Take a few people that have a passing knowledge of pro basketball. Then casually mention to those people that the Charlotte Sting, one of the WNBA's inaugural franchises, has officially closed shop this month. You can already expect plenty of "Who?"s, and you may even get a "didn't they move to New Orleans?" or even "there's still a WNBA?"
You'll never hear WNBA execs speak about how successful the league has been, because they would be lying. Although the league expanded to 14 teams last season, their overall attendance is down nearly 10% since 2004. The Chicago Sky kicked off their debut season by averaging a record-low 3,000 heads per game..lower than professional lacrosse and the Arena Football D-league! People like to call the WNBA a "niche sport", but that niche isn't getting the bills paid.
It never fails. Sometime around April or May, you will find your typical NBA broadcast peppered with those stubborn "girl power" WNBA ads that target a demographic that doesn't really exist. These ads fail miserably in getting the average joe any more interested in the product than he was in 1997. It's like seeing a commercial for another Air Bud movie.
Although the WNBA has cornered the lucrative 18-45 year old lesbian market, their marketing to the casual sports fan has been disastrous. It seems as if no one in WNBA headquarters is asking a very simple question: "Why aren't guys watching?"
One dunk every five years just doesn't cut it. The average woman in the US is about 5-6 inches shorter than the average man. As a result, the women's basketball is smaller than the men's ball. However, the rim is still set at ten feet. I can understand the cost of adjustable rims, but the WNBA (or college for that matter) shouldn't have this problem. This basic mechanic causes the women's game to seem limited, even to the most casual viewer. It's like what the NBA would be if there wasn't a single player taller than Steve Blake. As a result, the WNBA isn't very highlight-friendly, unless you enjoy seeing a perfectly executed pick-and-roll. Above the rim play is what rejuvenated the men's game in the 1970's, and it can do the same for the women's game.
Probably the closest thing we've seen to this is Houston's "Comet Girl", which combines superheroes, skimpy outfits, blondes, and dunking. Sure, you have to wait until halftime to see a dunk during a WNBA game, but yes, it's exactly what it sounds like. (By the way, do NOT type Comet Girl into a search engine. You've been warned.)
Stop refusing to be sexy. Occasionally a player makes a half-hearted attempt to emerge from the asexual WNBA yawnfest, but it never goes anywhere partly because former president Val Ackerman has staunchly stood against using sex to sell an unsellable league. Winners of Playboy's sexiest WNBA player contest have all balked when offered to pose, or later posed for an Australian magazine no one's heard of. Hell, Sue Bird offered to let a Seattle radio station spank her. But that's the extent of it.
The WNBA has shown little interest in making the "sexual awareness" jump that both women's tennis and the LPGA (the friggin' LPGA!) have successfully made years ago. Seriously, if I'm seeing more upper thigh at a Utah Jazz game than a WNBA game, something is horribly wrong. I'm not calling for a gimmicky fix like spandex uniforms (aka basketball-kinis), but for now can we at least put a restriction on the length and bagginess of the uniforms? And then we work our way up to the WNBA swimsuit calendar, or the spread in Maxim? (and I hope Chantelle Anderson is listening...)
Don't get me wrong. I want the WNBA to succeed, but I'm realistic. Sports are a form of entertainment. And, in that regard, the current WNBA falls painfully short. But any change to the core WNBA product causes traditionalists to scream "gender equity" and declare such revamping as a blow to women's basketball as a whole. But isn't it a bigger blow to women's basketball if the WNBA, the most ambitious professional women's league in history, collapses due to its refusal to innovate and win over a market that refuses to watch?