Thursday, July 24, 2008


It's been an interesting week for the Women's National Basketball Association.

Just five days ago, the league enjoyed what was another successful first in its brief history; the first professional regular season game played outdoors.

Though the New York Liberty was done in by the Indiana Fever and their own poor shooting, the league had been able to exhibit some of their foremost talents at the right time. With the NFL just getting into training camp mode, the NBA and NHL in the offseason and Major League Baseball slowly heating up for pennant races, the summer presents opportunities for ‘alternative’ sports and leagues to shine. We have already been treated to classics with the PGA’s U.S. Open, the epic Wimbledon finals for both genders and baseball’s All-Star events in the warm months. Yet, even without the huge national fanfare and miniscule economies of scale compared to their male counterparts, the Outdoor Classic proved to be a premium (and still relatively inexpensive) product in front of a growing audience.

And then Tuesday night happened.

Whether folks are calling it Malice at the Palace II, a catfight or a mere scuffle that got out of hand, the fisticuffs between members of the Los Angeles Sparks and Detroit Shock has put the league in a precarious position.

Does negativity really sell or does it hurt what is already a heavily ridiculed operation?

For plenty of the league’s cynics, it adds fuel to their fire. They find the WNBA not only unappealing and pointless, but it furthers the argument for those who are against the idea of women playing sports professionally.

For even more sports and news talkies, it has unearthed some rather misogynistic, homophobic and/or frat-boyish opinions. If you comb through the media outlets, you’ll find conversations casting aspersions about players’ and fans’ sexuality or debating the attractiveness of Candace Parker compared to Plenette Pierson.

Because there is a tremendous lack of attention on the women’s game itself, those who scoff at the league or casually pay attention will never look at why this fight went down. The WNBA plays a much, much more physical game that people realize (the low-scoring Outdoor Classic featured not only poor shooting by New York, but a ton of no-calls, should-that-have-been-a-calls and ‘Tommy Heinsohns’). Both the Shock and Sparks have been known for throwing a few elbows here and there in their rivalry, but Pierson has her own history of agitation while Parker has been known for a few prima-donna moments in Tennessee.

The fight, while it may have surprised and astonished many, was an inevitability that has played itself to be more late-night material than a typical skirmish in a physical sport.

Yet, could this really be a tremendous marketing opportunity as some are suggesting?

Absolutely… not.

No business – not even those that specialize in fighting such as boxing and mixed martial arts organizations – should bank on these sorts of moments, even if the competitive nature of the game erupts into one. For starters, it sets a terrible precedent for a league still trying to carve a sliver of the American sports conscious. What’s being said here, if the league or the individual teams ever decided to capitalize from this melee, is that the game of basketball is secondary to the chance to see hair, breasts and clothes ripped off LIVE for only thirty bucks! Would they even try to play hoops if all folks want to see is a catfight?

Furthermore, controversy and “extracurriculars” don’t always translate well. Even in boxing (or maybe MMA), where the premise of the game is to fight, those press conference brouhahas and posturing sessions might attract a few more eyes to a fight card, but don’t guarantee that they will keep interest in the sport. More often than not, those pre-fights tend to be staged in some degree and drastically take away attention from the match itself. So why would an organized league that has to be held accountable to its owners, players, media and fans copy this template to strum up interest?

So that a testosterone-heavy sports public gets off?

Sadly for the league, this is the most publicity it has received in the mainstream since its inception. Despite all efforts from both the WNBA and its 'big brother' league to garner advertising dollars, stronger fan bases and media respect, are you really going believe that an unfortunate fight is going capture your attention?

Here’s something that should: in this struggling economy where a decent bleacher seat at a Yankee or Met game costs at least $30 before considering food, transportation and the length of the game, I attended the Outdoor Classic… for ten bucks!

And it was worth much, much more.

Say What?!?!: A better viewpoint of the incident from ESPN's Michelle Voepel

No comments: