Villains? rivalries? What the WNBA really needs is coverage

Screenshot of, July 17, 8:09 PM EST
Screenshot of, July 17, 8:09 PM EST /

Sean Hurd, over at ESPN, started a conversation that’s worth having with a piece he published today entitled: “Lonzo Ball and the NBA Summer League spell trouble for the WNBA”.

Hurd, who writes consistently good content about the WNBA, goes on to argue this: “For a league already struggling to maintain an audience, the increasing intrigue in the NBA summer league should send a clear message to the WNBA: Good basketball alone isn’t sufficient to sustain interest in women’s professional hoops.”

His answer? More rivalries, more villains. And let me be clear: I’ve argued precisely the same thing many times. I think the WNBA missed an opportunity by not making Lynx-Sparks an opening day game. I think the league has limited the marketing of Diana Taurasi as a villain in the way the NBA has with Kobe Bryant (and Taurasi, incidentally, agrees).

More from Media

But let’s ask a pair of questions here, ones that are uncomfortable from where ESPN sits: even if the league had done those things, exactly how much would it have moved the preponderance of coverage from men’s basketball to women’s hoops? And if ESPN and other media outlets covered the WNBA as much as, say, Summer League, would the gap persist?

In the very next paragraph after speaking about how “good basketball alone isn’t sufficient to sustain interest”, Hurd writes this: “Tonight, the last of the series, the Los Angeles Lakers (without 2017 No. 2 draft pick Lonzo Ball) will play in front of a crowd of about 14,000 in a game that, for most, holds about as much importance as a rec league pick-up game (ESPN, 10 p.m. ET).”

Now, for those who don’t follow the WNBA, that is a normal sentence. For everyone involved with the league in any way? Loud wails went out. Summer League got an ESPN game?

And that’s the double standard. Everybody knows Summer League doesn’t matter. Hell, ESPN has this on its own site! And yet: the game is on ESPN, as is, yes, exactly one WNBA regular season game all season long. That long-awaited Lynx-Sparks matchup on July 6? ESPN2. Twelve teams in the WNBA play 34 games apiece. ESPN2 shows 15, total, one a week for four months.

ESPN shows four Summer League games alone in 11 days. 35 of the 67 Summer League games are on terrestrial television via ESPN.

And that is just the games themselves. Go to the main page, and Summer League is prominent in the NBA dropdown. On the main page at, just down from the main headlines (which include a story about Paul Pierce retiring, a player not playing in a league not currently running) and nothing about the WNBA, is this:

Screenshot of, July 17, 8:09 PM EST
Screenshot of, July 17, 8:09 PM EST /

Let’s inventory this, shall we? The WNBA season is in full swing. The WNBA All Star Game is five days away, and being broadcast on ABC, so same corporate overlord. In fact, ESPN2 has its lone weekly WNBA game tomorrow night! But what do we have here? Clarity on precisely who is playing in Summer League tonight and how to watch. A big feature story allowing readers to get to know many of the players in NBA Summer League. A news bulletin on someone who is not playing in NBA Summer League. A tiny link to a story about how the WNBA needs to do something to stem the tide of fans streaming toward Summer League, followed by, yes, a link to those looking for more coverage of… Summer League.

As of this writing, if you scroll down, just under this is a video of Rachel Nichols talking… about Summer League.

And then, if you keep scrolling, past boxing, past Gold Cup, past a story about Allen Iverson not playing in a Big 3 game (if you want to give a WNBA observer an aneurysm, someone total up how much more coverage the broken-down former stars of the Big 3 have gotten this summer than the WNBA), past three stories about Big 12 college football (no, you’re not wrong, that isn’t a sport that’s happening right now, either), past cricket, past several additional stories about Lonzo Ball (no, really), more Summer League, a video about Lavar Ball, a story about Lavar Ball, some NFL stories, another link to the Iverson story, a video of Lonzo Ball getting injured, some MLB, a video of Dennis Smith Jr. scoring on Lonzo Ball, two more Lonzo Ball highlights, Stephen A. Smith urging us to “pump the breaks on the Lonzo hype”, some more MLB, a video of Lonzo Ball talking about his shoe choices… it literally goes on longer, but you can scroll all the way to the absolute bottom of that main page and you know what you don’t see?


Hurd writes: “On July 8, while Ball and the Lakers took on No. 3 draft pick Jayson Tatum and the Celtics in a meaningless game on paper, the Connecticut Sun mounted a phenomenal 22-point second-half comeback against the Delle Donne-lead Washington Mystics. That night, the Chicago Sky also shocked the league by delivering the WNBA powerhouse Minnesota Lynx its second loss of the season.

“Instead, we ask, what about Lonzo’s shoes?”

The “we” are us in the media. Fans cannot ask questions when they haven’t been informed what the questions are. And neither Sun-Mystics nor Sky-Lynx were on ESPN, or ESPN2, or ESPNU, or ESPNNews, or even the dearly departed ESPN Classic.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, here is all the WNBA coverage up top at ESPNW. See if you can spot the lone WNBA story. (The WNBA All Star Game is in FIVE DAYS, by the way.)

Screenshot, ESPNW homepage, July 17, 8:34 PM EST
Screenshot, ESPNW homepage, July 17, 8:34 PM EST /

So when Hurd points out that Kelsey Plum’s preseason debut drew just 2,800 people (never mind that it wasn’t on television, period), it ignores just how much attention ESPN, not to mention other media outlets that take cues from ESPN, gave it. And my goodness, if you were looking for a drama-filled rookie debut, you couldn’t have done any better than Plum, complete with draft night trade rumors, organizational blasting by Plum’s agent, all coming following a collegiate career that set records for both prolific scoring and efficiency while doing so from a woman beyond her years in media savviness.

Now ask yourself: how much more did you hear about the Big 3, let alone Summer League, than you did Kelsey Plum over the past few months? And if dominance, and controversial storylines don’t turn the tide—if the novelty of Kelsey Plum and the familiarity of Diana Taurasi’s villainy (which ESPN, we know from the Lonzo Ball coverage, is entirely capable of blowing up itself without a bit of help from the league) didn’t close the gap, but instead sports media is more dedicated than ever to covering a pair of leagues, one with has-beens, the other with mostly never-will-bes purely because they are men: well, what, exactly do you actually think the WNBA can do about that?

And why, in sports newsrooms all over the country, in television networks and .com mastheads, are people finding any excuse whatsoever not to cover women, particularly the women of the WNBA, even on networks with corporate synergistic reasons to do so? Why would we ever expect the audiences to be close to equal as long as those who consume sports media are getting one WNBA story for every 100 Summer League stories, having to search far and wide just to find it?

Maybe it’s rivalries. Maybe it’s villains.

Maybe it’s not.

But it’s definitely got to change.