Thoughts on the WNBA / ESPN Announcement

Extreme CU of new WNBA logo showing the WThe ESPN networks and the WNBA made a joint announcement concerning ESPN’s extending their contract and underscoring their commitment to women’s sports. Also announced was  a new logo for the WNBA along with a few other tidbits. What are we to really think about this?

While the contract extension is welcome, I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that ESPN could have done a lot more. USA Today reports that there will be, “up to 30 live games televised on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2 each season, including the Finals.” Let’s think about that. Subtract a five-game final. Subtract, say, six playoff games. That leaves maybe 20 live game telecasts for a 34-game May-September season. During that same span, how many male sports-ball games?

This isn’t at all unexpected for their broadcasts. I wondered if they were going to make an extended agreement for showing games on ESPN3, which they didn’t. Given that the ESPN3 option requires connection via an approved internet provider, maybe it’s better that we limp through with the sometimes very frustrating online coverage (for a fee) on WNBA.com.

As for the logo, I like it. They’ve moved from the generic person/era from the red-white-blue shield to a player silhouette (currently unidentified, but I think it resembles Sue Bird) in the league’s oatmeal (or white)-and-orange colors. Having an actual player on the logo is something I’ve enjoyed with sports leagues. I like it in the NBA logo (Jerry West), I liked it in the defunct WPS logo (Mia Hamm), and I like it here. It has a dynamic quality that the original logo somehow lacked.

Today’s announce also included some mention of potential enhancements: Referee cams, more behind the scenes, and NBA player commentators. Since it’s not a secret that I’m not a big fan of on-the-court cams, the idea of a ref cam doesn’t fill me with happy-happy-joy-joy feelings. It feels like a gimmick no one asked for that we’ll tire of after the first half of the first game it’s used. Refs might hate it, too, if the cams show that, no, they weren’t blocked from seeing the foul, they just missed it. The BtS is fine and expected. And as long as the NBA player commentators are knowledgeable about the women’s game and articulate, I’m fine with them. Don’t just throw them in for name recognition. That sort of self-promotion won’t help the WNBA.

There were some suggestions that this new deal will also funnel some more revenue the WNBA’s way. There was the hint that player salaries might rise come the new CBA (my wishlist: maybe adding one to the roster and an injured reserve spot…please, please, please). I wish I could confirm that. These year-round players deserve fair compensation for wearing down their bodies.

All in all, I thought the announcement was fine but could have been better. The renewed commitment is good for the league but on first blush looks to be extremely conservative in scope — they should have added more games to the broadcast schedule. The new logo helps the branding and is arguably an improvement on the original. As for the rest, it seems like typical promotion smoke-and-mirrors. With every league, the PR people throw stuff on the wall to see what sticks. As always, though, it comes down to product — and the 2013 season seems like it will be yet another very interesting one.

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