More data points on WNBA’s potential big media rights score — Vickie Johnson talks Coach of the Month — Must-click women’s basketball links

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, August 17, 2022

Happy Basketball and WNBA Playoff Wednesday! Friends, we’re going to keep this quick. Over at The Next we have a firehose of WNBA content I’m editing, there’s another edition of Locked On Women’s Basketball playoff preview coming, and tonight you can join us to watch the playoffs all together thanks to Playback! (Make this your regular destination for the WNBA playoffs, we’ll be there for every game.) But I simply cannot let this pass: yesterday, we got the following information on WNBA ratings, and the impact on a media rights deal cannot be left unsaid.

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“The 2022 WNBA on ESPN presented by Google season is the league’s most-viewed regular season since 2008. The 25 WNBA games across Disney networks averaged 372,000 viewers, a 19 percent spike versus the 2021 season.”

And I couldn’t help but think, immediately, of this: “For the 2021 regular season, MLS said it averaged 276,000 viewers for 31 regular-season games across ESPN channels, including ABC. That’s up from the average 233,000 viewers who consumed 39 MLS games in 2020 on ESPN platforms.”

This is not a zero-sum game. I love Major League Soccer. I am pleased it is growing. I believe it has a very bright future.

MLS getting the bag doesn’t mean WNBA shouldn’t.

MLS recently signed a $250 million per year media rights deal. I have spoken in this space about how I see parallels between this and the next WNBA deal, which is up in 2025. I do want to delineate here, briefly, because there’s some sloppy math going on in some quarters.

I don’t need to call out particular people, but the phrase “yes, it is an apples-to-apples comparison” was used, and it’s not. The WNBA deal was renegotiated in the mid-2010s, this MLS deal was signed in 2022, they are not the same.

There is, especially in retrospect, no good reason why the PREVIOUS MLS deal should have differed so dramatically from the last WNBA deal, renegotiated as part of an overall NBA/ESPN negotiation in the middle of the last decade. The previous MLS deal was $90 million per year, the WNBA deal $25 million per year. Ratings for the two leagues were virtually indistinguishable. If you wanted to really give decision-makers the benefit of the doubt, at the time both were signed, MLS was trending up, WNBA down in the ratings game. But not to the point a one should receive almost four times what the other receives.

And now? What’s the reason the next deal shouldn’t be larger for the WNBA than the just-signed one was for MLS? Both audiences are growing, but the WNBA is bigger already and growing at a faster pace.

I will reiterate my suggestion, in light of ESPN losing the Big Ten, that the Worldwide Leader come to the WNBA with an offer to renegotiate early. The motivation for the league is pretty simple: the critical moment of truth in the new CBA comes over these next two offseasons, with prioritization, and a deal that infuses cash now, rather than 2025, can help solidify the league’s bargaining position with the world’s best players. Even at $100 million per year, the economics of this league will change dramatically.

But it shouldn’t be $100 million. It shouldn’t even be $250 million. It should be bigger. There’s no excuse.

This week in women’s basketball

Maggie Hendricks on the Atlanta Dream vibes.
Great stuff here from Kareem Copeland on the Thibaults.
Ben Pickman on Syl.
And Mirin Fader on Syl.
Must-read Alexa Philippou on Napheesa Collier’s return.
Adam Vachon is correct, the MVP debate is incredibly close, and those pretending it is open-and-shut are telling on themselves.
Deeply gratified to see the paper of Mel Greenberg, Mike Jensen and Jonathan Tannenwald step up once more.
Over at FiveThirtyEight I get you ready for the WNBA Playoffs, with a key stat to know for each series.

Video breakdown on Alyssa Thomas here!

Good stuff from Calvin Wetzel on Ezi Magbegor.
Madeline Kenney writing about the WNBA again? What is this, a time machine?

Five at The IX: Vickie Johnson, Dallas Wings

Is there a more mysterious playoff team?

On how it feels to win WNBA Coach of the Month

“It feels great. I never played or coached for the accolades. I do it because I love the game – I love teaching the game. It goes to the players and the coaches. I am just here to assist in a way and to help. I am very proud of my players and my coaching staff how we have finished the season. The last eight games, 6-2 isn’t bad. We just have to carry it over to the playoffs.”

