The are a lot of WNBA fans across the country and spread throughout the world. Those who are not able to attend a game in person eagerly seek out other venues for their passion. The WNBA has had a spotty record in offering games up to it fans. Admittedly, with LiveAccess, it has added a game stream that is welcome by anyone with a broadband connection. This doesn’t mean there isn’t significant room for improvement to elevate the product that the WNBA is trying to show to best effect.
1. Improve LiveAccess Infrastructure
The one thing every person who logs onto LiveAccess dreads is seeing this graphic:
This pops up much too often. I’ve noticed that Tulsa is a frequent offender, but few if any teams have escaped the season without those dreaded and non-specific “technical difficulties”. Worse…this isn’t confined to only the live broadcasts. This graphic pops up on the archived games as well—which should never happen.
2. Consistent LiveAccess Presentation
One of the most annoying things is that some games are in wide-screen HD, some in stretched HD (ugh), some with incorrect interlacing, and some with just low-quality video. Sound will be noticeably out of sync at times. And there are LiveAccess cut-ins that lessen the experience.
Video should be a no-brainer. The standard needs to be wide-screen HD. With the app being in wide-screen and having no option to switch to 4:3, there’s no excuse for forcing fans to endure stretched video. For example, we will see this:
which is uncomfortable for many to watch, instead of the video in its proper aspect ratio:
This makes for a sub-par viewing experience that shouldn’t be happening.
The other technical glitches can generally be solved with some conscientious testing and monitoring during the broadcast.
As for the cut-ins…since LiveAccess isn’t under the same time constraints as the non-Internet broadcast venues, keeping the local interviews plus half-time and post-game events helps to make the games into events…especially to fans who want to hear the up-coming half-time or post-game interview, or to see some presentation being made to the team or players.
3. Improve NBA-TV Loyalty
Too often it seems that NBA-TV wants to show as little of the WNBA games as possible. Many games with tip-offs at 10 minutes after the hour don’t get relevant pre-game time-killers to let the audience know that the game is coming. As often as not, the viewers are treated to the upteenth rerun of some NBA interstitial. Halftime is often nothing but a series of the same handful of tired ads. Then, when the game is over, NBA-TV cuts away as quickly as possible to whatever NBA rerun is pending.
For stretches during the season, NBA-TV opts to not show available WNBA games at all. This seems curious. You would think that they would want to broadcast live content when its available, saving the reruns for all that dead air that needs filling.
Possibly more insulting is how NBA-TV will cut away for any “can wait for later” press conference called by seemingly any male program—whether for a coaching change, a retirement, or what-have-you. As long as they don’t have to show that darned WNBA, they’ll go with that.
4. Non-market Reach
When you have satellite available, it’s disheartening to know that while you have channels in the guide that carry their local or regional WNBA games, you can’t watch them there. They are blacked-out. As DirecTV puts it:
For example, when a network such as MSG purchases the rights from the NBA to broadcast a Knicks game, they pay a fee and broadcast it to the New York City market only. Therefore, we can only allow customers within that market to view the pro games on that channel. When a national network such as TNT broadcasts an NBA game, they have paid a significantly higher fee because they are broadcasting to the entire nation. The fee is much higher due to the advertisement potential.
Because of fans like you who have interest in viewing teams from outside of your home market, the leagues have created professional sports subscriptions such as the NBA LEAGUE PASS and NFL SUNDAY TICKET.
And this makes great sense for a league with 30 teams in almost as many markets and with many national outlets wanting to broadcast games. But, for a league with 12 teams in widely separated markets and no WNBA League Pass, it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. You want to have as large a reach as possible—especially if you aren’t getting a lot of national exposure on network or cable.
I think the WNBA needs to negotiate a separate distribution package than is enjoyed by the NBA. Their market realities are significantly different.
None of these issues are particularly difficult for President Laurel Richie to address. Those of us who use LiveAccess certainly have a better selection of games than ever before. It could work better, but it has been improving from season to season. But, for those without broadband, or who don’t (or can’t) watch games on a computer, broadcast is the only option…one that is not the best it has been. With maybe one ESPN2 game a week and a variable number of games on NBA-TV, it’s difficult for potential fans to stay connected in the manner they are accustomed.
The WNBA has been finding a level of stability in almost all of its markets (i.e. they aren’t in imminent danger of folding or moving). How well that remains depends on some of the owners and their commitment to the women’s game. As the league increases its visibility, its value will continue to grow.
Now is not the time to stumble. LiveAccess is good, but it’s not for everyone. The league needs to continue to fight for national exposure as well. As the brand grows, the audience will build…you just have to make certain they don’t have to work too hard to get there.
ADDITION (I forgot to add this when I first posted): Since many of the feeds being broadcast are derived from the arena scoreboard video, there needs to be some league standards to make the game more suitable for a general audience. My number one peeve is playing replays of the home team scoring during the run of play. Maybe, if the home team is playing one of the slower teams, this can squeak by without too much outcry, but when the home team is playing someone up-tempo (e.g. the Mercury), you are effectively editing out your opponent’s play from the stream. That’s not acceptable at all.
My other peeve comes from court-level cams. While nice for a replay or maybe a couple of times a game for visual variety, it’s a lousy way to view a game on TV. “But you are right there in the action,” some might say. No…you aren’t. When you are there live, you can scan around to see the play develop. On TV, you see only that portion of the play that the cameraman wants you to see–typically wherever the ball is. That’s very frustrating when you are someone who likes seeing the backdoor cut being set up, or the fighting for position on the weak side that is sure to end up in a foul. Don’t cheat us viewers, please.
Oh, and one last mention about the aspect ratio thing I mention above. Please, do it right. I was watching a game on ESPN3 where they took the stretched Seattle feed and then pilar-box cropped it to the “correct” aspect ratio. Let’s look at the steps again:
Image as captured at arena:
Image as stretched to fit 16:9:
Image as cropped to fit 4:3 broadcast:
Compare the bottom pic the the first one. Who thought this was a good idea? And yes, it matters. Not only are the players squished, but, more importantly, plays that developed on the right and left sides were cropped off.