Has the WNBA finally settled on a marketing strategy?

An amazing amount of interesting information and thought-provoking concepts in this piece about selling the female athlete. But here’s the key for me, under the second stanza, “NBA and WNBA: One sport, two worlds”:

The WNBA wants to use its affordability as a selling point — the league markets the players as accessible and the games as family fun. Going forward, the WNBA will hone in on three key groups, Shaev says: African-Americans, lesbians, and youth.


“Of course,” she adds, “there’s something to be said for reaching that mainstream American sports fan who knows everything about sports and [wants] to know every stat. We want them all to be our fans.”

But the WNBA might not get the growth it needs, Shaev admits, if it focuses on 18-34 year-old male sports addicts. Networks like ESPN have those fans on lock.

Hey, that’s what I’ve been saying!

If they’re serious, I say, hallelujayer! Gotta have a plan.


  1. But the obvious elephant in the plan is that African Americans and youths (and their parents) are not compatible audience partners with lesbians. Let's face it, women's basketball, even women's sports is considered by many in the mainstream to be lesbian activity. If the WNBA focuses on lesbians as a target audience, they runs the risk of becoming like the Dinah Shore classic. Superbowl weekend for lesbians but keep away for everyone else.

    The sad fact is that womens basketball is a niche sport. It's being presented professionally and collegiately at a level that is incompatible with its popularity. In a professional setting, that means a sea of empty seats and a sea of red ink. The reality is that any team sport that fails to speak to 50% of the population is doomed to fail. The WNBA might be something of a success on a much smaller scale but the ABL also bombed when the sport was much higher profile.

  2. Since we're talking about the Olympics and WBB check out these videos of Molly Bolin, the greatest pure shooting women's baller of all time. Pretty interesting how she is talking about leveraging the USWBB gold medal of 1984 into a successful women's pro league in the inverview. 28 years later here we are…

    Interview with one of Bruce Jenner's earlier wives:

    Hall of Fame Induction:

    Molly rocked it.

  3. I live in Seattle and have seen just such "mixed" crowds for decades at women's basketball games: UW, Reign, and Storm. I see no homophobia among the African-American and young male specators. Lots of fans of all sorts.

    p.s. I really wish commenters were bold enough to use names or nicknames along with opinions.

  4. I think Anonymous 1 makes some good points but I don't see women's sports through the high school level as being lesbian activities. D1, Olympics and Pros I'd be more inclined to agree with him.

    Sports are great for girls through high school for the same reasons they are great for boys. In my view the LGBT mix becomes much "richer" at the college level. It would be interesting to have a conversation as to why that is, but it seems to be true. I'm pretty sure there is some heavy self-selection going on at that stage of their lives.

    I agree with Scamp on the Seattle market, although the Pacific NW is probably third only to the San Francisco and Boston markets for being LGBT friendly. Most markets just aren't there. I may be wrong but I believe some of the ownership group of the Storm is LGBT, correct? Hopefully given the success of that franchise and their ownership group they are giving meaningful feedback to Ms. Richey about how marketing to the LGBT segment could work. It may well be that due to the robust LGBT demographic in Seattle marketing to them makes good business sense whereas in less progressive markets it wouldn't work.

    I think from pure marketing standpoint they need to combine their target markets to expand the universe of potential fans and work the league up to a financial breakeven point. The problem is they need to do it in a way that doesn't alienate any of their niches.

  5. Well Scamp, as Anonymous 1 and a lesbian, I was simply stating what over 60 years have taught me. I skated Roller Derby in the '70s and '80s where almost all the female skaters were lesbians. Almost all the men skaters were gay as well. Yet, we were never pigenholed as a Gay sport, although we were stuck with even more dirisive labels like "fake" and "trash sports" among others. We were never marketed towards any group. Blacks (in the '70s, that's what we were called), gays, youths, seniors. Everyone came because they loved it. Womens basketball could only hope that they could have drawn the kinds of audiences we saw during the glory years of Derby. Although I did not skate in the game, Roller Derby/Games drew 50,000 fans to Comiskey Park in 1973.

    Today is much more divisive. Did you see the lines at Chik-fil-A to support anti-gay marriage? Do you think homosexuality is readily accepted or even tolerated in the African American community? Let's have the discussion, not some PC crap. From my personal experiences, the gay men and women who had the most problems coming out to their families were almost always African Americans. Whether it was religious or cultural, I don't know. Has it changed in the 60+ years I've been here? In my opinion, yes. It's gotten worse.

    Much as I would love the scenario where all audiences would join hands and sing Kumbaya, it won't happen. I'm not at all suggesting that the WNBA should not identify and appreciate its gay fanbase, esepcially since they've been arguably the strongest supporters of the league since day 1. But I don't see how that will build the audience base. Perhaps the question shouldn't be how, but CAN the audience base be built?

  6. Wow Ms. Cruz…I really felt your comments and would have to work really hard to find fault with what you say. I guess what is most troubling is the fact that what you say may be closer to the true picture than I would like to admit…how do we mix oil and vinegar and make it work??? I guess we'll find out…All I know is if the WNBA folds due to lack of fanbase, it would be another blow to not just the female professional athletes but to our 3 year old daughters who'll be picking up a basketball or kicking a soccer ball for the first time this year…*smh*

  7. I wanted to add that I went to Rollercon this year, which is the convention that the RollerGirls teams and fans around the world attend. While I am not a fan of the new incarnation of the sport (too confusion and unclear with scoring, IMO), I couldn't believe the enthusiasm and passion. There are now over 1200 teams in 38 countries, 80,000+ participants and last year they all combined to draw one million fans a month. Yet, it remains a hidden sport.

    This is grass roots. They don't have the NBA behind them or even television. They got out in the community and got the audiences to come. Not only did the audiences come, they came back and brought friends. The growth of the sport in just a few years is remarkable.

    The Sparks probably shouldn't be playing at Staples. Maybe Galen or even Santa Monica Civic as they would start selling out. I think that womens basketball simply suffers in comparison to mens basketball to the viewer. I also think that the casual viewer has seen enough of the sport, via TV and now three Olympics to decide whether they want to support it. I haven't seen great growth in the WNBA audiences, quite the reverse. I don't think those young girls who came to the inaugural seasons are now season ticket holders. Some parents think lesbianism is something that their daughters can pick up in a locker room, like athlete's foot.

    You could have argued with our Roller Derby fans about it being fake. Our fans wouldn't listen. They loved the sport. On the other hand, the haters weren't converts, either. You can't force someone be a fan.