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
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
“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.