The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, February 12, 2020
How WNBA Free Agency madness got this way — Interview with Breanna Stewart and Diana Taurasi — Must-click women's basketball links
Subscribers, thank you for your support! You’ve opted to join us for five different women’s sports newsletters in your inbox every week! The IX helps build the necessary infrastructure for women’s sports media. For our free weekly readers, if you want to be part of this build every single weekday, take advantage of this crazy offer: $4 a month, or $40 a year!
How WNBA Free Agency madness got this way
I have missed an update to a WNBA story (even as, if you’ll forgive the self-promotion, I’ve been the one providing my share of them) while doing the following: driving two hours to cover a game. Taking a brief trip to the grocery store. Answering a five-minute phone call.
That’s how fast and furious the reporting has been on this WNBA offseason since it began way back on… Monday. Goodness, what a week (it’s actually been less than three days) and that is not your imagination.
We’ll get to what it all means once the dust settles (there’s probably a trade finalizing as I write this). It’s worth considering both the factors at play here and what it says about both the WNBA and women’s sports coverage more generally.
Just a few years ago, no one was covering WNBA free agency. This is not an overstatement. Sure, occasionally once something was announced by a team, you’d see a little note in a paper in that team’s market. Long after a deal happened, maybe there’d be a story on ESPN. But generally, no one chased the news, with few exceptions, and no one could contextualize it, absent a database of team salaries.
For instance: a major, major WNBA star signed an extension. That team’s PR person pitched me on writing about it. I asked how many years the deal was for. “We’re not releasing that.” I asked how much money it was for. “We’re not releasing that.”
Well, imagine the story I could have written! What a missed opportunity.
So I started High Post Hoops for several reasons, among them to make sure there was a dedicated media outlet covering the ins and outs of the sport 12 months a year. But I also hoped, very much, that others would follow.
You get a critical mass of media coverage when one outlet proves there’s breaking news to be had, and then there’s a race for it. So Matt Ellentuck doing this at SB Nation, Rachel Galligan at WInsidr, and numerous others in-market (Madeline Kenney at the Chicago Sun-Times, Jeff Metcalfe with AZCentral.com, for example) have all created an upward pressure.
It’s also led to other outlets facing the real question: why on earth aren’t you covering the league as well? The absence is standing out, and since there’s no reasonable answer to why women’s sports is treated as an option while even the most obscure men’s sports news is often given the assumption of reporting, this has value as well.
The value to the league, of course, is astronomical. Earned media is the most valuable media of all, and here in February, months before the new season begins, thousands of people are talking about the WNBA. No games are happening, but teams sure are selling 2020 tickets right now. It matters. It’s vital.
I talk a lot about the building of women’s sports media infrastructure. I talk about it here at The IX, because we’re connective tissue between five popular women’s sports — the existing network men’s sports enjoys is not present in the often-silo’d women’s sports world, and making sure each of our five newsletters lifts all voices in those sports, while making sure fans of one are aware of the big stories in all of them, has a cumulative effect on how and when people consume both the stories about women’s sports, and the sports themselves.
The willingness of figures within the WNBA to talk freely, as their male counterparts do in other sports, has helped to start narrowing that gender gap in women’s sports coverage. I don’t doubt for a moment that the increase in coverage has led to the ratings increases in how many people watch the WNBA, and women’s college basketball.
It’s never been a mystery how to eliminate the gap between men’s and women’s sports. Invest the same, cover it with the same intensity. So support the work of those doing it. Call out the outlets who aren’t.
Anyone who tries to pretend otherwise probably has a vested interest in the status quo. And this week in WNBA free agency stands as another example of just how obvious that is.
Oh, and a trade did finalize as I wrote this. What a week, friends.
This week in women’s basketball
Late to this: Chuck Culpepper on Sabrina Ionescu.
And Oregon’s win over UConn in context, from Michelle Smith.
Listen to Kelsey Trainor talking to Ari Chambers.
Really good tick-tock on Kristi Toliver leaving DC, from Ava Wallace.
I got to talk to Allie Quigley for SLAM.
NC State is ascendant in Russ Steinberg’s latest bracketology.
PJ Brown looks at Domique McBryde’s emergence for Arizona.
Fun hometown heroines story by Amari Dryden of HerHoopStats.
David Jablonski looks at why Dayton has been so dominant.
Christine Hopkins tackles Gonzaga’s loss of Katie Campbell.
Needed UConn perspective from the great Alexa Philippou.
Love that Natalie Weiner’s on the Stella Johnson bandwagon. More on her (Stella, though obviously more Natalie links forever) soon.