Four ways the WNBA can improve its marketing

I won’t bog you down with the numbers. We all know that the WNBA attendance rates pale in comparison to their brother league.

It’s a shame, because we also know that the WNBA has so much to offer to viewers.

A recent post revealed some reasons why current fans of the league are dedicated to following their WNBA team. A desire to watch fundamental basketball at it’s best was the most common denominator. The league needs to capitalize on the skills and resources it already possesses. The main ingredient: content creation. These are four areas that are in need of stronger content. These are four area that, if publicized right, could broaden the appeal of the league.

Capitalize on the fundamentals

If the main thing driving current fans to WNBA games is a love for the fundamental skills exhibited in them, the league should be capitalizing on that. This all has to come in the form of numbers: analyzing the arc or angle of a shot; calculating the capacities of a female athlete, using those numbers to determine the athleticism of women in the league. The Washington Mystics and Minnesota Lynx did something similar last season. They played in an analytical scrimmage to increase appeal. Fans weren’t invited — fine. But why wasn’t this publicized afterwards more? Why isn’t there a piece of promotional content that came out of this? All I can find are news stories about the scrimmage itself.

Women are too often compared to male players and will almost always come up short based on biological makeup. Developing a new standard would lead more people to be impressed by the capabilities of female athletes. In the area that they won’t come up short — fundamental basketball — is where there should be the most content being produced. The league doesn’t have to try to put on the Steph Curry show. Rather, it needs to find new ways to transform seemingly basic skills that its players posses into what they actually are: pretty dang impressive.

Play up rivalries between teams

Any New Yorker will talk your ear off about the Knicks-Nets rivalry. White Sox games sell out when they play the Cubs, and not just because all of the fans are in Chicago. Bears ticket prices are dependent on who they play. For sports fans, it’s about the rivalry. Sure, anyone wants to watch a competitive game as opposed to a blowout. But add in a little drama? Count me, and thousands of others, in. What’s the biggest rivalry in the WNBA? A few superfans might tell you, but even they might be unsure. It’s just not played up enough. To play it up, the league risks the chance of coming off contrived–the narrative must be subtle. This is also a hard step because a lot of this is dependent on external factors: the players’ attitudes, the fans enthusiasm. But one way the league can contribute is drawing from previous interactions and games between players; pregame features that are less about stats and more about the story of two teams as competitors of each other. This gives viewers a stake in the game.

League veteran Sue Bird (Photo courtesy of allsportersinfo.blogspot.com).

League veteran Sue Bird (Photo courtesy of allsportersinfo.blogspot.com).

Create content that features veteran players

The WNBA is at an advantage here: the Michael Jordans of the league are still playing today. Candace Parker, Sue Bird. These are household names. I want content created around them, featuring their careers as athletes and how the league has changed since their introduction to it. I want a history of this 20 year organization to start to be publicized so that people can draw connections and relate to it. In addition to this, the league and its players need to continue to create player personalities. Lebron James is either hated or loved. But he’s known and he’s watched because of his reputation as a cry baby who also happens to be one of the world’s greatest athletes. Steph Curry is a father who grew up in the NBA. Even reserved players like Joakim Noah has a personality, even if a large part of it has to do with his hair. The only player comparable to this in my book is Elena Delle Donne, who has made it her business to market herself as a player with a life outside of the league. People go to games because she is a force to be reckoned with, of course, but also because she puts herself out there. When people feel that personal connection to a player, they want to see them play.

Create content that exhibits a strong relationship with NBA

This is almost a no-brainer. The WNBA already has a pretty strong working relationship with the NBA. Now it’s a matter of capitalizing on that to generate interest. I love when Delle Donne posts pictures with Draymond Green or Kevin Durant. It reminds me that, though the league is at a much younger place, these women are professional athletes the same as their celebrity male counterparts. A Creating content like this would be a big step in the right direction for a league that unfortunately has to constantly try to establish legitimacy.

Skydate: What you should be reading right now.

UPDATE

A week between games? That’s too much of a break from the Chicago Sky for me, and we still have three more days to go.

They won’t face the Indiana Fever until this Friday. That’s why I’m hitting you with some posts that will keep you Sky-dated (my attempt at branding the word updated) in the meantime.

These are well worth a read.

