Memo to WNBA Teams: Limiting Coverage When it Becomes Negative is Counter-Productive

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

One of the most often talked-about topics within not only WNBA circles but women’s sports circles as a whole is its noteworthy coverage gap in comparison to their male counterparts. 

Over the last few years, steps have been made to lessen this coverage gap – mostly because of independent media outlets such as this one, but there remains a notable gap in coverage of women’s and men’s sports. 

Even as ratings for women’s sports – as the recent more than million that the recent matchup between South Carolina and UConn women’s hoops recently drew, coverage and investment appear stuck for some reason appear stuck in the 1980s. 

The steps, though, that have been made to increase women’s sports coverage, can be seen in the number of media outlets that are regularly on the call for WNBA and team press conferences. We recently had the privilege of taking part in Azura Stevens’ introductory presser with the Los Angeles Sparks that also included general manager Karen Bryant and coach Curt Miller. 

Another media availability session regarding a much more ballyhooed player took place. It was with the Las Vegas Aces and featured incoming “Ace” Candace Parker in addition to its head coach Becky Hammon, Aces general manager Natalie Williams and team president Nikki Fargas. 

It appears that there were nearly 80 media members that were on the call for the virtual presser – but only a select few were able to ask questions to the quartet that were made available by Giggy Maxwell and Aces public relations. 

This is nothing new – virtually every journalist that has been in the media game has been at a presser where they were unable to ask a question – including us. In WNBA circles, this is particularly the case for teams with larger press corps – such as the New York Liberty. But the circumstances of the Aces’ presser particularly raised eyebrows. 

Reportedly, one of the journalists at the press conference attempted to ask a question to Fargas about the Dearica Hamby allegations the former Ace raised on her Instagram. For those that need a refresher, Hamby has accused the Aces of mistreating her (and eventually trading her to the Sparks for Amanda Zahui B. (now in Washington)) because of her decision to get pregnant and have a second child. 

Hamby addressed the allegations briefly in her introductory presser with the Sparks. And those allegations were so jarring that it even got the attention of the WNBPA as they could sense a possible collective bargaining agreement (CBA) violation on the part of the Aces.

According to a tweet, that question was cut off and Fargas supposedly had to leave for a meeting. At that point, a decision was made for the press conference to end presumably early. 

To say that this made what was already a bad look for the Aces franchise even worse is an understatement. Remember that the Aces, ever since Hamby posted what she posted on her social media, have not issued as much as a statement on its social media or a press release addressing – or, at the very least, denying Hamby’s allegations. 

And remember, it was Hamby who decided to go public with her side of the story and no one from the Aces front office has even countered with its side. 

It has become crystal clear that the strategy of the Aces organization is to stay mum on the Hamby allegations and hope that the heat on its front office simmers down the closer we get to the draft and, eventually, the season. 

But this is looking more like a case of the cover up possibly being worse than the misdeed. And the more Aces decide not to address what went down with Hamby, in the court of public opinion, it only will give more credibility to what Hamby posted. 

As well respected as Maxwell may be within WNBA and public relations circles, this is the polar opposite of good public relations for the Aces. And let us also remember that this was the same Maxwell who issued a press release where he scolded individuals that were at the Michelob Ultra Arena press area for Las Vegas’ semifinals series with the Seattle Storm for purposes other than working as media. 

Fast forward to today, and we are asking a fundamental question regarding WNBA coverage. Does the league and its 12 teams truly want full coverage or only when that coverage is positive? How the Hamby allegations have the handled by Aces public relations appears to indicate that the correct answer, sadly, is the latter. 

One thing that many a WNBA follower has been saying as of late is for the league to stop being treated as a charity and for its media gatekeepers to quit treating everything WNBA-related as if it is rainbows and unicorns. 

If the WNBA wants to be the big girl league that it is, that means accepting it is going to get big girl coverage and that does not always mean simply celebrating the accomplishments of its players and teams on the court and as change agents. That is, obviously, an important part of the coverage. 

But clamming up when a story like this has the potential to cast a team and its league in a viscerally negative light is only going to give oxygen to naysayers who believe the W is a league that talks a good game about being ready for primetime but is not actually prepared for primetime. 

What the league and its teams need to realize is as more coverage becomes the norm within the WNBA, that means stories that cast a team or the league in a negative light are going to become more the rule as opposed to the exception. 

The league and its 12 teams (and fans such as us) lament the lack of adequate coverage, but the league and its dozen teams need to also realize that not all coverage is going to be sunny simply because it is made to be sunny within the confines of a public relations office/department. 

As the WNBA grows, it needs to accept that its increased coverage is going to mean more scrutiny of its league and teams. Things that used to be swept under the rug because of lack of coverage it can no longer do because of the increased media attention to the sport. That is where the W must decide to either sink or swim. 

New Edition said it best