WNBA growth is always welcomed – but is problematic when independent journalists are shut out

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

Ask many a person within the WNBA family about how its media coverage has changed drastically over the years, they will likely cite specific examples regarding press conferences. 

There was once a period in time where the W itself would have to strain to get several individuals from media outlets to participate in press conferences. Teams and the league itself used to have this problem.

We at Beyond The W still remember vividly how the press room looked at last year’s All-Star weekend at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. The press room for All-Star Saturday at the McCormick Convention Center was full and the area for pressers at Wintrust Arena itself was also full. 

There is often a chicken and egg debate as to if the increased interest is a result of the increase in media coverage or if the increase in media coverage is a result of the increase in interest. Nonetheless, both are up and it has positioned the WNBA as a model for other women’s leagues also in search of more media attention and interest. 

But these things seem to come with a catch. 

As a league like the W grows in popularity (and hopefully soon in terms of the number of franchises), it presents a real risk of forgetting exactly where it came from in terms of press coverage. 

In terms of mainstream media outlets, WNBA coverage is said to have a big three. M.A. Voepel of ESPN, Howard Megdal of the New York Times (and The Next) and Doug Feinberg at the Associated Press. All three do excellent work with their various outlets in broadening the reach of the women’s game. 

The old adage, though, of three being a crowd does not apply here. If anything, three is the farthest thing from a crowd. 

Independent media outlets have been more than instrumental in the WNBA’s growth – as has the impact of Bleacher Report’s Ari Chambers as a powerful journalist and influencer. And as the W’s reach continues to get bigger and bigger and bigger, it will be very tempting for both league and teams to follow the same lead as those leagues that are older and more well-established.

In other words, giving the main course of coverage to mainstream media outlets while independent outlets (including the Black ones) are left fighting over the leftovers. 

This would be a massive mistake for the WNBA to make – and one that will stunt its overall, long term growth. 

We see this already sometimes with the way that free agent news sometimes breaks. At times, we see tweets from either Adrian Wojnarowski or Shams Charania that are breaking major WNBA news. While the aforementioned two are respected journalists in their own right, their primary forte is covering the NBA. 

How many Drafts, All-Star Games or Finals has Woj covered? How many All-Star Games, Drafts or Finals has Shams covered? 

Meanwhile, independent media outlets like Winsidr, Her Hoop Stats, Khristina Williams’ Girls Talk Sports TV and, yes, even ours have been ride or dies for the W and its teams for a while now. 

Breanna Stewart signing with the New York Liberty? Woj and Shams are on it. Candace Parker joining the Las Vegas Aces? Shams and Woj are on it. 

Jasmine Thomas to the Los Angeles Sparks? Crickets. 

Allisha Gray to the Atlanta Dream? More crickets. 

Kahleah Copper re-signing with the Chicago Sky? Cricket City. 

Amanda Zahui B. traded to the Washington Mystics? The Cricket City metropolitan area. 

Those four aforementioned signings were covered extensively by Rachel Galligan, Khristina Williams, Rafique Louison and Myles Ehrlich among others – and mostly at websites that are devoid of the budgets of an ESPN, Associated Press or New York Times. 

It is a heartening sign for the league that more and more coverage is reaching the mainstream. After all, it was recently announced that there will be 10 episodes of WNBA Countdown this coming season. We better see pre- and post-game shows of semifinals and Finals games this coming season as well. 

But – understand that certain reporters can probably only name those WNBA stars on its marquee while independent outlets care for the W 24/7/365 and can dissect the W on and off the court from Azura to Zahui. 

It can be very tempting for a league on the rise to prefer big budgeted media outlets when deciding who to give the first dibs of coverage too. The WNBA needs to recognize that if it were not for the Winsidrs, Girls Talk Sports, Her Hoop Stats, Just Women’s Sports and Beyond The W’s of the world that the big budget outlets would not even be asking for first dibs.