The WNBA announced yesterday that it will host a first-ever preseason tournament this May featuring the defending champion Minnesota Lynx, Chicago Sky, Indiana Fever, and Phoenix Mercury.
You can find the full schedule for the tournament below.
|Friday, May 9||6 p.m.||Chicago Sky||Indiana Fever|
|Friday, May 9||8:30 p.m.||Minnesota Lynx||Phoenix Mercury|
|Sunday, May 11||10:30 a.m.||Loser (Game 1)||Loser (Game 2)|
|Sunday, May 11||1 p.m.||Winner (Game 1)||Winner (Game 2)|
(All times Eastern)
Particularly interesting is the event's direct connection to future talent and potential fans of the game, creating a new avenue for exposure as described in the release.
In addition to the four-game tournament, a full slate of clinics, practices and autograph sessions featuring the WNBA players and coaches will be conducted in conjunction with the AAU Spring Fling II girls basketball event which will also be hosted at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Over 1,500 girls basketball players from the 3rd through 12th grade divisions will be on site competing in the AAU event.
"The WNBA is thrilled to be partnering with AAU and Disney to bring young women who are learning the game and some of today's top talent in women's basketball to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex," said WNBA President Laurel J. Richie. "This weekend of tournaments will provide a unique opportunity to showcase the current and future talent in our sport."
Aside from giving basketball-playing girls - an obvious target market that the league should be figuring out ways to connect with - a direct connection to WNBA teams and players, the tournament idea itself is an idea that has always seemed appealing both in Olympic/World Championship years and otherwise.
The next, if premature, question might be how the league can build upon this concept.
With a format established, how feasible would it be to bring foreign teams - whether national teams or club teams - into an event like this to give U.S. fans who don't follow the game as closely a flavor for the breadth of women's basketball? As someone who is not enamored with All-Star games in any pro league, I might wonder how feasible it would be to do something like this in place of an All-Star weekend as a tune-up for international play with Team USA, an All-Star squad and a couple of national teams. These are all exhibition event ideas, which might not stand to make big gains for the league, but at least might give fanbases something different to watch and look forward to.
As valuable as this event could be as a promotional tool internally, not included in the announcement is how fans can actually watch the event: given the close connection with ESPN, one might imagine that ESPN3 would be an option if not the league's Center Court platform. As long as the event exists, we might as well be able to see it.