The WNBA will launch on May 18. On the one hand, the WNBA is a boffo success in that it’s coming into its 16th season, record territory for a team-oriented women’s professional sports league. But, the WNBA broke that record a long ways back, in their tenth year. So, the other hand is a backhand, praise for surviving.
The league has a TV deal that runs through 2016. Games will be televised by ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, NBA TV, and, for the first time, WNBA teams will be paid a rights fee. Sports consumers can watch 200 games, plus or minus, live and for free at liveaccess.wnba.com.
We don’t do professional big-league basketball, male or female, in San Diego. We do the odd preseason game. There have been two attempts at placing an NBA team here: San Diego Rockets, 1967–1971, aka Houston Rockets; and San Diego Clippers, 1978–1984, aka Los Angeles Clippers. Almost 30 years since the last NBA team left town, and the stench of failure still hangs in the air.
We’re not likely to get anything from the WNBA, either, particularly since suits have taken over. The WNBA’s first president was Val Ackerman (1996–2005). She was a scholarship athlete at the University of Virginia, a four-year basketball starter, and three-year captain of the women’s team. Played pro ball in France. The league’s next president was Donna Orender (2005-2010), played BB at Queens College, good enough to be named All-American. After graduation she played three seasons in the Women’s Pro Basketball League (the WPL folded after three seasons).
The current WNBA president is Laurel J. Richie, appointed one year ago. She’s the former Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. senior vice president and chief marketing officer. Richie started out with an advertising agency in Chicago, working on Procter and Gamble brands, and then moved up the food chain to Ogilvy & Mather, where, according to the ubiquitous Wikipedia, “...she spent more than two decades building brands for blue chip clients, including American Express, Pepperidge Farm, and Unilever, among others.”
Big picture: WNBA as ad agency.
The WNBA started play in 1997 and teams were collectively owned by the NBA. Money and rat hole merged and in 2002 when the NBA sold its WNBA franchises, mostly to NBA teams playing in the same city, although two WNBA franchises were sold to third parties and moved to third-party land: Utah to San Antonio; Orlando to Connecticut. In all, six WNBA teams have folded, which is not bad. The history of any sports league, from the NFL on down, is a history of teams folding, teams moving, leagues expanding and contracting, a constant reshuffling of franchises. In other words, like college football conferences.
Over time, the league has gone from two 20-minute halves to four 10-minute quarters. They’ve shortened the shot clock from 30 seconds to 24. In the beginning, the WNBA averaged 69.2 points a game, which made it unwatchable for male basketball fans. In 2010, that number hit 80.35. There have been a total of 18 clubs; 12 will start the 2012 season. Four franchises are left from the founding eight.
The money still sucks, so it’s not a surprise that the league pimps out its jerseys. Phoenix Mercury sold jersey space to LifeLock, Los Angeles Sparks sold to Farmers Insurance, New York Liberty to Foxwoods Casino, Seattle Storm to Bing, Washington Mystics to Inova Health Systems. More to come.
Here are the WNBA salaries for 2012: Minimum salary for 0 to 2 years of service, $37,260. Minimum salary for a player with three or more years of service, $54,000. The minimum team salary cap for 2012 is $844,000. Maximum is $878,000. According to a 2011 article in the Los Angeles Times, annual salaries in the WNBA ranged from $36,570 to $103,500.
Kobe Bryant makes $25,244,493 for a season’s work. Hold it — that’s not fair. He’s the highest paid player in the NBA; you know, like the WNBA player who’s making $103,500. Let’s take amounts from a struggling NBA franchise, San Diego’s own Los Angles Clippers. According to Hoopsworld, the club’s top earner for 2011–’12 is point guard Chris Paul at $16,359,805. Everybody else makes from $1.2 to $10 million, save for three despicable work-for-food players, each man earning less than $550,000. Everyone else makes more than the entire Los Angeles Sparks roster.
Last month, at the American Society of Newspaper Editors annual conference, WNBA president Laurel Richie said three teams turned a profit last year, as had the league as a whole. Hard to believe. The WNBA average league attendance in 2011 was 7950. In 1998 it was close to 11,000. Still, if anybody can move product, an Ogilvy & Mather alumna can.