“She was also a significant factor in my decision to play at the University of Delaware — in my own backyard. My home is with her. She’s made me a different person. She’s my constant perspective.”

-Elena Delle Donne, “Lizzie”

If you don’t read anything else for the rest of the week, make it this. Delle Donne tells a heart-wrenching story of how her older sister, diagnosed with cereberal palsy and autism, has helped her in every facet of her life. Through this, she tells a narrative of her getting to the WNBA, as well as alluding to the reasons why she stays so close to home in the offseason. This post was written in August of 2015 and I doubt much has changed since then.

As NBA fans can attest, the league pushed the WNBA heavily, with promotions ranging from television commercials to integration of WNBA players in NBA All-Star weekend events. And frankly, that’s the problem.

-Charlie Zegers, “The WNBA, the NBA, and Why We Compare the Two”
Author Charlie Zegers argues that the main areas that the WNBA should be marketing are the ones unrelated to the NBA. Though I might not necessarily agree with all of his arguments in this post, I like his perspective. He’s an NBA fan who seems like he wants to be interested in the WNBA, but is hesitant because of the lack of unique marketing going on within the league currently. The outsider’s perspective is refreshing and relates without overlap to a post on the same topic I just wrote.

The NBA averaged less than 5,000 fans per game in the 1950s. And when the league was 20 years old it was barely averaging 6,000 fans per game.”

-David Barri, “Think the WNBA is in trouble? Let’s talk some NBA history.”
I’m just as guilty as the next person when it comes to comparing the attendance rates of these two leagues. Author of this post David Barri puts this comparison in perspective. He responds to a post that constantly compares the two leagues, dismissing the argument of time. But Barri adjusts for inflation. He backs up what he says and at the end of the day, his argument, simply put, makes me happy. The league has a long way to go, but it’s headed in the right direction.

“In her first year in professional basketball, she knew there was one thing she needed to do: Get 50 Cent to a WNBA game.”

-Nina Mandell, “A WNBA rookie launched a social media campaign to get 50 Cent to her game”
If you haven’t seen this already, you probably should. Imani Boyette played 50 Cent at her wedding for her and her husband’s first dance, and now she wants him to come see her play. This is a campaign that’s been going on for a while now, but Boyette is determined to give 50 Cent 50 reasons why he should come to a Sky game. She’s only on reason 10, and this post includes some of her Tweets so far.

Players to Watch: Jamierra Faulkner is an underdog on the rise

Her stats have almost tripled since last season. That’s right–Jamierra Faulkner is on the rise.

In 2015, she averaged nine minutes, 1.7 assists and only four points per game. This year, you’re looking at 25, 10 and 6, respectively.

If that isn’t enough to convince you, let me.

Here is why I think that Jamierra Faulkner is one of the most underestimated players on the Chicago Sky.

Elena Delle Donne: A biography, as told by social media

Since her move to Chicago in 2013, league MVP Elena Delle Donne has grown as a person as well as an athlete.

Thanks to the World Wide Web, and a little help from Twitter Advanced Search, Delle Donne can tell her story of progress through her own words, or Tweets.

These are Delle Donne’s most significant Tweets (during the basketball season at least) since the 2013 WNBA draft.

2013

This was the year that Delle Donne started an extremely successful journey with the WNBA.

This was the first official Tweet she posted about her move to Chicago:

She also started a long-lasting and professional relationship with Nike that year.

Her journey continued as she got more comfortable in the city and with her teammates, but (spoiler alert) she doesn’t visit the Millennium Park Bean until 2015 (shame on you, Delle Donne).

The season started and ended quickly. Delle Donne brought the Sky to the playoffs for the first time ever. They lost in the first round to the Indiana Fever.

Also note: Wrigley, Delle Donne’s social-media-famous pup was actually that: a pup. He’ll grow to be almost as tall as she is.

2014

Delle Donne started to get involved quite a bit during her second season with the Sky. She came back from her first camp as a professional player in the offseason and kept up with the publicity. Her Twitter account is a testament to how accessible she is to her fans.

Delle Donne’s first post about a disease she battles, Lyme disease, in her WNBA career:

This was the season that the Sky, again, went to the playoffs, but managed to actually advance. The lost in the WNBA finals to Phoenix.

Meanwhile, Wrigley grew.

