League president Richie defends ESPN coverage
Although it’s America’s longest running women’s pro league, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) is still seen by too many as below major league status. The MSR talked about this and related issues with coaches, players, analysts, fans and league officials throughout the league’s 17th season; their insights are included in this multi-part series on the WNBA. Shortly after a visit here in August, WNBA President Laurel Richie promised the MSR a one-on-one sit-down interview later in the season. The third-year league president made good on her promise during the playoffs, and we respectfully discussed several topics. Despite a six-year extension, this columnist remains unimpressed that ESPN will ever see the WNBA as other than a stepsister in its overall coverage. “Our viewership on ESPN2 is up,” argued Richie. “I think the reason is two-fold: One, the competition is phenomenal this year. There is lots of interest and excitement, and ESPN has been promoting the games and the players. We’re seeing increases on NBA TV as well.” Richie also praised the network’s coverage of Tina Thompson’s and Katie Smith’s final seasons as well as its focus on the 2013 rookies. “I feel this is the year I asked [for] more and received more,” she stated. However, we saw much of the same poor coverage as in past seasons — babbling, unknowledgeable game commentators; limited pre-game and post-game studio time; and regularly scheduled games that seemed haphazardly planned as well. The four-letter network acted like they either were on house arrest or a strict time limit as barely five minutes were devoted to Richie handing this year’s championship trophy to the Minnesota Lynx after they won it and then promptly switched to SportsCenter at the top of the hour. This probably would have been the same had Atlanta or any other team won. In comparison, ESPN spends at least an hour talking about the NBA preseason rather than giving more time to the W’s biggest stage of the year.
It’s awfully hard for me to pat ESPN’s back for a measly two-game increase in games this season. Why can’t the network show regularly scheduled weekly doubleheaders during the summer like they do for the NBA during the winter? I also question why the network puts more emphasis on its X games than W games, especially when summertime programming isn’t as taxing. “I have to say I feel that they [ESPN] are doing a really good job covering the game,” said Richie. Madame President’s vision for her league seems nonetheless to be on track. But she and this columnist agreed to disagree, especially when the first Black female to head a pro sports league lauds how much or how well ESPN is doing. “I will ask [ESPN] again for more next year,” promised Richie, “and hope to receive more.” It also will be interesting to see if Richie can exert her will in the new CBA that hopes to be in place by next season. “The longer I’m engaged in the league, the more I enjoy it,” she said. “I think the thing that stands out the most for me this season is the level of competition… I feel good about where we’ve come and about where we’re heading, because I feel there’s so much talent in the league [and] that’s what’s making these games so exciting.” But the president won’t rest on her “Laurels.” “We have a preseason summit in December where we get [team] chief operating officers, marketing personnel and sponsorship personnel all together with the league [officials] to talk about the season ahead,” explained Richie. Asked if she finds any down time, she replied, “The best time for me to take down time is the last two weeks of the year. I see a beach…some warm weather in my future.” Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected] To see more stories by Charles Hallman stories click HERE