Give the WNBA the recognition it deserves


Graphic by Meimei Greenstein.

By Sydney Miller

I lean forward on my couch, my heart pounding and my stomach in my throat, as the the L.A. Sparks face the Minnesota Lynx in Game 5 of the Women’s National Basketball Association finals Oct. 4. As Lynx forward Maya Moore hits a floater from the middle of the paint to put her team up by nine, tears start to form in my eyes. I’m in awe of these strong, powerful women and their impending victory.

Watching the raw triumphant emotions and success of women I’ve supported for three seasons moved me; it not only made me happy for the Lynx but also fueled my excitement for my own basketball season.

This joy is familiar to any dedicated sports fan. Still, my thrill dulled when I realized I was relatively alone in my WNBA-induced happiness. Only a few girls on my basketball team knew why I was wearing my Lynx t-shirt to school the next day, and only my coach and my father asked me what I thought of the game.

This issue is bigger than just my personal experiences. Society in general writes off women’s sports too easily, even after almost half a century since the 1972 passage of Title IX.

The WNBA isn’t just a “lesser” version of the NBA; though there are noticeable differences, including a slightly more team-focused game with less emphasis on individual strength, these women play at an extremely high level, committing as much time as NBA players do to their game, all while receiving very little credit for their work.

The average viewership of the five WNBA finals games in 2016 was 487,000, while the NBA’s seven final games’ averaged 20.2 million viewers, Variety reported.

This small showing is mainly due to the general public’s disinterest in women’s sports, which leads to limited advertising and limited coverage. Of the 170 games in the WNBA season, ESPN2 only streams 16, and 50 other games are only accessible on the subscription-only NBATV channel, the WNBA’s official website reports. That’s a mere 9.4 percent of games nationally televised. To be sure I can watch any given WNBA game, I have to buy the $16 league pass each year to watch on my phone or computer.

People shouldn’t need to go out of their way to find professional women’s sports.

ESPN and other networks need to show more women’s sports games to attract more viewers, and, eventually, more advertisers, to remedy economic struggles that prevent WNBA players from being household names the way NBA players are.

In fact, as long as the WNBA has less coverage and fewer advertisers than the NBA, female players will continue to receive far less pay than their NBA counterparts. Forbes reported that Sylvia Fowles of the Minnesota Lynx, MVP of the 2017 WNBA season, was paid $109,000 this year, while the NBA’s minimum salary is more than five times that.

Nine percent of WNBA games televised is far too few for a league full of such amazingly dedicated, talented and inspirational women. Any little girl—including my nine-year-old sister who loves basketball—should be able to turn on any TV and see strong, powerful women playing the game they love.

Women’s sports should get the credit they deserve.