Posted by: David Kiley on August 17, 2005
Last night I finally went to a WNBA game, the New York Liberty vs. The Washington Mystics. Like a lot of middle-aged men, I tend to be a sports snob. I’m not much interested in watching ladies golf, for example. And I have to have a personal connection to a player in a softball game in order to watch it. But the WNBA strikes me as a great product that just needs a bit more marketing help to drive more dollars into the sport.
The quality of play was much better than I expected. And if the play isn’t good, then nothing else much matters. Then, there is the price. It was $10 for a very good seat. Best bargain in town for a two-and-a-half hour game. The beer I had before the game cost half that much. Even the concessions at the game, which was at Madison Square Garden, were priced down. One dollar for popcorn or a bag of gummy bears. The beer was still more than $6.00—robbery, but I suspect that is a condition of the beer distribution deal for the arena.
The atmosphere of the game is a big selling point. The crowd is largely families and couples. There are rabid fans attending, but language is clean and I saw no evidence of overdoing the beer concession. In fact, most of the people in the stands seemed to have a notion that they were in on something that the rest of the city wasn’t. Crowd boosters shot tightly rolled up tee-shirts into the crowd with a compressed air bazooka. The kids loved the free stuff. Who doesn’t?
The players, unlike their male counterparts, tend to be charming and funny. On the jumbo-tron, one player was trying to read a promotion spot for a future game and the spot went for about two or three minutes as we were shown take after take of the player stumbling over the ad copy and laughing at herself. I’m not sure many male primadonna NBA players would allow themselves to be seen messing up a promo spot.
The players, according to the WNBA, make an average of $55,000 a year for a four month season, with the top players getting about $89,000 a year. Attendance for games is about 8,000-9,000 per game, though clearly there are tickets being given away to kids groups. Two million fans will have attended WNBA games when the regular season ends this week, the 7th consecutive season that they have topped the two-million level.
The whole game experience has a bit of “A League of Their Own” feeling and that is a good thing, especially for families trying to find common ground to share between parents and children. While most of the families I saw at the game included a daughter, I saw a few where a son was the only child in tow. And in fact, my takeaway was that it would be a terrific and nicely affordable game to take my son when he is a little older. If he shows interest in basketball, a WNBA game will be a much better game to attend, compared with a men’s game, for learning the merits of passing the ball. Indeed, watching the ladies was a trip down memory lane to the 1970s for me when I was much more interested in watching basketball. That’s when teams ran actual plays, players passed a lot, set each other up, set picks and didn’t rely as much on the dunk as they do today. Oh…and I think the popcorn was about a buck back then too.
There isn’t much advertising for WNBA games that I have seen. And, in fact, I find that it doesn’t watch very well on TV. The best marketing the league can get is driving people to the games anyway they can. Having gone to one game, all my preconceived ideas about how the game wouldn’t measure up to the standards of the men’s game were shattered. All things considered, it was more fun than the men’s game. I’m going again for sure. Meantime, I still have no interest in paying the fancy prices for a Knicks game. If I want to see that much dunking—the most boring play in basketball—I can go hang out in a donut shop.
You go Girls!! Like Arnold says…”I’ll be back.”
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