Will Giving Up Men and Targeting Lesbians Save the WNBA?

WOMEN IN SPORTS: The Women’s National Basketball League is hemorrhaging money and still hasn’t gained the following it needs to survive. The Detroit Shock (winners of three WNBA titles) are moving to Tulsa ’cause of poor attendance back home. Though this years championship series was lauded as pixie dust for the league,” that’s only because the Phoenix Mercury handed out thousands of free tickets during the series to fill the stadium.

But Josh Levin at Slate.com has a solution!

It stands to reason, though, that you’re more likely to succeed by marketing your product to people who already like it than by trying to win over people who don’t. Which leads to the second way to address the male-hoops-fan problem: ignore them. The audience for the WNBA is, by various accounts, between 60 percent and 80 percent female. The league also has a major following in the gay and lesbian community, a community that some franchises court and others aggressively alienate. If the WNBA focuses primarily on these fans, they can still have a large enough customer base to survive and succeed.

Did you hear that? That was the sound of someone actually suggesting that a company wnbamarket directly to lesbians — (the actual sound is like gasp + cash register + SWISH)! The WNBA has, from its inception, walked a delicate line with it’s homosexual fans. In fact, when the WNBA launched it marketed a pregnant, married Sheryl Swoopes to put a heterosexual face on its campaign. Swoopes came out in 2005. Earlier this year, controversy erupted when the WNBA’s Washington Mystics came under fire for not installing the popular Kiss-Cam used at other sporting events because “they don’t want to show lesbians kissing.”

A slight upside to the recession is that companies can no longer pick & choose which group to market towards (and of course, the market du jour is always single white men in their 20s/30s) while simultaneously reaping the benefits of the gay market segment happy enough to be let in the door unacknowledged. Just as we search for subtext in books and movies, we search for subtext in advertising, which is, honestly, a little degrading. 72% of gays and lesbians prefer to buy from companies that market directly to them.

What do you think? Do you follow the WNBA? Would you if they sought you out? Do you feel they’ve deliberately ignored lesbians before? The girls are pretty hot, and having women in sports is important, just saying.

CRAFTY: Crafts Gone Wild: “There’s no easy answer to “What’s up with the painting of the naked girl with the mittens and being fondled by a bear?” or “Penis in a Jack-o-lantern, WTF?”For that, there’s regretsy.com. Since its launch last month, regretsy, with its motto, “Handmade? It looks like you made it with your feet,” has become a hall of fame for artistic impulses gone oddly awry.” (@salon)

ALL THE MODERN LADIES:Addressing the Modern Woman: “When Ms. magazine was born, the editors explained, “Ms. is being adopted as a standard form of address by women who want to be recognized as individuals, rather than being identified by their relationship with a man.” That same year, the U.S. Government Printing Office approved using Ms. in official government documents.” (@time)

BIG PINK TAXIS:Mexico’s New Pink Taxis for Women: “Women’s rights activists are aghast at the cars’ sugary presentation and said the service does not address the root of the harassment problem.” (@associated press)

GLASS CEILING: Sexism in the City: The scared mile: “What remains is a nest of frightened mouse-women who negotiate their lives and careers as unobtrusively as possible.” (@timesonline)

WARNING: Autostraddle’s Caribbean Cruise Contest is for a GAY CRUISE. Please do not sue the shipping line because you accidentally went on a gay cruise. (@dailymail)

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3198 articles for us.


  1. well i was at one of the WNBA finals games here in indiana and our section was just like a big old “family” reunion!!

    we are already attending the games but would be nice to get some acknowledgment, but the poor female players already get dissed but not making the cash the guys do!!

  2. Awww, this makes me sad. Being a basketball player and lover, I’m not a HUGE follower of the WNBA but I’ve definitely been to some games. These girls obvs need our support. Go! Now! Buy tickets, and Sheryl Swoops jerseys or whatever else you can. BTW, captcaywick, you’re right it is like a “family” reunion. And who doesn’t love one of those?

  3. I’m not a basketball fan in general, but I am a soccer fan who goes to WPS games. I agree that it’s a bit of a waste to try to get men to care about women’s sports, especially since they have so many other sporting options. What I would like to see, even more than just a marketing strategy to lesbians, is women supporting women. Gay or straight, I think appealing to women of all kinds is the way to pack the stands. And who knows…maybe the straight girls will bring their boyfriends along. I already see plenty of girls dragged by their bf’s to sporting events…and a lot of them end up loving it.

