Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Can Candace Parker Save The WNBA!?!?

Sagging ratings and attendance seem to indicate that like it's brother league, the WNBA has an image problem.

While many laud the players as being more "fundamentally pure" and "playing for the love of the game", an equal number of critics pan the league for simply being boring.

The girls can't dunk, shoot about as accurately as Dick Chaney, and worse, there's that whole "don't ask, don't tell" thing that seems to hurt it's overall marketability. In short, the players generally lack the sex appeal necessary to pull in a significant male audience which, let's be honest, is essential if you're gonna turn a profit.

Since I'm a certified hoops junkie, I once tried my best to get into the sport. After all, we only recently got Major League Baseball[1] in DC, so Summers here used to be hell on a sports fan. Especially that dead period between the end of the NBA playoffs and the start of NFL training camp.

So, when the Washington MissTakes Mystics got rolling a decade ago, I tried very hard to become a fan. I wanted them to succeed for so many reasons. I'm all for girl power and whatnot, but foreal foreal, it's all about the game. And while I generally enjoyed the live in-game presentation, despite how hard I tried, all the savvy marketing in the world couldn't hide the fact that the on-court product was a mere five steps above rec-league ball.

Outlet passes sailed into the 10th row. Teams could literally go 20 straight possessions without a made field goal. Uncontested layups were blown.

It wasn't lookin' too good for the league.

Then, suddenly out of nowhere came the WNBA's savior, wearing the #23 no less, college star Chamique Holdsclaw.

She was supposed to revolutionize the game. She could score in bunches. She had off-the-dribble moves you only see dudes pull off. She had a magnetic personality. She could draw crowds. She even liked guys.[2]

One problem: She didn't wanna be bothered.

After a few productive but hardly world-changing seasons, Mique' finally called it quits, citing exhaustion and no longer having a "love for the game" as reasons. She also underwent a very serious and very public bout with depression in the process.

I wasn't exactly buying tickets to go see the MissTakes Mystics[3] in the first place, but once Mique' flamed out, I wasn't even taking the free hookups anymore. Why bother wasting the Metro fare?

With the league's savior essentially rendered a bust, ratings crumbled and attendance, even in a flagship city like DC, began to plummet. While the Mystics used to pack in crowds of 15,000 or better in their heyday (largely due to some very generous ticket giveaways), the joint is hardly even a quarter full nowadays. Many teams have folded. And the NBA's model for eventual self-sufficiency never panned out. As is, the league loses money annually, and is little more than corporate welfare a tax-write off for it's parent corporation.

So much for Girl Power!

But just when you thought it was time to fold up the pink tent and go home, the league recently unveiled it's newest Great Black Hype: a chick who not only can dunk, but also likes guys (she dates former Duke star Shelden "Tippy Turtle" Williams), and can actually ball.

Only time will tell if Candace Parker is a legitimate Femme-J or just another Chamique. Till then, give her credit for throwing down a brolic, SportsCenter-quality jam the other night versus Indiana. At least somebody's paying attention for once, which is a nice start.

Question: What do you think needs to be done for women's pro basketball to become a viable (read: lucrative and self-sustaining) business? Have you been to a live WNBA game? What were your impressions?

Parker Says More Dunks Are Coming [LA Times]

[1] Although with their record, you could certainly debate the fact that there's anything "major" about the Nats. At least those iconic "curly W" caps are retro cool. That's about the best I can say for them. Like most other DC sports teams, they suck!

[2] Please don't get too tied up on the whole "likes guys" thing. doesn't care about your sexual orientation, only your unique visits continued presence. But reality is, whether you're talking males or females, it's proven to be far easier to market a straight athlete to Middle America. Exhibit A: Sheryl Swoopes. Exhibit B: Greg Louganis. And BTW, [||].

[3] How ironic and unintentionally funny is it that Bob Johnson's ex-wife ended up buying her own pro basketball team (the Mystics) with the fortune she inherited from their divorce?

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