Tulsa doesn’t have a WNBA franchise anymore, so it isn’t a surprise if people around Oklahoma don’t pay much attention to the WNBA anymore.
The relatively new league has had its struggles in an effort to draw crowds and viewers to its games. But something this season is clicking.
This year, the league has seen a 36 percent jump in viewership of adults in the 18-49 age group. In that subset, there is a 50 percent increase in women viewers.
On ESPN2 alone, the league is averaging 250,000 viewers a game, up 39 percent.
That is a huge leap.
In one game alone, when the Los Angeles Sparks played the Seattle Storm, 378,000 people tuned in. That was the most watched game since 2011.
So why is this league seeing such a jump in popularity when most other major sports leagues, like football, basketball and baseball, are all seeing declines?
It is better play?
Keeping politics off the court?
In order to appreciate the rise in popularity, you have to go back to the start of the league when it was mocked mercilessly.
It was mocked for women not being able to dunk. Now they do.
It was mocked for not being as exciting as the NBA. It never will be.
The league didn’t help itself in the beginning either. Back in 1996 when the league started, there were only eight teams — Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers, Houston Comets, New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, Sacramento Monarchs and the Utah Starzz.
And after 21 years, there are still just 12 teams.
Cities were having a hard time holding on to teams, like Tulsa. Lack of interest, or poor management, or just the economy in general, caused many teams to fold or move. For the most part, teams are on the coastlines of America...not a lot of WNBA viewing opportunities are in the heartland.
Plus, the women play less than half of the games than the men do in the NBA — just 34 games.
Another hurdle to overcome is that the league plays its games in the summer, when people are going on vacations, spending time outside with family and enjoying the outdoors. Maybe spending an evening inside on a nice day had something to do with poor attendance as well.
Sports talk radio was tough on them. They would joke and say things like “And the ESPY for the best WNBA bounce pass goes to...”
And television jokesters would play a fake WNBA promo showing a player missing a layup, or dribbling the ball of her foot.
But the WNBA may have the last laugh. The women are getting better. More athletic. And they are gaining momentum. While the WNBA will never draw like the NBA, it can at least grow and survive. The numbers show there is an audience for the game. It will be interesting to see if the numbers keep climbing.