The WNBA has had a banger season. Viewership is up, way way up, so much so that the regular season had the highest viewership numbers for the league since 2008. According to the Atlantic, "The overall viewership, combined between CBS and Disney networks, averaged 379,000 viewers -- the highest in the league's 14-year history with its television partners." The final regular season matchup between the Las Vegas Aces and the Seattle Storm, who later went on to give the fans a championship caliber semi finals series, drew a whopping 1.1 million viewers. So with viewership skyrocketing and playoff match-ups delivering explosive, edge of your seat basketball, why is the WNBA scheduling championship deciding games up against Goliath NFL?
The rise in viewership has continued to build in the playoffs. This WNBA postseason has been the most viewed playoffs in over two decades. The WNBA has routinely delivered must-watch basketball at every level of the postseason, drawing in first time viewers along with their ride-or-die fanbase. Yet fans were forced to make a choice during Game 1 of the Finals, a choice sports fans despise. How do I watch Game 1 and NFL Sunday at the same time? For many fans it felt like choosing their favorite kid or Geena Davis movie (It's A League Of Their Own btw, sorry Thelma & Louise).
Sophie's Choice of Sports
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Ok, so maybe you decided to side with the WNBA over NFL Week 1 Sunday games. The rationale is there, it's only Week 1 after all and the Aces and Sun were playing to an electric sold-out crowd in Vegas. Or maybe your thirst for regular season football was too powerful, this die-hard NFL fan gets it. The point though, is why are we being forced to choose at all?
Even Aces and Raiders owner Mark Davis expressed his displeasure with the scheduling for Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, after all he can't be in two places at once and is in fact being forced to choose his favorite franchise child.
"It makes no sense," Davis said, via USA Today. "It doesn't make any sense. We don't have the eyeballs. Well how in the hell are you going to get eyeballs when you're going up against the opening day of the National Football League?" Davis asked. "That part is tough. We have the greatest athletes in the world at what they do. We need people to invest in the game ... If we invest in the product, it will come back to us in multiples."
David ultimately decided to spend Sunday at Allegiant Stadium, telling ESPN, "As I've said before, I feel like a single parent with two children and each one of them have something different to do on the same day at the same time, and you have to make a decision," Davis said with a laugh. "After thinking it through, with Josh (McDaniels) coaching his first game here with the Raiders, and the Aces playing at home, it just made it easier for me to make that decision to come to the Raider game. Because (the Aces) have the home crowd in Las Vegas and they're rabid (fans) and I don't know that I'll be missed as much.
"So, it just made sense to do that. But if we get into a fourth game next Sunday and have to play in Connecticut, I'll be at the Aces game because it will be a deciding game."
WNBA's Game 3 vs NFL's TNF: A Battle for Eyeballs
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The worst choice of all will come during Game 3 of The Finals. I truly have no idea what they were thinking when planning the WNBA Finals schedule. To start the series against the NFL's opening Sunday play was silly. To not schedule a two day travel break between games two and three and line up a potentially crowning Game 3 against TNF is straight up idiotic. Especially when you consider that game three in a five game series can most certainly be the end of the series altogether. For the record I still think this WNBA Finals series will go five games, but it's playoff basketball so anything can happen.
Having two teams who've never won a championship battling it out for their first franchise win are the dreams basketball championships are made of. When those teams are stacked with the WNBA's 2022 Defensive Player of the Year, 2022 MVP (LV's A'ja Wilson), the league's leading regular season scorer and 3-point shooter (LV's Kelsey Plum), the third ranked 3-point shooter in postseason (LV 's Chelsea Gray), and defensive leader (CT's Jonquel Jones) you're fired up to watch them grind it out.
Between the relentless offensive power of Las Vegas and the nasty defense of Connecticut, the series is already proving to be as sensational as postseason basketball gets. Sadly, when Thursday comes, TVs across the country will have to choose between the excellence of the elite women of the WNBA and the video game level play of TNF's stars of the NFL. Do you watch Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs hosting Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers at the NFL's loudest stadium, Arrowhead, OR do you watch what could be a Finals winning deciding game (should the Aces head to Connecticut up 2-0)?
A Win-Win for Fans, But at What Cost?
The good news for fans is this, you'll be thoroughly entertained no matter where you tune your TV. The bad news is, historically speaking, going up against the NFL hurts you and the WNBA athletes deserve to be seen -- in big numbers. The league has yet to offer any insight on why this decision was made, or what the thought process was. I'd hate to think it was because they thought the fans pumped up for NFL action weren't interested in the WNBA's playoff schedule. The NFL's fandom is nearly half made up of women and we all know men who love supporting female athletes, so there's undeniably cross fandom.
With viewership up and climbing, it feels foolish to not have given the athletes competing for their first ring two days off between Games 2 & 3, especially traveling from Nevada to Connecticut, and then promote the hell out of a Friday night Game 3. I know firsthand, when basketball fans are encouraged to watch the WNBA Finals, they're hooked. My dad, who has basketball in his veins, dove into the WNBA when I started covering it here at FanBuzz. Now he texts or calls me during and after games, absolutely fired up for all the playoff action. He chose the women of the WNBA last week over the NFL's Sunday action.
I believe wholeheartedly there are millions of NFL fans that if given the opportunity to watch this season's WNBA talent, would become devoted fans of the league. Sadly, if the WNBA keeps scheduling these mega games against the NFL, forcing fans to choose, they're going to stall their growth. The women of the WNBA, who are exceptional, intelligent, awe-inspiring athletes and badass women deserve to have all the eyeballs on them. Denying anyone the ability to watch this level of play feels cruel, and no I'm not overreacting, these women are that good.
My hope is thanks to the success of this year's regular season, the rise in viewership, and the buzz loudly vibrating around this 2022 postseason, the WNBA won't make this mistake again. Until then, let's all do our best to support the WNBA during the Finals. Sure, you may have to picture-in-picture your screen or stream one on your computer and one on your TV (that was me), but it'll be worth it. No one should have to miss the TNF AFC West gunslinging show or the WNBA Finals crowning a franchise with their first championship.
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