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Institute for Law & Economics:
WNBA President Predicts Growth Spurt for League
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Val Ackerman
IN THIS POLITICAL SEASON, you could forgive Val Ackerman for predicting a “bounce” in the WNBA’s future.

Ackerman, president of the Women’s National Basketball Association, has reason for optimism. By her account, the seven-year-old WNBA is already off to the strongest start of any professional sports league in modern times, and is primed for growth.

Ticking off its selling points, she said the sport has an avid, predominantly female audience, a long-term national television contract, and sponsors eager to get a piece of the action. “We have what we think is a pretty solid foundation,” said Ackerman during the LAW AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP LECTURE, co-sponsored by the ILE and the marketing department at the Wharton School.

Factor in that 30 million young women are playing team sports in the United States, when they are not attending sporting events in record numbers, and the WNBA has a solid shot at continued success.

“It seems to me that being female and strong are no longer incompatible,” said Ackerman, an All-American basketball player at the University of Virginia. “For girls, it’s now cool to be a jock.”

And the league is poised to make it even cooler by turning WNBA players into personalities, showcasing their athleticism, intelligence, and attractiveness through stories in women’s magazines, appearances on talk shows, and in ad campaigns.

Not that Ackerman sees a clear lane to the basket. She acknowledged that challenges await, as the league tries to convert early success into long-term stability. For the foreseeable future, the WNBA will have to compete for fans, who have so many other ways to spend their disposable income.

Of course, more storybook endings like last season can only help drive interest. For the first time in well over a century, a professional sports franchise – the Detroit Shock – went from dead last to champions, Ackerman said.

The Shock’s star player? Cheryl Ford, daughter of Karl Malone. His team, the Los Angeles Lakers, fell to the, yes, Detroit Pistons for the NBA title.

 
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