With Rebound, WNBA Solidifies Spot at ESPN

ESPN has signed to carry the WNBA until the year 2022.

(from Sports Business Journal, November 11th, 2013)  Over the years, the WNBA has had to fight the reputation they have had of nobody watching their games.  Since their founding in 1996, it has had a low average attendance of 7,457 fans attending each game, and only 180,000 viewers tuned into its games in 2012.  Even with these low numbers, ESPN committed to carry WNBA games through 2022, and according to a Sports Business Journal analysis of this year’s viewership, the WMBA compares to other high-profile leagues and sporting events on television.

ESPN’s Executive Vice President of Programming and Acquisitions, Norby Willamson, reported that he is pleased with the ratings.  He said, “People think the WNBA doesn’t resonate, but I don’t share that point of view.”  Since the deal, the league’s TV numbers have increased by 28 percent from last year, and regular-season games averaged numbers greater than Major League Soccer’s regular-season game averages on ESPN and ESPN2.  Although this has some to do with the times of the games, WNBA being during prime time and Major League Soccer being on weekends, it is still an improvement for the ratings of the WNBA.

The league has rebounded from its low ratings, and Williamson seems to think it has to do with viewer’s relationships with players.  “We covered them in college, and they graduated into the WNBA, and we were able to follow that,” Williamson said. “Strategically making that connection between the NCAA tournament and the WNBA is a big deal for us.”  ESPN has carried the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament since 1996 which complements the WNBA as well as other women’s athletics.  “We believe we’re the leader in covering women’s sports,” Williamson said.  “Look at the NCAA College Championships, whether it’s softball, volleyball, or soccer.  This is a key cog.”