2015

This was Delle Donne’s busiest seasons. She posted a lot about her personal life outside of the Sky. Fans gained insight into her values and priorities as a person as opposed to an athlete.

It was official. Delle Donne as MVP. She would also bring her team to the championships for the third season in a row.

She was congratulated by many notable athletes and fans.
ThankYou

Delle Donne a player that people a drawn to. They want to get to know her, evidenced through the many Q & A sessions she’s done with fans via Twitter (not included in this post). She shares her personal life, including inspiration she draws from her mentally handicapped sister.

I wrote previously about how, because of her gender and the nature of the sports franchise, Delle Donne is obligated to be more open. But whatever the reason, it’s been nice getting to “know” her.

One fan’s story of an unyielding dedication to the Sky

If you’ve been to a Chicago Sky game, you’ve probably heard her.

If you’re a regular at Chicago Sky games, you expect to hear her.

And if you’re a Chicago Sky player, you know her as Pam Allen.

She’s the woman at every home game screaming, cheering and heckling from sideline.

“I call myself PA – Pam Allen. That’s why my voice is so loud and vocal.”

Allen has been a season ticket holder since 2014. She sits just to the left side behind the hoop, close enough for refs, players and coaches to hear her.

Season ticket holders Pam Allen and Beverly Asford sit courtside at the Chicago Sky game against the Washington Mystics on Fri., June 4. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

Season ticket holders Pam Allen (right) and Beverly Asford (left) sit courtside at the Chicago Sky game against the Washington Mystics on Fri., June 4. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

Allen was brought on by her friend, coworker and tag team cheerleader Beverly Asford. Asford has been a “Sky Rider”–the name given to Sky season ticket holders–for seven years now.

They’re at almost every home game. But, on occasion, when they’re not:

“[The players] look for us,” Asford said. “And when we get here, they’re coming to say hi. Even the refs.”

Season ticket holders are beneficiaries of invitations to multiple events throughout the season. Through these events, they get to know the players and the players’ families in person. Allen’s favorite player she’s met is Elena Delle Donne because they both came to the Sky the same year; Asford’s is Cheyenne Parker for the growth she’s seen in her.

Before the start of the last home game at Allstate, referee Amy Bonner approached Allen.

“I figured I’d introduce myself if we’re going to be interacting during the game so much anyways,” Bonner said.

Allen laughed, introduced herself. But as soon as Bonner makes the wrong call (lucky for her it didn’t happen in that game), no doubt Allen will be there to call her out. She screamed plenty at the two other refs that night with phrases like “Do you need to borrow my glasses, ref?” and “Glad you finally got some air in that whistle, ref.”

Allen and Asford see themselves as part of the team, and they are strategic as such.

“I let them know where players are,” Allen said. “Especially now. In the second half, the Sky will be on the far end on offense and the away team will be with us. I’m able to affect them because I believe my vocal chords can knock off their game.”

During every single free throw shot by the Washington Mystics in last Friday’s game, Allen tormented the players. She and Asford got personal with Ivory Latta, Washington’s MVP.

“Let me see those eyes, Latta,” they screamed during her free throw.

Latta does have some pretty distinctly big eyes. “You know she’s coming for you when you see those eyes” as Asford put it.

“It’s all in good fun, though. As long as we don’t get kicked out of the game, we’ll have fun,” Asford said.

For the record, Latta made both free throws, laughing and nodding at Allen in between.

Pam Allen and Beverly Asford laugh during halftime at the Sky-Mystics game on Fri., June 4. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

Pam Allen and Beverly Asford laugh during halftime at the Sky-Mystics game on Fri., June 4. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

For two middle-aged friends, holding season tickets means getting out of the house and being a part of something bigger than their office jobs in the Northwest suburbs. Allen used to play basketball in high school, said she was voted most athletic. But a back injury a few years ago put her out of physical activity for longer than she hoped.

Watching the Sky has helped her recover.

“I’m playing through them and that’s what gives me a little strength to keep on going,” Allen said. “It gave me the encouragement to work out a lot harder.”

Allen says she’s never been told to stop cheering, and in fact, has been encouraged by Sky players to keep up the good work.

“They hear me, they laugh at me,” Allen said. “I usually get the whole audience involved as well. I just like to have fun. That’s why I’m here and I’ll be here until I can’t anymore.”

