This weekend we were in Seattle. I watched a little American TV in the hotel room, and caught some of ESPN’s Sports Center. Among the other highlights, I saw footage from Women’s National Basketball Association or WNBA.
While I like hockey and soccer, I’m not much of a basketball fan. I could name a half-dozen current NBA players, but couldn’t tell you who the top five teams are. I know even less–well, nothing–about the WNBA. I don’t think that’s a gender bias–I watch women’s international soccer, for example. It’s more just a symptom of the leagues’ relative visibility.
Watching the WNBA highlights, I started wondering about a bunch of things: how many teams are there? How much do the players get paid? Is the league on solid financial footing? Who are the league’s superstars? Does the WNBA have a television contract?
When did the league start?
The first game was 12 years ago, on June 21, 1997. The Los Angeles Sparks beat the New York Liberty, 67-57. It wasn’t the first women’s basketball league. That distinction belongs to the short-lived WBL. The league launched with eight teams. The Eastern conference had the Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers, Houston Comets and New York Liberty while the Western Conference was comprised of the Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, Sacramento Monarchs and Utah Starzz. The ‘Starzz’ may be the worst team name in the history of sports.
How many teams are there today?
Thirteen. Eight teams have folded or moved over the years, including four of the originals: Charlotte, Cleveland, Houston and Utah (cursed, no doubt, by their awful name). New teams have emerged, and there’s the possibility of future teams in Tulsa, Toronto, Baltimore and Nashville.
How many players are on a roster?
Eleven, and all are active. This means, I gather, that they can all play in a given game. The NBA has a 12-man active roster, and teams can keep three players on the inactive list.
How much do players earn in the WNBA?
The 2009 salary cap is $803,000. If you divide it evenly among the thirteen players–though it’s probably weighted toward four to six starters–you get about $60,000 a year. The average rookie salary is reportedly $36,500, and the maximum salary is $95,000. That’s obviously minor-league money, and reasonably similar to what the average CFL player makes (though the quarterbacks and other star players make a lot more). That said, the season only runs from training camps in May to the finals in late September. Apparently a lot of women spend the winter playing in Europe.
How many people attend an average game?
Average attendance is about 8000 people a game, with the Los Angeles Sparks and the (ahem) Washington Mystics being the most well-attended franchises. I couldn’t find any really reliable information about fan demographics, but this page reports that the audience is 78% female. According to this site (which features the phrase “I call on all my Sapphic sisters”) and USA Today, gay women are, statistically, over-represented. This Flickr search seems to reinforce the fact of a predominantly female audience.
Who is the WNBA’s star player?
This might be the first in an infrequent series of “Darren learns about” stuff. What do you think?