An Examination of the Evolution of the
WomenÆs National Basketball Association
On April 24, 1996, the National Basketball Association (NBA) approved the concept and formation of the WomenÆs National Basketball Association (WNBA), with play to begin in June of 1997. With only 15 months from the announcement of the leagueÆs formation to its first tip-off, the officials who were to manage the new league had much to do: they needed to recruit and hire players, establish franchises in key markets, acquire broadcast partners and sponsors, and create a viable seasonal game schedule (WNBA, 2000). More significantly, perhaps, the founders of the league and its supporters (as well as its players) had to convince the American public that womenÆs basketball was going to be as exciting, as challenging, and as appealing as the long-established NBA.
Before a single player was signed, or a staff member in place, the WNBA attended to the business of acquiring and then announcing its broadcast partners - NBC, ESPN, and Lifetime. Without broadcast partners, it was recognized that the league had little chance of success. Other, earlier efforts to establish a strong presence (and audience) for womenÆs professional sports had made it abundantly clear that exposure was a primary concern if millions of potential fans were to be convinced that womenÆs sports were as ôworthwhileö as those played by males (McConville, 1996). This was then, and may well still be, the most difficult challenge faced by the WNBA.
It is the purpose of this report to examine the evolution of the WNBA over its relatively short lifetime - a lifetime that began in the leagueÆs first season in 1997 and is, as of this writing, only 4 years old. Using a review of literature and a set of three interviews conducted with a WNBA team member, a league executive, and a sportswriter for a major American daily newspaper, the report will explore the successes and fail...