Greater interest in the sport is being sparked globally following impressive performances from teams at the recent Olympics Games, Pan Am Games, and FIBA tournaments; however critics often resort to measuring the popularity of the sport by comparing it’s professional league, the WNBA, to its male counter-part, the NBA.
The WNBA celebrated its landmark 20th birthday in 2016, and since its inception in 1996, the league has grown significantly from eight teams to a robust twelve teams playing across the US.
In comparison to the NBA, which has 30 teams, the 12-team women’s league looks inferior. Strictly from a numbers perspective, this is accurate; however viewers often overlook the fact that men have had the opportunity to play professional basketball in North America for 50 years longer than women.
The maturity of the NBA and well-established fan base makes it a relatively poor benchmark when assessing the popularity of the WNBA. By considering the women’s league all on its own, fans are able to see clear and rapid growth. In 2016, the league’s 20th season, the WNBA reported a record breaking season with the highest attendance in five years and 1.5 million people coming out to see the games.
Not only did the WNBA experience a rush of fan attendance during the past year, the league also realized an 11% increase of viewership on ESPN and ESPN2. The season opener between the Phoenix Mercury and the Minnesota Lynx was the highest-rated regular season WNBA game since 2011, with more than 500,000 people tuning in to see the women stake their claim on the court.
The league is also making waves on social media and digital platforms as fans are taking an ever-increasing interest in learning more about the teams and their players. The WNBA’s website saw a 22% increase of unique views during 2016, and on their social media platforms the organization gained three million new followers and 50 million video views during the year; a statistic which is double what they experienced during the 2015 season.
Considering the increase in viewership and fan engagement year-over-year, the WNBA is primed for growth and will be a league to watch in the coming years. As visible interest in the sport increases, we can be sure that new teams will be added to the roster, and with this, an increase in opportunities for female athletes.
The growing engagement with the sport is not only a US phenomenon, and has also travelled North of the border. Canada’s performance at international competitions sparking renewed interest here at home, with the women’s team captured their second straight gold at the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup in August of this year, placed 7th at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and won gold at the 2015 Pan Am Games.
With these impressive performances, there’s no doubt that our country is producing high caliber talent, and fans are taking note. Prior to 2015 there have only been 15 Canadian’s who have played for the organization; however in 2016, the Canadian National Team had four players drafted to the WNBA– The most the country has ever seen.
As more Canadian athletes break into the WNBA and fan enthusiasm drives faster growth within the sport, female-focused clubs, such as New Heights Basketball Academy and EK Hoops Training, are at the forefront of fueling excitement and love for the game, and ensuring that there will be a bright future for Woman’s basketball.
Written By: Sarah Reid