    • you’re totally right about that. When I was a kid playing basketball — like in middle school, we’d go see the michigan college women’s basketball team, and if the WNBA had existed at that time I would’ve been there in a hot minute — I feel like they could fill the stadium just with other female athletes, really, sexuality aside.

      • yeah for defo. I’ve always done a lot of sport and been to tonnes of sporting events and stuff here, but when I was in D.C in the summer I went to a Mystics game and it was pretty much the most inspiring game (of any sport) I’ve ever been to. It was such a good atmosphere and I came away feeling totally enthusiastic about sport and the power of women in general etc etc (possibly had too many feelings). It was like gay central aswell; was ace. Plus, those women are AMAZING! Wish my little sister could go see them/a WNBA game or something like that as think it would be really good for self image etc to see some powerful female athletes being awesome and generally fabulous, especially in the midst of all the pressures from tv, magazines,adverts etc coming in all directions to make her worry about herself.

    • But… but… men’s butts in the stands are just better than women’s butts in stands. It’s a proven biological fact. They can do dunks!

  4. Lesbians routinely pay thousands of dollars more than they would spend on, say, a typical boring hetero-infused Carnival cruise for the promise of being surrounded by like-minded ladies. And it’s not just because we want to look at hot chicks in bikinis who have the propensity to look back. It’s that every so often people, in general, need to be around people who like us, who want us, who are us.

    So, hell yeah the WNBA needs to market to us. At least let us know you like us.

    • “It’s that every so often people, in general, need to be around people who like us, who want us, who are us.”

      This is it precisely.

      And I mean, on top of that, it just makes sense to target your -actual audience- rather than courting guys who just aren’t interested.

  5. I know this is COMPLETELY UNRELATED to this post, but the girl in the 410 BC ad that I keep seeing and can see top right of this page.. I just realised who it is she keeps reminding me of – Laura Silverman of The Sarah Silverman Program!

    No? Okay.

    • I think she looks like me… only shorter and skinnier with curlier hair and different sized features and angrier and gayer looking, but other than that… TOTALLY the SAME. I know I know. I know what you’re thinking… (not all gay people look the same… they’re isn’t a “gay look”… she doesn’t really look that gay). Still though, she’s gayer looking.

  6. Lesbian, straight, transgendered, male, female — it’s about finding fans. I’m not fond of those willing to marginalize male fans…. they feel awkward enough. :-)

    As for hemoraging — um. have you paid attention to the boys’ teams? 20 mill a year, the Nets are losing. The Jaguars are begging people to show up.. and, if you’d paid attention, you’d know that the Merc and Indy tickets were BOUGHT by NBA players who were fans, and then given away….

    Hysteria and hyperbole has its place, but really, get a grip.

    • You should say that on Slate.com, since that’s where all of this info comes from, and they cite their sources as well — tell them about the boys teams losing money too and about how the merc and indy tickets were bought by fans and then given away. If they’re just writing about women’s teams as an easy target when the NBA is also losing dough, that sucks. And if it’s not true that those tickets were free and that’s what they’re saying over there, they need to be paying attention!

      Also, the NBA used to make a lot of money, right? And they overpay their players ridiculously. So it’s a recession situation from a typically profitable team? or no?

      Anyhow, I agree, they should do whatever they can to find all kinds of fans — but to get through the rough economic spot, maybe a little target marketing would help fill the gap? I want the WNBA to succeed!

  7. Lesbians always save the day. Lesbians are the answer to everything. Lesbians are the cure for cancer. Lesbians invented world peace. I wish I could bottle all that lesbianism and pour it into a skillet and make a giant lesbian pancake so everyone could have a bite. So to answer your question…. YES. Lesbians will save the WNBA.

  8. Pingback: Will Giving Up Men and Targeting Lesbians Save the WNBA? | girls

  9. i think a quick team name re-branding would do the trick –

    washington mystics = washington feminine mystiques
    sacramento monarchs = sacramento matriarchal societies
    detroit shock = detroit rock the shocker


  10. Pingback: Will Giving Up Men and Targeting Lesbians Save the WNBA? Wiky Blog

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