WNBA’s 2020: viewership increase and fighting for social justice

The WNBA season ended, but the league and players made it clear this week that their fight for social justice is far from over. 

“We said we would bring the fight here. And while the season is over, the work is not,” said Skyler Diggins-Smith of the Phoenix Mercury. 

The WNBA dedicated this year to Breonna Taylor. Besides playing basketball, WNBA athletes spent the season using their voices on social media, leaving the court for the national anthem and wearing warm-up shirts that said, “Say Her Name.” Holly Rowe also spoke to players during interviews every week about victims of police brutality. And now, the WNBA will continue to fight loudly for social justice in the off season too. 

The activism did not negatively affect the season whatsoever. In fact, the league’s viewership increased to 68 per cent in 2020. This was with the help of having 87 games televised nationally from the “Wubble” in Florida. Games were also streamed on Twitter.

The WNBA regularly competes with a number of sports for broadcast time, including playoffs for the NBA. This year, the WNBA final games were also played at the same time as three games of the NBA Finals. The games did not overlap, and Commissioner Cathy Englebert saw it as a positive that basketball fans could watch a lot of basketball action. 

Englebert told the media, “I think we’ll just do the best and take advantage of cross-promotion. […] We’re not on at the same time, but had we been [we could] do a live look-in from one broadcast to another.” 

When the WNBA season began, a marketing campaign for the WNBA occurred with NBA players wearing the orange logo hoodie for the WNBA. 

During the WNBA’s opening weekend, ESPN aired every game on their two main networks. On opening day, an average of 539,000 viewers watched the game between the Los Angeles Sparks and the Phoenix Mercury, which was the largest number seen in eight years. About 401,000 viewers watched the four-game opening weekend, which went up 63% from the 2019 season. 

The league also had the most-watched season opener, Seattle Storm vs. New York Liberty, since 2016. About an average of 419,000 viewers watched this game, peaking at 526,000 between 12:30 to 12:45 p.m. ET.

With an impressive viewership on opening weekend, ESPN expanded their WNBA coverage, adding 13 games to their original 24-game schedule.

Featured photo courtesy of USC Annenberg Media.

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