Sabrina Ionescu — more on her in a bit — and the WNBA started their season Friday. Sports fans across the land eagerly awaited this glorious opportunity to enthusiastically ignore the whole thing. Volumes of magnetic ink will be spilled this weekend across websites galore by sportswriters desperately trying to establish their woke cred by talking up teams no one cares about, players no one knows, rivalries that don’t exist, and all the Brave Athletes “coming out” to waves of massive public indifference.
The WNBA’s popularity problems have less to do with the product than with how, and how it allows, its marketing to be handled. Going for More Woke Than Thou demonstrably lowers your appeal to sports fans. When you have precious few fans to begin with, employing that tactic is playing with fire.
As we’ve seen in the case of the NFL, players like Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes draw fans to the sport because, in addition to their work ethic and record of success, they are eminently likable. The WNBA has a much smaller natural fan base, so it would seem logical that they’d jump at the opportunity to showcase a player who has those qualities – especially one who was close to late NBA legend Kobe Bryant.
They have that golden opportunity right now in the case of Sabrina Ionescu, but the WNBA can’t help itself.
Ionescu is someone you want your daughter to emulate, even if unlike Ionescu she isn’t 5’11”. In her college career at Oregon, she scored more than 2500 points, grabbed more than a thousand rebounds, and dished out more than a thousand assists – the first NCAA Division I athlete, man or woman, to do so. She won every award there is to win. Although her rookie year in the WNBA was cut short by injury, she made it clear in the games she did play that she had no intention of slowing down.
So why haven’t you heard more about her? Take a wild guess.
The players in Atlanta had a hissy fit because their owner at the time didn’t bow down to BLM, Sure, that received major attention. But Ionescu? She could be the crossover star that takes the WNBA to something other than anemic cult status, the player who’d inspire people to turn on the TV to watch a sport they don’t normally watch because they know they’re in for something special. Yet the WNBA hasn’t figured this out – yet.* Why?
Well … first, can we state the obvious? Ionescu is the daughter of Romanian political refugees who, adding insult to injury, when they came to America worked hard and achieved success. You do the math. Second, she’s a committed Christian. Not that you’d ever know it if you rely on ESPN for your information. She’s also apparently straight and has the good sense to keep her personal life private. What a bore, right? Even her close relationship with the late Kobe Bryant — she spoke at his memorial service — isn’t enough to gin up a marketing campaign.
The WNBA is the Colin Kaepernick of professional sports. It talks a great game, but at its core would rather play martyr than put its head down and earn its keep by playing, period. It greatly prefers playing woke games to basketball games and crying to be taken seriously while shooting itself in the foot. Instead of players and league officials running their mouths, maybe they should try running a decent marketing campaign centered around athletes that are actually likable. Apparently, this is far too difficult a task to take on.
But hey, keep talking. And complaining. And whining about why people would rather watch Steph Curry and LeBron James than whoever the WNBA runs out there, even when you have a player worth watching. And maybe wonder why the Golden State Warriors, poster children for woke, also keep talking about maybe someday starting up a WNBA franchise. And only talking. Which they’ve been doing since 2014. At this rate, Sabrina Ionescu will be a grandmother before they actually make a move.
*After Ionescu’s performance in Friday night’s season opener (played on the weekend Bryant is inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame), in which she notched twenty-five points, eleven assists, six rebounds, and the sweet 3-pointer shown below, perhaps the WNBA will get a clue.
— WNBA (@WNBA) May 15, 2021