The WNBA Keeps Proving That Women’s Sports Belong on TV

It’s the final full week of the WNBA season and GAMES are being played. Not just any games: meaningful games, where teams are vying for playoff spots and fighting for seeds. These things are important: in the W, making the playoffs is great, of course, but the first two rounds are single elimination games. A high enough seed can guarantee you two byes, straight into the semi-finals. What I’m saying is, these games MATTER.

And the teams are playing like it. We’ve been seeing absolutely phenomenal basketball. Buzzer beaters, overtime games, close contests. This is great for the league, great for bringing in fans, and great television. The only problem? The games aren’t on television. They’re streaming on social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter.

On Saturday night, the Seattle Storm faced the L.A. Sparks in a game where two of the top teams in the league were fighting for playoff seeding. It came down to the buzzer — literally. The Storm won on a buzzer beater from the corner from Jewell Loyd (a controversial one). As The Athletic noted, only 6,000 people watched it happen in real-time, on Facebook.

Sunday night, Dallas’ Arike Ogunbowale sunk a buzzer-beater to send the game into overtime where her team secured the victory against Washington — there’s still an eighth team that will make the playoffs and it hasn’t been clinched; the Wings and the Mystics are both gunning for it. While this game did air on local television, national viewers had to stream it on Twitter — where at least we are blessed with the broadcasting duo of Lachina Robinson and Monica McNutt, who are fabulous together.

And on Wednesday night, the Connecticut Sun came back from being down 20 points at half-time against the Phoenix Mercury. It looked like they had secured the comeback win, only for Skylar Diggins-Smith to launch a half-court shot at the buzzer — and make it, sending the game into overtime, where the Mercury were victorious. The two teams are also vying for playoff positioning, and it was the second time the teams had met that week — the first two times DeWanna Bonner has seen her former team since joining the Sun after 10 seasons in Phoenix. That game? If they’re not your local team, you could watch it on Facebook, which a couple thousand people did.

I know it’s the NBA playoffs right now and that the leagues’ seasons don’t usually overlap, and I know there are more WNBA games on national TV than there have ever been before. I also know that, for people without cable, streaming games on Facebook or Twitter is actually more accessible. Facebook Live numbers also seem to indicate that people are going back and watching the games — when I watched the Sun and Mercury faceoff in OT, only about 1,300 people were watching live; as of Thursday evening, nearly the game had nearly 35,000 views. The Storm-Sparks game has over 452,000 views as of this writing.

But while dedicated fans will seek out the games wherever they’re airing, fighting against blackouts and tv schedules and toggling between the television, their WNBA League Pass subscription, and whichever social media platform is streaming the game that day, it’s hard to bring in new fans that way. There’s little to no chance of someone putting the game on because it happens to be on ESPN and realizing how fun the league is to watch.

Women’s sports continue to play second fiddle, and it’s a damn shame. It’s nearly impossible to grow the game when people can’t access it, or don’t even know they should be trying. There has been some talk on Twitter this week criticizing young women’s players who are coming up in the sport for not watching the W and not being able to name their favorite players in the league. But that’s less a criticism of “kids these days” who have no respect for the women who have paved the way for them to play and more indicative of the lack of access.

Before a few seasons ago, it was nearly impossible to access games — there was literally nowhere to watch them. This has changed with the WNBA League Pass (which still blacks out local and nationally-aired games), more nationally televised games, and more teams penning television deals with their local stations (I was thrilled when the Sun signed a TV deal with NESN last year because it meant I could go to a bar and ask for them to put the game on, like I would a Red Sox game). But it’s still not enough; it shouldn’t be this much work to watch a professional sports league.

Diana Taurasi is sick of being asked how the game of women’s basketball can get bigger. “If people don’t want to support us, if people don’t want to watch us, if ESPN doesn’t want to put us on TV, as players, what more can we do?” she said earlier this season. “We’ve dedicated our whole lives to this. We’ve sacrificed our time, our families, our bodies. And if people don’t respect that, it gets to a point of — what more can you do as a player?”

