“WNBA is a joke”
In 2014, a study conducted by Cheryl Cooky, Michael A. Messner, and Michela Musto found that “ESPN’s SportsCenter…[devoted] a paltry 2% of its hour-long highlight show to women’s sports.” Roughly one minute and two seconds of a 60 minute show dedicated to highlighting local and national sporting events is used to represent women. With little to no media time, audiences are taught that mentioning women in sports is simply not as worthy as mentioning men. In 2022, it is time to grow away from this laughable scheme.
The lack of coverage of women’s sports in the media directly flows into a decrease in revenue. Revenue is increased when organizations can bring in more money, but without adequate representation it is practically impossible to bring in an increase in funds. The WNBA as a whole recently experienced a record breaking season, as they shattered records previously held in areas that involve viewership, social media engagement, web traffic, and merchandise. While there was an increase in these aspects, we have yet to see a sufficient amount of evidence that suggests the records will impact both the teams and the players.
In comparison to the 2021 season, viewership increased by over 16% in the regular season, with an average of 379,000 viewers. Social media engagements saw a 36% jump, with 186 million video views. Web traffic to WNBA.com went up in a variety of categories, including “unique visitors (5.4 million, up 99%), total visits (9.2 million, up 79%), and page views (23.8 million, up 83%).” Chicago’s 2022 All-Star merchandise sales saw a 50% increase over previous bestselling All-Star events held in Minneapolis in 2018.
The jump in the previously stated categories provides audiences with the question: When and how will this affect the player’s pay?
Critics would argue that the increase in attention from consumers in the media will not benefit the salary of the players, primarily because the numbers are so low. A commentary writer for the Washington Examiner, Zackary Faria, released an article titled The ‘pay gap’ debate between the NBA and WNBA is a joke on December 8, 2022, as a reaction to WNBA star, Brittney Griner’s release from drug charges in Russia and her previous comments about the pay gap between the WNBA and the NBA. My worthy opponent, Faria, uses demanding language that clearly demonstrates how passionate he is about the topic. Faria scolds:
MSNBC decided that Griner’s release was the perfect occasion to remind everyone that economic literacy is not a requirement to work at the outlet, re-upping a piece from March written by columnist Dave Zirin, who correctly noted that several WNBA players play overseas to supplement their league salaries. MSNBC calls this a “maddening pay disparity,” and Zirin wrote that WNBA players “made a microcosmic fraction of what the men make.”
Faria follows up by crediting the “pay disparity” to the generosity of the NBA for allowing the WNBA to exist. He essentially argues that the $60 million in revenue generated by the WNBA is useless compared to the $8 billion that the NBA generates. With the NBA producing 1.4 to 3.03 million of viewers consistently on a game-to-game basis and the WNBA averaging around 379,000 viewers per game, Faria alludes that the WNBA is futile, as closing the viewership gap would be equivalent to “burning millions (or billions) of dollars.”
While my opponent makes very aggressive points, he neglects to take into account that the viewership gap may be affected by the age gap between the leagues or the longevity of each season. The WNBA, being only 26 years old, sits at a 36-game regular season schedule. The season for these women typically runs from early May to August, with playoffs typically lasting through mid-September. The NBA, recently reaching 76 years of age, has been sitting at an 82-game regular season schedule since the 1967-1968 season, where mid-October to early April is the common length of a regular season. However, playoffs roll into the month of June.
A worthy opponent may grasp onto the dates of each season, noticing that the “off-season” of the NBA falls during the bulk of the WNBA season. While the observation is accurate, this does not necessarily mean that the WNBA would be given airtime on large broadcasting and sports highlighting networks. The problem extends beyond just the WNBA and women’s sports, and overlaps into men’s sports as well. The 2014 study mentioned previously found that “most of these stories focus only on certain men’s sports. Put another way, it is not just women’s sports that are ignored on these shows. There is inequitable coverage across different men’s sports as well.” Much of the airtime is given to what is known as the big three: men’s basketball (professional and collegiate), men’s football (professional and collegiate), and men’s baseball (primarily professional). Many times, commentators use the phrasing “it’s never too early,” “too soon,” or “too late” when discussing the big three. Instances of the anticipation for the big three can be captured at any point throughout the year, but the authors highlighted KABC’s July 15, 6 pm broadcast, where:
The main news anchor introduced the sports anchor by saying, “And yep, it is a bit early in the year, but it’s never too soon to think about the NBA.” The sports anchor replied, “That’s right, it’s just around the corner.” Although it was still midsummer, he acknowledged, “it’s never too early to talk about opening night,” which is “161 more shopping days” from now.
The big three is so prominent in the sports world that researchers found that 74.5% of media time was devoted to the big three, while less than 5% was devoted to women’s sports or neutral. When looking at the data collected, it is understood that media coverage must appeal to the masses, which in the sports industry typically falls into the male category, but a slight increase in promotion may spark interest in women’s sports.
Women in the sports industry are the minority, and will continue to sit at the bottom of the barrel until action is taken. While speaking out about what fuels the fire burning through the sports world will continue to occur, nothing will change until those behind the production of media take a risk in promoting women’s sports. With the WNBA being the face of women’s sports, it is easiest to start representing them. As the representation continues, the league will notice an increase in revenue, thus promoting the opportunity for equitable pay and play in the league.
Cooky, Cheryl; Messner, Michael A.; and Musto, Michela. (n.d.) “It’s Dude Time!”: A Quarter Century of Excluding Women’s Sports in Televised News and Highlight Shows. Sage Journals. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2167479515588761
Faria, Z. (2022, December 8). The ‘pay gap’ debate between the NBA and WNBA is a joke. Washington Examiner. Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/the-pay-gap-debate-between-the-nba-and-wnba-is-a-joke
Zirin, D. (2022, December 8). Brittney Griner exposes one of the WNBA’s biggest problems. MSNBC. Retrieved December 10, 2022, from https://www.msnbc.com/opinion/msnbc-opinion/brittney-griner-exposes-one-wnba-s-biggest-problems-n1292325?cid=sm_npd_ms_tw_ma
Two paragraphs in, we don’t yet know what the complaint is.
Do you mean the ultimate goal of the WNBA is to be covered more thoroughly on SportsCenter? You say:
What does “impact the teams and the players” mean?
You do state the complaint two more paragraphs along, and quite effectively. But why wait? Remember, in its 1000-word form, this argument has to stand on its own. You can’t expect that readers will “remember the hypothesis” from your Definition or Causal arguments. They haven’t read them.
You’ve spent considerable effort to champion the IMPROVEMENT in numbers, so we’re surprised to hear you describe them as “so low.”
Don’t you mean that despite the public’s constantly improving interest in the sport, their audience still doesn’t begin to match up to the male NBA’s dominance for fans?
Faria’s column is a valuable asset, Holly, but your use of it is confusing, especially since it contains itself a confusing slap at MSNBC. We need to know the context of the remark before you offer up the quote. Do you object to Faria’s comments because you don’t like his accusation that MSNBC is economically illiterate? The give-and-take here is a bit of a muddle.
You need to frame the argument ahead of time, like a good tour guide. Viewership and fan bases are wildly incongruent. The WNBA keeps making strides to greater popularity, but they still don’t measure up to more than a small fraction of the NBA fan base. The disparity is still great, but even a small investment would be SO meaningful to the fledgling league. MSNBC recognizes the disparity and sees it as unfair. Yet critics of even the small attention the WNBA gets still abound and begrudge any support the league might request, require, or achieve. Does that about cover the conflict?
We need that BEFORE we read Faria.
Your style is passionate and persuasive, Holly. I wish we could have worked on your drafts sooner.