Will the WNBA benefit from the potential return of 6-foot-8 center Liz Cambage to the Tulsa Shock after the 2012 London Olympics? Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.
Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans reported today that 2012 Olympic women's basketball ratings have shown a surge in viewership compared to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but what might that mean for the WNBA?
On that NBC Sports Network, through two games USA women's hoops averaged 1.5 million viewers per game, an increase of +52 percent versus the five game average on USA Network in 2008 for the Beijing Games.
Now whether that attendance and viewership carries over to a Tulsa (3-15) versus New York (6-12) matchup in the WNBA has yet to be seen. Australian C Liz Cambage's historic dunk in a win against Russia on Friday certainly can't hurt.
As WNBA President Laurel J. Richie suggested in a recent interview with the Electronic Urban Report, there's some reason to hope that with the increased exposure of all the WNBA players playing on the USA women's basketball team - in addition to historic moments like Cambage's dunk - will give the league a post-Olympic boost.
In addition to the return of players like Cambage, Lauren Jackson and Erika de Souza from their pre-Olympic hiatuses, possible returns of Angel McCoughtry and Diana Taurasi from pre-Olympic health preservation, and the return of Epiphanny Prince from injury, it's quite feasible that the WNBA could have more competitive games after the Olympic break.
The problem, as Clay Kallam of Full Court already described more than a week ago, is that even if individual games are more competitive due to returning players, the narrative of this WNBA regular season - which resumes play on August 16 - is not all that compelling. The playoff race is essentially set, with little hope for the two last place teams to dig their way out of the cellar and two other challengers - the Phoenix Mercury and New York Liberty - facing uphill battles due to the return of Jackson, de Souza, and Prince in their respective conferences.
With players like Cambage, McCoughtry, and Lindsay Whalen possibly making more of a name for themselves on the international stage in the eyes of the mainstream, it's reasonable to hope for a short-term boost in viewership as basketball fans tune in to their WNBA games after having their interest piqued by the Olympics. But the challenge will be maintaining that momentum into the playoffs, which could shape up to be pretty interesting with a few potentially lower seeded teams having time to gel with their returning players.