Open Thread: What are your suggestions on improving the WNBA fan experience?

Lengthening playoff series including the Finals to a best of seven is just one thing the WNBA could to to make its product better for the fans. - Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

Well, we've talked a bit about improving the WNBA product mostly with player salaries, and whether Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner, Chicago Sky forward Elena Delle Donne, and Tulsa Shock guard Skylar Diggins will be be the real deal as they play for their new teams. However, we haven't talked too much about the fans and what specifically could be done to improve their experience.

Here are some things that need to be in consideration for the fans, along with why they make sense, and also what the "naysayers" may counter me with. No one suggestion here is in any particular order per se:

1. The WNBA needs to have an All Star Game every year, and have it rotated around the country.

Why this makes sense:

  • Simple, the league needs to showcase its best players in a league sponsored event every year.
  • Second, fans want to see their favorite players in a game show off their best moves, especially on offense.
  • Rotating the event to new venues regularly also will help keep fanbases happy even if there is no All Star from the home team. For example, having the All Star Game in Tulsa would be good for the WNBA even though it is a small market team. Really, does having this game at the Mohegan Sun Casino half the time make any sense?! Really?! Kudos to the Mohegan Sun for doing a great job hosting games in the past but other cities need to host this too, and the NBA should do what it can to make sure this event can be everywhere.

Concerns about doing this:

  • It should be noted that the WNBA hasn't had a true All Star game in 2004, 2008, and 2012 due to the Olympics which happened in midseason and that adding an All Star Game on top of Olympic commitments may very well interfere with the international leagues. In addition in 2010, the WNBA didn't have an official All Star Game but rather a WNBA stars vs. Team USA game. In short, especially during years where the FIBA World Championship or Olympics is going on, adding an All Star Game while other major events are going on during the WNBA season only increases the overlap with the European season.
  • Teams generally bid for the All Star Game. So far, only teams owned by rich ownership groups which is generally the NBA team owners plus the Mohegan Sun have had the game. If teams have to bid, it's unlikely that Seattle, Atlanta, or Los Angeles, the teams with the smallest ownership groups will get a chance to host the event, and all three of these teams have enjoyed perennial playoff success AND have A-list stars. It's a crime that Storm and Sparks fans especially NEVER got to have an All Star game in their city where their stars in all likelihood would have played, if not started in.

2. The WNBA regular season needs to be lengthened from 34 to 50 games.

Why this makes sense:

  • First, this sets the tone that this league will be the top women's professional basketball league in the world. And in America, it will send some type of message that the WNBA is now no longer just the NBA's summer novelty basketball league, because considering the length of the season, that's what it is. Oh yeah, the NBA does have summer basketball too, though it's generally just rookies, other young players, and other NBA hopefuls.
  • Second, this should justify higher salaries for players, and besides, it's only fair that salaries are higher if players have to play a lot more games in this league for a full season. At bare minimum it should be a proportional increase, in my opinion.
  • Third, a longer WNBA season and higher salaries, may curb the effect of players playing overseas during the NBA season.

Concerns about doing this:

  • Salaries may not rise to a level to keep many players in the WNBA only. Therefore, we may see midseason defections where players leave to go to Europe that make many players mercenaries (well under the status quo they are anyway) as they hop from one team to the next year round. This is with the assumption that the WNBA starts play in May and ends play in let's say early December.
  • Conversely, maybe WNBA players will play until the end of the season or the playoffs, but at the same time, maybe they'll be entering the season late if the European leagues decide to make the playoffs end in May or even June.
  • It's possible that NBA basketball could cannibalize WNBA viewership and/or attendance for the Playoffs if they go over into the NBA season. Really, when should the season begin and when should it end?
  • We may be seeing more WNBA playoff games shipped off to other arenas, including the Finals because most NBA arenas don't even seriously factor in WNBA playoff games in scheduling, otherwise, they wouldn't have been shipped out of town in the first place.
  • This affects season ticket holders the most, but the prices to keep those seats are almost inevitably going to increase. On one hand, a single game ticket may not go up, but full season tickets would move up in price rather considerably. If a ticket is $100 a seat at a hypothetical season ticket holder rate, with the current 17 regular season games, that makes the price $1,700 a seat not including preseason. With a 50 game season and 25 home games that's $2,500 a seat. It adds up quick.

3. The WNBA needs to expand the playoff series to a best of five format for all rounds except the Finals which should be expanded to a best of seven format.

Why this makes sense:
  • This ties with the last point on lengthening the season, but for the playoffs, I believe that a three game series is way too short. Long playoff series will also help build longer lasting and more heated rivalries, which is something the league lacks in general due to this and other reasons.
Concerns about doing this:
  • Again many of the concerns about the second point will tie with this one too. This will inevitably lengthen the season, and start to considerably overlap the NBA season, which the NBA is reluctant to do. But my rebuttal: aside from opening night, most NBA games, especially before Christmas aren't in the eye of the public due to the NFL regular season coming to a close. And either way, the WNBA is going to overlap at least one Big Four league's regular season.

4. WNBA teams' season ticket holders need to have regular programs during the offseason to keep fans happy and in the loop.

The WNBA offseason is really long and lasts basically over half the year from October through May generally speaking. While I'm sure all teams have regular offseason events of some kind, it's imperative that things like these are done regularly in order to keep fans, and especially season ticket holders are kept in the loop. In all events, coaches and/or players who are in town should be available:
  • A complimentary game to a local women's college basketball team with fellow season ticket holders. For example, the Minnesota Lynx did this though I'm not sure if it was complimentary or not. The pro here is that there is a big overlap between college and pro basketball, in particular for the women's game, and fans can watch at least in some cases, players who may be in the WNBA later on. The con here is that there may be significant overlap between the college STH and WNBA STH base and fans may be in "college mode" instead of "WNBA mode." Also, there could be fans who are in "NBA mode" instead especially if the WNBA team is in the same city as an NBA team, and in Minneapolis, this is the case.
  • A complimentary game to the local NBA team/NHL team if applicable. For example, the Washington Mystics do this. The pro here is to acknowledge that many WNBA fans are also NBA fans and/or NHL fans. Same goes with the players and the coaches. Also, half of the teams in the league are also owned by an NBA team owner so this shouldn't be too hard to do logistically for them. The con is that there is a significant portion of every WNBA team's fanbase that doesn't care too much for the NBA or the NHL, and as implied earlier, some places, like Seattle (as of today) and Connecticut don't have an NBA team nor an NHL team. And with the NHL specifically, only two WNBA teams' owners (Mystics and Liberty) own NHL teams.
  • A Holiday Party sometime before Christmas, or maybe something right after the new year. I saw the Minnesota Lynx do this, again from a video. I think having a Holiday Party has very few if any cons aside from the fact that team personnel may not be in town during the holidays. In fact, I think every team should have one so that way season ticket holders can have a way of meeting up and catching up at some point during the offseason and I think late December to early January is a good time to do this.
  • A Bowling/Ice Skating night. This could be one of many activities that could be done during winter time, but season ticket holders don't just think about basketball all day and night during their leisure time, though it could take MOST of their time :) This could be something that could be done as well so fans can meet up with coaches and available players and take part in a fun activity.
These are just some of many things that the league could do to improve fan experience, and/or improve the product on the basketball court. Obviously, not everything can be done at the same time and money's going to be a factor in terms of whether to do some or any of these things. However, these are at least some of the things that the WNBA and its teams can do to improve its product AND fan experience.

If you have more suggestions, post in the comments! Dialogue and spirited debate (as long as it's not personal attacks) are encouraged.
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