The weekend of July 8-10 in Chicago belonged to the WNBA.
For the first time in W history, it brought the glitz and glamour of All-Star weekend to the Windy City. The second city joined other recent first-time hosts including Seattle in 2017, the Twin Cities in 2018 and Las Vegas in 2019.
While there was much to enjoy about the WNBA’s All-Star weekend, it also left plenty to be desired. Without further adieu here are a few highs and lows from what was a memorable weekend in the City of Broad Shoulders.
One thing that the WNBA got right was the incorporation of the AAU circuit into its festivities. Around the same time as the All-Star Game, a number of girls travel basketball tournaments were also emanating from the Chicagoland area – including the EYBL Nike Nationals and the Prep Girls Hoops 2K22 in the suburb of Romeoville.
Every participant in the WNBA Skills Competition was teamed up with one of the youngsters from one of the EYBL teams that was taking part in the Nike Nationals – which were also in Chicago that same weekend. Zoe Brooks, who is a commit to NC State, won the competition in tandem with the New York Liberty’s Sabrina Ionescu.
This helps the WNBA because it is a direct way to market the W to a possible fanbase that ought to easily gravitate towards the league – middle school and high school girls hoopers that compete in travel ball during the spring and summer months. When many young girls mention who their favorite basketball player is – it is either Kevin Durant, LeBron James or Stephen Curry. This is a way to change those Brons, Currys and KDs to A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart and Candace Parker.
One overlooked element of the All-Star Game itself was the court.
The NBA always uses a flashy court for All-Star while the W has typically used the home team’s court. The Sky’s court at Wintrust Arena was moved to McCormick Place for the Skills Competition and 3-point contest.
The WNBA used its own court (a legacy of the 2020 bubble) with the All-Star logos to give it more of a feel of an actual All-Star Game as opposed to simply a collection of the top W ballers playing a pickup game on a home court. In this case – the Sky’s.
The concept of WNBA Live actually was another plus of All-Star weekend – even if a fair criticism of it was that it was too small.
The idea of utilizing music and culture to increase more interest in, not only the All-Star Game but the WNBA itself ought to be an idea the W should have already explored.
We had a chance to explore what this year’s WNBA Live looked like at McCormick Place and it had plenty of interactive features even if not enough jerseys were on sale or if it was overall too small in size. We will push and rate this a plus even though this one may be a case of right idea, lackluster execution
Here is one where the WNBA needed to do more.
Because of the Skills Competiton and 3-point contest being moved to McCormick Place as opposed to Wintrust Arena, it was closed off to fans and was only broadcast via ESPNU as opposed to the main ESPN channel or even The Deuce.
In addition, a Chance the Rapper concert that occurred at WNBA Live was not available to the public because of concerns about gun violence. Chance is one of the biggest musicians in music and is uber popular around his hometown of Chicago. That concert alone would have drawn a crowd.
The W cannot mention growing the game yet have marquee events like the Skills Competition and 3-point contest that are inaccessible to fans. If anything, Nike Nationals or no, it may cause some fans that were on the fence about following the W to turn the other way.
Coverage and Accessibility
Limiting accessibility for those in Chicago is one thing. Limiting accessibility to the W for fans outside of the host city is another.
As mentioned earlier, the Skills Challenge and 3-point contest were broadcast via ESPNU instead of either ABC or one of the main ESPN channels. ESPNU, for the most part, is only available on premium cable packages – that many sports fans may not have the money to subscribe to.
One of the W’s critiques is that it talks a great game about growing the game but does plenty of things that insinuate it does not want casual fans to watch. This week did nothing to quell those concerns.