There was a professional All-Star Game played Saturday in Minnesota, but it’s not likely many knew or watched and, frankly, it’s not really anyone’s fault because the WNBA is still struggling for attention and respect more than two decades after its birth in 1997.
This is so unfair on so many levels that one hesitates to even know where to begin. But let’s start with this: If you thought there was a pay discrepancy in the work place between males and females with the same level of competency, you should see what life is like for the women of the WNBA.
Let’s just say the difference can be measured in zeroes. Thousands to millions.
There is no greater example of those undercut than Maya Moore, the former UConn All-American, the two-time Olympic gold medalist, who has lifted the Minnesota Lynx over the last eight years to the heights of the sport.
Moore won her third-straight All-Star MVP on Saturday. Only Lisa Leslie had ever won three before, but not like Moore has. Folks, we are talking about the female LeBron James here, the quintessential star with the personality to match her transcendent skill.
Yet, who really knows her outside of Minnesota, Connecticut and the sparse regional enclaves across the nation who appreciate women’s basketball? Moore should be on TV sipping a soda, holding a I-Phone to her ear, dishing pizzas, sneakers, cars or insurance companies to the nation’s consumers. But she isn’t.
The WNBA can’t catch a break. Women’s college basketball can’t catch a break. Not even Geno Auriemma’s magic wand at UConn has helped solve the problem.
And so their players have to catch what they can where they can catch it. And if we’re talking money, that’s still overseas in the winter where professional leagues in Asia and Europe pay big bucks for American stars. The WNBA? Barely over $100,000 max annually for its top players.
Moore scored 18 points with eight rebounds and six assists to help Team Parker beat Team Delle Donne 119-112. This was first year that the league used its new format of naming captains and having them draft their teams.
“It’s one of those things you keep showing up,” Moore said after the game. “Keep doing what you do, doing what you love to do, and fortunately we win the game because you can’t get MVP if you don’t win the game. It’s been amazing.”
The WNBA is now on its fourth president, Lisa Borders. And before the game on Saturday, she did what one may have expected, extoll that broadcast partners ESPN2 and NBA TV have reported viewership is up 35 percent. Borders said sales in the WNBA store in New York City are up 50 percent. Borders lauded the WNBA’s sponsorship deal with Nike. She mentioned its new relationship with EA Sports now featuring female avatars on its computer formats.
So why is there still such a feeling that most of the nation still could care less?
“For those people who are uniformed, we’re going to work with you to keep informing them to show up and that this is an extraordinary game,” Borders said.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, long an advocate of the WNBA, recently told ESPN Get Up! that the women’s league still seems to be having a problem getting its message to young women and girls.
“I’m particularly frustrated that we’ve been unable to get young women, girls, to attend those games,” Silver said. “Women’s basketball is largely supported, just in terms of the demographics, by older men for whatever reason who like fundamental basketball.
“It’s something I’ve talked a lot to the players about.” […] “We’re not connecting with almost the same demographic that our players are. … I’m always saying our players are roughly 21-34, in that age range. I’m saying, why do you think it is that we’re not getting your peers to want to watch women’s basketball?
“But we still have a marketing problem, and we got to figure it out. We got to figure out how we can do a better job connecting to young people and to get them to be interested.”
There have been calls from the players in the league for a more concerted effort from the league to market them more efficiently.
There has also been conversation about shifting the schedule from the summer to the autumn or winter. But this raises the major problem of salaries. How could the WNBA possibly compete with the million-dollar deals its stars make overseas?
And then there is this: In New York, the media market of the world, ownership of the New York Liberty, one of the WNBA’s original teams, moved all but two of its home games from Madison Square Garden to the old and decrepit Westchester County Center.
Talk about terrible optics. Instead of the luxury boxes high above the Garden, picnic tables are set up along the baseline for the team’s VIP ticketholders. Pass the corn-on-the-cob, please!
“Westchester County is a much more intimate environment,” Borders said. “I graduated from Duke. You’ve heard of Cameron Indoor Stadium. It’s tiny and it’s a sweatbox and we love it like that.”
Right. Perhaps Borders should ask the league’s coaches and players what they think of it?
“I’m not even going to comment on the facilities,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve told The Associated Press. “It’s beyond everyone’s control. It’s like everything that women do. We’re resilient. Regardless of what we think of it, we’re going to do what we always do.”
According to the AP, just four of the league’s 12 teams will play in their current NBA arenas – Los Angeles, Minnesota, Phoenix and Indiana. When the league began, everyone was in an NBA arena.
It’s a tough situation that doesn’t seem to have an easy solution, even after all these years and despite stars like Moore.