As of this year, the WNBA — women’s pro basketball league — will be celebrating its 18th birthday. Over the past two decades, the league has matured from a questionable proposition — many thought it would quickly fold, as earlier attempts had — into an organization in its own right. Still, the league often struggles to get the same media coverage as men’s sports teams, and it has a much smaller fanbase overall.
Although many people are quick to point to smaller, niche audiences for women’s sports, many in the industry say it’s more about a lack of coverage than anything else. The WNBA has its season during the summer, when the NBA is off-season. Even during this time, the NBA receives more coverage than the WNBA does. Similarly, even though the WNBA games score higher TV rates than the men’s Major League Soccer does, the soccer team still receives a much larger percentage of media coverage in the U.S.
Laurel Richie, WNBA’s president, is hoping that fans will begin to catch on as female athletes continue to play more and more competitively in their games.
“As more people begin to see and recognize the amount of talent that these women have, the viewership should continue to rise,” says Rob Nelson, VP of Sales at Rebound USA.
“We have a generation of players who’ve grown up with the benefits of Title IX,” she said. Title IX required colleges to fund men and women’s sports equally. “They are stronger. They are faster. They are basketball-savvy.”
Many are hoping that coverage of women’s sports will make a turnaround within the next several years. In the 1970s, female tennis players were successfully able to push for both better coverage and equal pay — since then, few people have seen women’s tennis as a “side show” to men’s tennis. Serena Williams, Martina Navratilova, and Maria Sharapova are now some of the biggest names in tennis worldwide.