Why Aren’t Women’s Basketball Fans Following Their Players To The Pros?

We got next. That was the WNBA’s promotional slogan during its first official season of play, two decades ago in 1997. In essence, players were asking the NBA to step aside and let them have a turn on the hardwood to showcase their basketball acumen. No one knew how long the league would last.

Teresa Weatherspoon, one of the original league stars, was interviewed last year about the 1997 inaugural season. She recalled the very first game of the season, between her team—the New York Liberty—and the Los Angeles Sparks.

“First of all, we wanted to perform well,” Weatherspoon said in the AOL.com interview. “There was a game plan; we had to go out and win a basketball game. We had to make sure our performance was good because this was bigger than us, and we wanted to make sure to show the world that this was real because when this league first started, everyone said this won’t last five years.”

Fast forward 20 years and the league is still here. The slogan has evolved to the more self-assured “Watch me work,” and the players are more skilled and talented than ever. Last season, an anniversary year, was a record-breaking season for attendance and viewership. The league said it had its highest attendance (1.5 million people) at games since 2011, an 11 percent increase in TV viewership, and bumps across its social media presence.

But as the league embarks on its 21st year, questions about longevity remain. Despite extensive marketing and promotional efforts, the WNBA is still fighting for respect from naysayers and viable coverage from mainstream sports media, and the best players still can earn more playing overseas.

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