Here’s why people do and do not watch the WNBA

On Friday night, the Chicago Sky had one of it’s fastest-paced games I’ve ever seen. There were no-look assists through multiple defenders, swooshed 3-pointers and fast breaks galore.

In light of an extremely mundane first game of the NBA finals, one I was close to turning off all together, I wondered as I have many times: why don’t people watch the WNBA?

I reached out on social media and to a few friends who watch the NBA religiously. I also spent some time at the game on Friday asking Sky fans why they follow the WNBA.

The answers have nothing to do with gender, at least on the surface. The deeper rooted gender norms that might be at play are beyond the scope of this post, though I don’t want to disregard them completely.

Female basketball players are taught to focus on fundamentals, while men are taught to focus on raw athleticism. This is usually in the form of crossovers, slam dunks and alley oops.

Thus, people who watch the NBA appreciate a good show; people who watch the WNBA appreciate fundamental basketball. Now, there’s overlap to both of those. It can’t just be black and white. Many players from both leagues can crossover a defender just as well as they can make a free throw. But for fans, it comes down to prioritizing which they’d like to see more.

Here are some fan reactions to the question “Do you watch the WNBA and, if not, how come?”

1

2

3

4

Honestly, because the women’s league just doesn’t flaunt nearly as much athleticism and rawness of the NBA. Plus, everyone loves stories and history and context (rivalries for decades, certain teams always matching up well and playing like its always a playoff atmosphere). The WNBA is too new still to have that deep nostalgic connection like people do for Celtics-Lakers old rivalry or even now Cleveland and Golden State rivalry. A lot of the raw emotion is just exhibited more in the NBA, a lot because of misogyny and because women are expected to bottle that up.

-Malcolm Simkoff

Here are some fan reactions to the question “Why do you like the WNBA?”

Here’s a translation of that last soundbite from a pre-teen boy, in case you missed it: “They’re very skillful. And cute, too.”

And, no, I don’t have an audio file of Draymond Green saying why he watches the WNBA, but he does. He told Sports Illustrated why.

“In the NBA there’s always a guy who is only around because he can jump. He doesn’t have a clue about the fundamentals. I learn more from the WNBA. They know how to dribble, how to pivot, how to use the shot fake.”

And just to throw it out there–they also know how to shoot free throws.

It’s interesting to note that a lot of the fans I spoke to at the Sky game had a personal connection to women’s basketball (former coach, player, fathers of young girls). This is in opposition to the millions of NBA fans who may have never played basketball in their lives, but, like Simkoff said above, are intrigued by historical rivalries. The main takeaway from this is that the league is young. Yes, fundamental skills are at the forefront (as they should be), but as the league become more developed, WNBA players will start to attract more fans interested in the Stephen Curry era of trickery basketball at its finest.

Everything but the game: Off-the-court moments from Sky-Mystics

The outside of the North Gate entrance of the Allstate Arena, 30 minutes prior to tip-off. The arena is home to DePaul Blue Demon basketball, Chicago Wolves hockey and, of course, the Chicago Sky. The arena has a capacity of 18,500, but only hosts around 5,500 during Chicago Sky games. In the Sky's game against the Washington Mystics, the arena sat 5,489.  (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

The outside of the North Gate entrance of the Allstate Arena, 30 minutes prior to tip-off. The arena is home to DePaul Blue Demon basketball, Chicago Wolves hockey and, of course, the Chicago Sky. The arena has a capacity of 18,500, but only hosts around 5,500 during Chicago Sky games. In the Sky’s game against the Washington Mystics, the arena sat 5,489. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

The team joins for a pep talk from Elena Delle Donne after a warm up, before the start of the game.

The team joins for a pep talk from Elena Delle Donne after a warm up, before the start of the game.

A girls basketball team joins the Chicago Sky for the National Anthem before their game against the Washington Mystics on June 3.

A girls basketball team joins the Chicago Sky for the National Anthem before their game against the Washington Mystics on June 3.

