FCP logo

Full Court Press

FCPrep logo

Friday, July 19, 2019

WNBA 2009: Attendance Lower But Quality of Play Never Higher as WNBA Survives Economic Depression

Article Lead Image

Photo Credit: Original Artwork Courtesy istockphoto.com©

By Clay Kallam

There’s no shame in a decline in attendance in a depression – and despite the WNBA’s blatant padding, there’s no question fewer fans came to games this summer than ever before.

At the same time, though, the quality of play was never higher. Of course there were clunkers, and some ugly games, but overall the league was never better – and every player and coach I talked to said the same thing, and with evident sincerity.

In the long run, that elevated on-court action will have more to do with the league’s survival than the hopefully short-term impact of a devastating economic downturn. It could be, of course, that the depression will continue for several years, with lost jobs staying lost, and that might be enough to kill the WNBA (and a lot of other disposal-income businesses as well). But should the economy rebound by 2012, and the league make it until then, what we’ve seen on the court this year is a very hopeful sign.

Perhaps the major reason for the uptick in play was the demise of the Houston Comets, which added nine players to the rosters of the surviving 13 franchises – and some of those nine turned out to be major contributors. It was expected that Tina Thompson would make a difference in L.A., but Sancho Lyttle was a key piece of the puzzle in Atlanta, and Roneeka Hodges emerged as a solid addition to the Minnesota lineup. Hamchetou Maiga-Ba played well for Sacramento (one of the most underappreciated players in the league), and Tamecka Dixon had her moments in Indiana, and even though Michelle Snow, Shannon Johnson and Matee Ajavon were significantly less than stellar, they were better than the other options.

Another boost came from the 11-woman roster limit, which meant that no team could stash a pretty good player at the end of the bench and keep her from getting minutes somewhere else. Of course there were situations where teams were shorthanded, but that had happened with larger rosters – and in terms of who actually played, the impact of the shortened bench was minimal.

And after 13 years, the league is definitely mature. The coaching has improved, and it appears that owners have finally gotten past the temptation to hire a former NBA player to run the show in the hopes of “legitimizing” the team, or selling a few more tickets. With Tree Rollins mercifully dismissed, the only holdover is Rick Mahorn, who has paid his dues in the women’s game.

The owners and general managers too have learned their way around the WNBA (excepting the newcomers and Carol Blazejowski), and blatant stupidity is less common than ever before. (It will never go away, though – the Oakland Raiders or Pittsburgh Pirates are living proof that no matter how big the operation, highly paid executives can make decisions that make sense only if refrigerator parts have replaced the cerebral cortex.)

And the players themselves are simply better as well. The goal of playing professionally has become real for young girls, and as a result, they have focused on the game at a younger and younger age. This is not an unmixed blessing, but for those players who survive the grind of high school, summer and college basketball with bodies and enthusiasm intact, it means they are better all-around players than ever before.

The chance to actually make a living playing basketball has also drawn more young girls to the sport, and the 1,200 or so scholarships per year have increased the commitment of parents, who can see a chance for a child’s education without going into massive debt. It hasn’t hurt that European teams are paying bigger salaries too, so the motivation for elite female athletes to play basketball (rather than volleyball, say, or soccer) is greater than ever before.

That doesn’t mean, though, there are no issues facing the league aside from the general economic collapse. The proper balance between franchises that sell lots of tickets and those in major metropolitan areas (which sponsors and TV networks prefer) is still a question, and the financial viability of a professional sports league that can put an average of 5,000 actual bodies in an arena on an average night isn’t completely clear.

But the most important aspect of the WNBA is the product that it’s selling, and that product is basketball – not four-year-old dancers trying to do hip-hop moves, or high-volume time-out contests, or any of the other frills. The league’s survival depends on many things, granted, but the most important is the quality of basketball, and this year it is better than ever before.


Originally published Sat, September 12, 2009

Reader Discussion

Please Log in or, if you are not yet a member, Register to use the full features of this site.

Women's Basketball Calendar

July 2019
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31 1 2 3 4

Game of the Day

Friday, July 19, 2019

Today's Top Games

For a full calendar and related details on upcoming nationally televised and Top 25 games, as well as past game scores, and other women's basketball games of interest, click on the link "Women's Basketball Calendar" above.


Try Advanced Search

Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
Rank remains unchanged since last week
Ranking has risen since last week.
Ranking has dropped since last week.
Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.