Historically, professional women’s basketball hasn’t received nearly the same amount of attention as the national men’s league. According to CivicScience data, Americans at least ‘somewhat closely’ follow the NBA significantly more than they follow the WNBA.
In 2017, approval ratings for televised coverage of the WNBA season were low, with 24% of U.S. adults saying the league should get more media attention. A parallel survey in November (that specifically asked about coverage of the WNBA on TV) showed 40% of respondents believed women’s basketball deserved more coverage. It appears that approval of televised coverage has increased.
The data also indicated a shift in the WNBA fanbase. Prior to the pandemic, WNBA fans resembled an older demographic with the majority being over 45. While the demographic still skews older, the league has seen an increase in younger fans in the 25- to 34-age bracket.
In addition, WNBA fans have traditionally been equally men and women but now we are seeing more men than women supporters.
One factor that might have impacted approval of televised coverage of the WNBA is time: there are many more WNBA fans than NBA fans working from home as a result of the pandemic. Working from home means less time commuting, and with quarantine and lockdowns, many people had more time on their hands. It’s possible that WNBA fans had the time and space to tune into the games they love.
But to better understand the nuances, CivicScience looked at the potential impact of the Orange Hoodie campaign that went viral across sports media this summer. ESPN, a major sports network, kick-started a social media campaign showing NBA elites in orange hoodies sporting the signature WNBA logo. The goal was to generate excitement and interest in women’s basketball, and it seems like it worked.
When asked about the media promotion of the WNBA specifically from other athletes, 11% of the general population reported being influenced.
NBA fans were more influenced than the general population but WNBA over-indexed in how influenced they were by athletes’ promotion of the league.
While awareness of the WNBA and sentiment towards its coverage has improved, the percentage of Americans following the league has only increased 1 percentage point since January.
Looking ahead, will this be a lasting change in how Americans follow professional basketball? It’s clear the social media campaign drew in fans of women’s basketball, but the Gen Z age bracket (highly active on social) didn’t see any gains, according to CivicScience data. Next season it will be interesting to see who WNBA fans are and how much they are tuning in.