On what she is most proud of over the last month of the season

“Our growth. Leadership from different players. Our energy – the way they came together as a team. The chemistry. Believing in each other. The fight that they possess every possession. Different games gave us different challenges, but we stepped up as a team and we got it done on both sides of the basketball, defensively and offensively. The way we closed the season was amazing in LA.”

On Teaira McCowan

“The thing we were missing last year and I think we filled that with Teaira was an inside presence – a rim protector. Someone that demands a double team in a sense that gets us where we are trying to go. That is back to the playoffs and have an opportunity to win a championship. What she does on the offensive side of the basketball and her ability to pass the basketball is huge for us. Being able to set screens is huge for our players because we have a lot of shooters. Being able to pass off the double team is huge as well. Defensively, being able to protect the rim, defensive rebounding and get the break started. She helps in so many ways and she helped fill the void that we were missing last year.”

On Satou Sabally

“She practiced today. She had a great practice today. It was great to see her. We will let you know. We have another practice tomorrow and the possibility is likely that she will play on Thursday, but I don’t want to put that out too soon. She did practice today and she looked good. We will see how she feels in the morning. We will see.”

On the overall mood of the team

“Excitement, but a focus. Today we watched a lot of film. We went over some things offensively and defensively. Shot some free throws. A sense of calmness, which is a little different, but I liked it as it came along with a focus. I am excited about that. We still have another day and a half to prepare for Connecticut. We are moving in the right direction and I am very happy about that.”

On if it weighs on her that she has yet to win a WNBA Championship

“Not at all. I have been to the dance five times. As a player I have been there five times and it is like Karl Malone and John [Stockton]. They didn’t win [a championship] because Michael Jordan won. Same thing with Houston [Comets]. They beat us for three championships. Then LA beat us and they had an All-Star team as well. Then I helped, along with Becky [Hammon] and Ruth [Riley], turn San Antonio franchise around and we had an opportunity to play against Detroit. A lot of injuries and stuff happened, so not at all. I love getting to the dance. Anything can happen. Unfortunately, we ran against two All-Star teams in LA and Houston and then in San Antonio we only had four guards. Everyone else was injured. That is just what happens. Having the opportunity still doesn’t take away. I didn’t win in the W, but I won a lot of championships overseas and also in high school.”

On her memories from the first ever WNBA Championship Game

“The fans. It was crazy. It was loud. It was the best basketball in the world at the time. The best two teams going at it. Just being loud and being in that moment. I think the biggest thing, and I told the team today, to start the playoffs and to have this opportunity – every team is now starting 0-0. What you try to eliminate is mistakes. You have to make sure you pay attention to detail. Simple things like taking care of the basketball, calling out screens, switch when you are supposed to switch, hedge when you are supposed to hedge and then step up and make your free throws. That is what it is all about. Those moments. The best thing about our team now is the last eight games we have been playing playoff basketball. We have been playing at a high level offensively and defensively, so now we just have to carry it over.”

On her excitement level for her team and staff to experience the playoff moments that she has experienced in her career

“The biggest thing right now is we can’t skip over three rounds. Two other rounds [prior to the WNBA Finals]. We are taking it one round, one day at a time. One game at a time. We are still preparing for Connecticut for Thursday and then on Friday we will watch film and prepare for them on Sunday. Then Wednesday and so on and so on. I don’t like to jump ahead. I just want to be in the present. I want to be in the moment. Right now, I am in the moment of trying to figure out the best thing defensively and offensively that we can come at Connecticut on Thursday and win on Thursday.”

On her favorite playoff moment

“Just being there. Being there with my teammates. Being in battle with my teammates. In my coaching career as an assistant we played Connecticut in the semi-finals to advance to the finals in the bubble in 2020. I think about that moment. It is all moments. One doesn’t outweigh the other one because they are all moments. I just love being present in the moment. Good, bad or indifferent – it is an opportunity to grow in that moment. I love it. Even being in LA, the last game of the year – 26 years ago that was my first game in LA. 26 years later who knew my last game of 2022 would be in LA. We won then and we won on Sunday. That moment came to me in the fourth quarter as I was looking around because I am not going to lie, I was a big Lakers fan. I was a big Magic Johnson fan. I am still a Magic Johnson fan. To have that moment and looking on the baseline and thinking back 26 years when he was on the baseline and I took the first shot and I missed the shot because I looked at him. It was crazy. It is all about moments and I love the moments. I love my team and I love being in the moments with them. The highs and lows. The good and bad. Every stage of the game because there are waves in the game.”

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.