Halfway through its inaugural season, the success of the Women’s National Basketball Association continues to exceed even the most optimistic of expectations. Attendance across the league has averaged close to 9,000 fans–twice what most experts predicted. The Phoenix Mercury and the New York Liberty draw an average of 13,300 and 11,400, respectively. A majority of these fans are women, young girls, and families.
“We worked hard to appeal to the youth, family, and female market,” said Valerie Ackerman, president of the league, “and it’s our objective to maintain those demographics to the extent we can.”
Although the WNBA’s success can be attributed in part to its strong corporate backing — NBC, ESPN, and Lifetime each broadcast games, and Coca-Cola, Nike, and American Express are sponsors — fans say the atmosphere of the games is completely different from that of the NBA. Players sign autographs after every game and male break dancers have replaced the cheerleaders.
Most importantly, female fans have said that they appreciate the opportunities the new league offers them and their daughters. “I grew up at a time when it was easier to be a hand surgeon than a professional basketball players,” said Dr. Susan Scott, the New York Liberty’s team doctor. “This has never been a valid goal until now. And when children see what’s possible, they reach for it.”