball and hockey. 

Senior sports media major Jeffrey Nelson argues that this is when the WNBA should have more televised games.

“I think in terms of TV, [media outlets] should do a better job of just showing the games,” Nelson said. “I feel like in terms of the order [on shows] during the season … it goes the NBA playoffs, the NBA Finals, then they’ll do baseball, then they’ll do the hockey playoffs and then they’ll do the WNBA. By that time, if you’re on SportsCenter, people [are already] probably tuned out. ESPN could do a better job of showing the WNBA earlier on in their segments and in their episodes of SportsCenter and everything like that.”

The WNBA is trying to make it easier for outlets to air their games by simply adding more games to the schedule. This year, the regular season game total will increase from 36 to 40 games for each team. Last season, 25 games during the regular season, as well as the entire postseason, were nationally televised across ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC. With more games added to the schedule, there is an opportunity for that number to go up. The fact that games are being nationally televised at all is a sign of progress, but there are still a majority of games that continue to be relegated to WNBA League Pass and Facebook Live.

Senior sports media major Ben Wheeler watches multiple NBA games during a given week. He acknowledges that the ease and accessibility of watching the NBA are what draw him to continuously watch games, while the opposite is true for watching the WNBA.

“I mean … the NBA has their own channel,” Wheeler said. “So it’s crazy because the WNBA doesn’t have their own channel, but you can watch an NBA game every night. Whether it’s your team [that is playing] or not, you have three networks that cover the NBA. You have ESPN … the NBA has its set Wednesday and Friday games, they have their ABC Sunday games, and then TNT has Tuesday and Thursday. So it’s just mind-blowing how many NBA games are accessible.”

Of course, time has been on the NBA’s side when it comes to building viewership. Being half a century older than WNBA means that the NBA has been able to build on top of its ground-level fanbase, something the WNBA still has in the works. And while some think that the issue with viewership has to do with the lack of interest, it mainly comes down to the lack of respect that women in sports are rewarded. 

Senior strategic communications major Duncan Stone admits that he doesn’t watch the WNBA regularly — which is fine, that’s not a crime — but he does remember watching as a kid and has seen the irregularities in the respect that those athletes get in comparison to their male counterparts.

“I grew up with the Sacramento Monarchs before they left, and I remember watching those games,” Stone said. “I would go to some of those games, and they were really fun, but it never felt like they were treated right like they were professional athletes … it felt like they were almost [seen] as second tier.”

In an article for USC News, Cooky professes that the WNBA was able to capitalize on the resurgence of sports during the pandemic, but does not want to fully declare just yet that this will be a launching point for women’s sports.

“Before the pandemic, many fans took sports for granted; now it’s clear how much we rely on sports for entertainment and as a form of escape,” Cooky said in the article.

“While the WNBA successfully capitalized on the fans’ and the media’s hunger for sports over the summer, the media’s effort to get back to what’s considered ‘normal’ may once again eclipse women athletes. It remains to be seen whether this moment in history will force the media to reimagine its coverage of women’s sports.”

So, are you still wondering which team Jonquel Jones left, what the drama is with Dearica Hamby and the Aces or who Candace Parker reunited with? It’s ok — you’re not alone. You can try to rummage for the answers, or you can help amplify the call for more effort and air time to be dedicated to women’s sports. 

Like Ari Chambers always says, “The WNBA is so important.” But how would you know if no one tells you why?



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