Woman on top: How the WNBA is leading the way
Britball editor Mark Woods chats exclusively to Women's National Basketball Association President, Val Ackerman
As president of the Women's National Basketball Association, Val Ackerman can probably afford to sit back in her office on New York's Fifth Avenue and feel a degree of satisfaction. Since its inception in 1997 with a mere eight teams, the league has sized up to a round dozen for this season and will expand once again with a further four additions next summer.
With direct backing from the wealthy pockets of the NBA itself, it has already seen its sole competitor the ABL fall by the wayside and with ever increasing crowds this year, everything in the WNBA garden apparently looks rosy.
The league's season reaches its climax this week and its boss, who is an ex-player and a trained lawyer, was happy to reflect on the accomplishments of what has rapidly become a role model for female team sports worldwide.
"We're very pleased with the current situation," admitted Ackerman (pictured). "especially when you consider it took the NBA 29 seasons to average over 10,000 spectators and we did it in two.
"I think we have been a trailblazer in terms of creating an unprecedented level of awareness for women's basketball through our television contracts. We have made a lot of progress and we're mindful of the impact that we've had on other sports.
"This year, we've had an infusion of new players because of the folding of the ABL who have made an immediate contribution to their teams. That helps transform the league and makes it more competitive. We held our first All Star game in New York which was a sell-out and I think with the Sydney Olympics coming next year including some of the WNBA players, our season will become a platform for that."
Players such as the elegantly named Sheryl Swoopes of Houston, Washington's Chamique Holdsclaw and Britain's own Andrea Congreaves of Orlando Miracle have started to accumulate the kind of endorsement revenues hitherto reserved only for top women's golfers, tennis players and the basketballer turned athlete Marion Jones.
And indeed, rather than diluting the current basketball support base, newcomers appear to be flocking to the games. With live broadcasts weekly on Lifestyle, a women's cable channel, as well as mainstream network television, Ackerman argues that the WNBA benefits its ultimate paymasters by reaching a previously untapped consumer.
"We have already created separate sponsors and liaisons and our audience is very different. We have more women, more families and more kids. We have an average ticket price this year of around $14 (£8), league wide. Plus playing in the summer also allows the NBA to be an all year round basketball business with the benefits of sharing staff. We will never lose the NBA association and there's no intent for the WNBA to be run as a stand alone operation."
"In a perfect world, every NBA market would have a WNBA team and in fact among NBA owners, it's almost being seen as aright to have both. I don't see that happenign in the near term. We are very aware of the impact that expansion has on the players and the quality of play and we want every team to be competitive. "
That most competitive team was once again Houston Comets who lifted their third straight WBNA Championship with a tremendous victory over new York Liberty in the third and deciding gam of their final series. A shame that few on this side of the Atlantic got to see the game though. Because these athletes are on top of their game and at the helm, Ackerman is pulling the game in the right direction.
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