It’s been exciting to see how many WNBA games have been on national stations this season, but if the games that matter down the stretch aren’t shown, if fans can’t follow the rivalries and the make-or-break moments, if they can’t watch players fight for playoff spots and make shots in big moments, and collect the kinds of performances that add up to MVP seasons, it’s hard to keep people invested in the league. We can televise and lift up their activism, but if people have to work really hard to figure out where they can watch the games, they’re going to give up.

The way to grow the game is simple, and the answer is the same as it’s always been: put women’s sports on TV. If you air it, people will watch. You can even buy the shirt that says as much (and be like Courtney Vandersloot).

The best in (mostly) queer WNBA content this week:

Shekinna Stricklen of the Atlanta Dream wished her girlfriend a happy anniversary on Instagram:

Seimone Augustus passed another career milestone:

Someone made this montage of things Diana Taurasi has said (I find the best part to be the reactions of people around her when these things fall out of her mouth):

Celebrate Courtney Vandersloot’s all-time assist record with this shirt from Breaking T (they also have a Vanderquigs shirt!). All Breaking T shirts are licensed by the WNBPA, which means they’re approved by the players.

Celtics player Grant Williams wore a Breanna Stewart hoodie this week and brought the world’s attention to this glorious product, which Stewie sells on her website. It’s the biggest flex in the world, showing off her collection of championship rings (though if we’re talking merch, Arike Ogunbowale dropped her own collection this week after showing up to a post-game presser following a career high 39 points wearing her new merch line with her face on it. Sadly, the “ICON” hat is not for sale).

And just because, here’s Stewie’s half-court shot from this week (followed by A SHRUG, because, you know, NBD):

Britni is a freelance writer whose work sits at the intersection of sports, gender, & queerness. Her writing has been featured in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Vogue, The Atlantic, Vox, and many more.

Britni has written 9 articles for us.

10 Comments

  1. The WNBA league pass is phenomenal. Yes, it won’t let you watch nationally-televised games live, BUT you can watch the game on demand later/whenever you want.

    That Diana Taurasi montage is really something. She is such a smart-ass! <3

  2. I want more of these Diana Taurasi saying things videos!

    I’ve been unable to watch a lot of games because I don’t have CBSSN, Facebook, or twitter. But every game that I’ve been able to see has been fantastic.

  3. hey folks, you can help sporty women by putting games on whether you plan to watch or not; even if they are on in the background, websites and tv providers gather that data, which is then used for future programming and market value. so…

    WNBA (Eastern time)
    Friday, Sept. 11:
    Atlanta Dream vs. Connecticut Sun, 7:00 p.m. – Facebook
    Chicago Sky vs. Dallas Wings, 8 p.m. – CBS Sports Network
    Seattle Storm vs. Phoenix Mercury, 10 p.m. – CBS Sports

    Sunday, Sept. 13:
    Dallas at New York, 12:00 p.m. ET – CBSSN
    Las Vegas at Seattle, 3:00 p.m. ET – ABC
    Washington at Atlanta, 5:00 p.m. ET – Facebook

    and while we’re at it, you can support a new pro softball league that has games this weekend:

    AU Softball (Eastern time)
    Sat, Sep 12:
    1 p.m. Sanders vs. Piancastelli ESPN3
    3:30 p.m. Reed vs. Osterman ESPN3

    Sun, Sep 13:
    1 p.m. Reed vs. Piancastelli ESPN2
    4 p.m. Osterman vs. Sanders ESPN2

    Mon, Sep 14:
    4 p.m. Sanders vs. Reed ESPN3
    8 p.m. Piancastelli vs. Osterman CBS Sports

  4. I actually have been watching more WNBA this season because my team (Las Vegas Aces) has been nationally televised. I’ve actually watched more WNBA than NBA, which has been refreshing. Hope that more and more games get televised!

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