Betnijah Laney being helped off of the court  after being knocked down. The refs took an entire possession on the other end of the court before realizing she was down and calling a time out. Laney was out the rest of the game and came back about 15 minutes later on crutches.   (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

Betnijah Laney being helped off of the court after being knocked down. The refs took an entire possession on the other end of the court before realizing she was down and calling a time out. Laney was out the rest of the game and came back about 15 minutes later on crutches. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

These girls lost a halftime dance contest (to a competitively cute nine year old boy), but won in the cuteness factor to ever step foot on the Sky court. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

These girls lost a half-time dance contest (to a competitively cute nine year old boy), but won in the cuteness factor to ever step foot on the Sky court. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

"Sky Guy," the Chicago Sky mascot dunks during the traditional half-time dunk show. Don't be fooled though, below him is a pile of gymnastic pads and a trampoline that he and three other gymnasts propel themselves off of. They don't always make it, but this dunk was pretty epic. This is probably the most compelling show aside from the game.(Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

“Sky Guy,” the Chicago Sky mascot dunks during the traditional half-time dunk show. Don’t be fooled though, below him is a pile of gymnastic pads and a trampoline that he and three other gymnasts propel themselves off of. They don’t always make it, but this dunk was pretty epic. This is probably the most compelling show aside from the game.(Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

The Sky's two biggest fans and season ticket holders. You can hear them from the other end of the court, either screaming at the ref, players on the other team, or cheering for the Sky. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

The Sky’s two biggest fans and season ticket holders. You can hear them from the other end of the court, either screaming at the ref, players on the other team, or cheering for the Sky. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel) Here they are screaming at Washington guard Ivory Latta during a free throw:

Believe it or not, this young group of cheerleaders actually do a great job of amping up the crowd during halftime. During the actual game, they are set to the away team's corner side of the court, where they lead cheers and do flips. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel).

Believe it or not, this young group of cheerleaders actually do a great job of amping up the crowd during halftime. During the actual game, they are set to the away team’s corner side of the court, where they lead cheers and do flips. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel).

The referees meet to discuss the outcome of a foul called on Tamera Young, who was stopped by teammates from continuing to argue with the ref. The foul was upheld. It was one of only two of Young's personal fouls the entire game. The two male refs, Daryl Humphrey (no. 8) and Kevin Sparrock (no.49), were the least liked by the crowd during this game. Their number were called out often, with phrases like "Where are your glasses? Want to borrow mine?" or, when a foul was called on the Mystics, "I'm glad there's air in that whistle, ref!" (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

The referees meet to discuss the outcome of a foul called on Tamera Young, who was stopped by teammates from continuing to argue with the ref. The foul was upheld. It was one of only two of Young’s personal fouls the entire game. The two male refs, Daryl Humphrey (no. 8) and Kevin Sparrock (no.49), were the least liked by the crowd during this game. Their number were called out often, with phrases like “Where are your glasses? Want to borrow mine?” or, when a foul was called on the Mystics, “I’m glad there’s air in that whistle, ref!” (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

The team musters their last bit of energy at the end of the game to throw towels to their fans. Every single one of them had a smile and visibly seemed to enjoy doing it. Most of them sought out specific fans to throw to, mostly younger kids or the most enthused. Jamierra Faulkner had nine assists this game, but her most impressive pass might have been to a back row in the main section to a young girl screaming for a towel. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

The team musters their last bit of energy at the end of the game to throw towels to their fans. Every single one of them had a smile and visibly seemed to enjoy doing it. Most of them sought out specific fans to throw to, mostly younger kids or the most enthused. Jamierra Faulkner had nine assists this game, but her most impressive pass might have been to a back row in the main section to a young girl screaming for a towel. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

Cappie Pondexter walked past numerous fans screaming her name for a towel. She was looking for someone specific: a young fan who sat courtside in her wheelchair as a result of a physical disability. Pondexter handed her a towel with a ear-to-ear smile. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

Cappie Pondexter walked past numerous fans screaming her name for a towel. She was looking for someone specific: a young fan who sat courtside in her wheelchair as a result of a physical disability. Pondexter handed her a towel with an ear-to-ear smile. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

A portion of the 5,489 fans who were in attendance last night hold their arms up in anticipation for a towel to be thrown by a Sky player. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

A portion of the 5,489 fans who were in attendance last night hold their arms up in anticipation for a towel to be thrown by a Sky player. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

Though the team won in the fourth, Cappie Pondextet pretty much played overtime, taking pictures with a few fans and finding specific people to pass out towels to. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)

Though the team won in the fourth, Cappie Pondextet pretty much played overtime, taking pictures with a few fans and finding specific people to pass out towels to. (Photo/Mariah Woelfel)