What happens when WNBA games are made available on Disney networks? Established fans and newcomers tune in to the gripping action on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC. This WNBA 2022 season has seen its share of off-court obstacles, injuries and twists and turns. Yet even with all the changes, regular season viewership has continued to grow this season, a testament to the ever-growing viewership surrounding the WNBA.

All eyes on the W

Every season since 2020, there has been greater availability of games to watch thanks to new partnerships with Amazon Prime and Google and an increase in the number of games on mainstream networks such as ABC and ESPN. During the 2022 regular season, compared to 2021, there was a 19% increase in viewership on Disney networks, to an average of 372,000 viewers. It was the league’s most-watched regular season in 14 years.

A tweet from Highlight HER’s Arielle Chambers from August 2021 still resonates today among the latest viewership figures. These record numbers are encouraging for the W community. Plus, they prove the often-made argument that when they’re readily available, people are ready to watch women’s basketball.

Embrace the digital age

WNBA League Pass, Amazon Prime, CBS Sports Network, Facebook and Twitter have created a plethora of ways to bring more games to the public. Still, with a condensed schedule and an increase in games airing on ESPN and ABC, fans have easier access to some of the basketball of the summer.

Since February, when the WNBA’s $75 million fundraiser was announced, commissioner Cathy Engelbert has outlined plans for that lump sum. She commented on digital market adoption, outlining potential plans to create culturally relevant documentaries about teams and individual players, increase merchandise availability, and add optical tracking. So what have we seen in the digital market?

The WNBA League Pass app saw a 10% increase in subscriptions and just in time for the playoffs, on August 8, the app was made available on Roku devices. Merchandise sales increased 50% during All-Star Weekend 2022 in Chicago compared to All-Star Weekend 2018 in Minneapolis, which was previously the high point. Videos on official WNBA social media accounts received 186 million views, a 36% increase from 2021.

You can’t watch a game without hearing commentators mention Google searches related to players or teams. After an exciting game by a highly marketable player, a small box occasionally displays the WNBA searches currently trending on Google. This offers real-time analytics and keeps pushing web traffic.

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The Farewell Tours

It was an uplifting sight to watch Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird and Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles receive their flowers as their final WNBA seasons progressed. From the recliner Fowles received as a gift from Chicago to an intimate moment between Bird and Atlanta Dream head coach Tanisha Wright (who is also Bird’s former teammate in Seattle) in Atlanta, fans in attendance and at home were aware of many last moments of the ride. Fowles became the first player to eclipse 4,000 rebounds in Sunday’s game against the Connecticut Sun and that game averaged 682,000 viewers and peaked at 822,000 viewers.

Another Sunday game shattered viewership. The August 14 game between the Las Vegas Aces and the Seattle Storm, televised on ABC, had the most viewership of any WNBA game since May 2008. It peaked with 1.1 million viewers and a average of 852,000. This game had many storylines, including the MVP run between Las Vegas’ A’ja Wilson and Seattle’s Breanna Stewart and Bird’s final regular season game in a Storm jersey.

Achievements on the ground

Beyond the views of the public, records have also been set on the pitch this season. Remember when Sabrina Ionescu was the first player in NCAA history with 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists? This year, she created another column for herself as the only WNBA player with a 500-200-200 season. Additionally, the regular season saw seven triple-doubles by four players: Ionescu, Minnesota’s Moriah Jefferson, Chicago’s Candace Parker and Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas. And, in an era when player height doesn’t predict position, teams averaged a record 7.7 3-pointers per game, helping them average 82.3 points per game. match.

Embrace a new era

The attention two of the greatest players in WNBA history have received played a big part in the attention this 36-game season has received. Fortunately, the next generation has arrived and is ready to take their place. Both players praised the latest class of rookies and players such as Wilson and Stewart who dominate early in their careers.

The rise in viewership this season parallels what is happening in other sports, with Major League Soccer (MLS) being a particularly close comparison. During its 2021 season, MLS averaged 276,000 viewers. In 2020, it averaged 233,000 viewers. The juxtaposition of the two leagues goes beyond perspective: The first MLS game was played on April 6, 1996. The first WNBA game was played on June 21, 1997. Two leagues that developed around the same time are experiencing a increase in audience. and the expansion of their communities. The attraction is there, fans are flocking, and more and more games are being televised on Disney networks.

Again, where these games are easily accessible and highly advertised, fans will follow. There are communities of fans investing time and money and a new generation of viewers is joining an ever-growing community for women’s sports. For the WNBA, with up to 27 playoff games, the conclusion of this season could continue to set records.


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