In its 17th season, the WNBA’s prospects are looking up. Earlier this year, some experts predicted the league’s demise; but with the injection of three extremely talented rookies — Elena Delle Donne, Britney Griner, and Skylar Diggins — the fan base has taken off. Attendance is up from last years all time low of 7,457 people a game and viewership on ESPN2 has risen by 28 percent.
The “3 to See,” Delle Donne, Griner, and Diggins, did not all have phenomenal first seasons. Delle Donne had the best first-year campaign of the three — ultimately being named rookie of the year.
“What [Delle Donne] did in Chicago is so critical for them because the Chicago Sky, who she plays for, have never done well. They had never really had this kind of a winning season,” Nate Taylor of the New York Times told Bill Littlefield. “For so long Chicago has really been this down trodden team…its a good point that you put in this new player and everything changes.”After a disappointing 2012 season, the WNBA reinvigorated their brand with a new website, logo and colors. But, ultimately, the league is putting its faith into accessibility, with players signing autographs and talking to fans before and after games. Taylor said if the WNBA wants to succeed, it needs to use the popularity of stars like Griner to continue to grow its fan base.
“Brittney, I think to a large degree understands that — hey you don’t have to score 20 points a night, but you do have to grow the fan base. Because its not NASCAR, its not golf, its not even tennis when it comes to generating fan interest.”
Next year is the beginning of a new era. There will be no more players from the inaugural WNBA season; Tina Thompson of the Seattle Storm will retire at the end of this season. Will these rookies have a sophomore slump or will they be able to continue next season where they left off?
“There can’t be a new logo next year. There can’t be a new website,” Taylor said. “The level of play is always going to have to improve and they are going to have to have exciting basketball. That’s how the NBA rose.”
Taylor added that the league will also need the continued support of ESPN to thrive. The WNBA’s current contract with the broadcaster stretches into 2022.