Column: WNBA took one on the chin in brawl
Originally Published: August 1, 2008 7:25 p.m.
"Yeah, guys do it,yeah guys do it,all the time all the time""Guys Do It All the Time," by Mindy McCreadyThe old adage that any publicity is good publicity has never been true, at least in my mind. If you're in doubt, just ask Michael Vick. Or Pete Rose. Or Tim Donaghy. Or any number of athletes or teams that have suffered through negative publicity. And now you can add the WNBA to the list.In the waning seconds of a game between the Los Angeles Sparks and the Detroit Shock on July 22, a fight broke out between players from both teams. After the dust settled, the league handed down suspensions to 10 players and an assistant coach.The fight made sports - and news - headlines around the country and was the butt of jokes on late night talk shows. But is that the kind of publicity the league should be seeking or the image the league should strive to project? Not according to league President Donna Orender. And she's right.The WNBA started play in 1997 and, unfortunately, received more exposure from the fight than it had in the preceding 12 years combined. The bench-clearing brawl occurred at the Palace of Auburn Hills, appropriately enough. The Detroit venue is the site of the infamous near-riot involving the NBA's Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers in November of 2004. You may recall that players from both teams went charging into the stands to engage over-zealous - and over-imbibed - fans in fisticuffs. It wasn't good for the NBA's image then, and the same can be said for the WNBA today.Like every other female professional sports league, the WNBA has been a financial disaster since it first began play. Only the deep pockets of NBA owners, who underwrote the distaff league initially and, to some extent, still do today, kept the league afloat through losing season after losing season. Although the league has outlived a competitor - the American Basketball League folded in 1999 - and various incarnations of professional women's soccer, it is more akin to the minor leagues than the majors.Average salary in the WNBA is $60,000 (according to the league; the union uses a lower figure), with a top salary of $95,000. Those figures pale in comparison to the NBA's figures of $5 million and $25 million, respectively. National TV revenue for the NBA is almost a billion dollars per year, compared to zilch for the WNBA. Sure, you can point to the NBA 12 years in and say the leagues compare favorably. But that would be comparing 1958 (the NBA started in 1946) to 2008, and there is no comparison.Fighting on the court won't help women's sports become mainstream, nor will it help them compete with men for money and viewership. Rather, it lowers the WNBA to the level of the UFC or MMA, which is akin to dog or cock fighting. The extra eyeballs on YouTube and sick jokes on late night TV won't translate into more fannies in the seats or sponsorship dollars in the bank.For the WNBA to succeed, it must appeal to the male demographic. The best way to do that, short of playing in the buff, is to market its stars, emphasizing their talent and teamwork. With rookie Candace Parker, the former All-American from Tennessee, playing for the Sparks, attendance and TV viewership is up around the league. Parker, ironically, was one of the players involved in the brawl in Detroit.Fights occasionally break out during men's sporting contests. In fact, the same week the WNBA made headlines, a dugout-clearing free-for-all involving two Minor League Baseball teams also made news. As a society, we have come to expect that. Indeed, in hockey, fans thirst for the fights and are disappointed when they go to a game and see only a game. But to suggest that fighting gives women's sports equal cachet with the male variety, as many have suggested in the days following the dust-up in Detroit, is ludicrous.As Mindy McCready, Roger Clemens' former squeeze, croons, "Guys do it all the time." But if men want to watch women fight, there's always roller derby.(Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University, teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming, and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network. Jordan can be reached at email@example.com.)