WNBA should use March Madness as marketing opportunity

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

Our calendars have shifted from February to March. 

That means many things – we are closing in on spring. It also means temperatures are getting warmer in many parts of North America and we can put away our jackets and sweaters until September. 

New York City may be an exception to this as they are getting pelted with snow once again. 

But among the many things our calendars now saying March means is that we are closing in on March Madness. That is correct – this year’s rendition of the NCAA women’s and men’s tournaments will once again have their selection shows on the same day. 

On the women’s side, Selection Monday has become a thing of the past and Selection Sunday is clearly the path forward for the women’s tourney. 

March of course also means that our brackets will be busted before the close of the first wave of games. But we will have our minds on bracket busters once said brackets are unveiled in roughly two weeks. 

On our minds is more of a brain buster.

On paper, the NCAA women’s tournament could not be a better launching pad for the WNBA season – or at least for the powers that be in the W to promote said season. 

We fully understand that the NCAA and ESPN probably charge a lot to advertise during March Madness, but that still should not stop Cathy Engelbert and the WNBA from using it as a massive opportunity to market the upcoming season. 

This year’s tournament – as does every tourney – commences in mid-March and it concludes in early April. We also know that the 2023 WNBA Draft will take place on April 10 at Spring Studios in New York City. One can count on South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, Maryland’s Diamond Miller and Stanford’s Haley Jones to be among those that will be in person in Gotham for that draft. 

But if the WNBA will not use March Madness as a launching pad for the upcoming season they can at least use it as a launching pad to advertise the draft. This is especially the case given that the same network that is airing the women’s version of March Madness is also the same network that airs the WNBA draft. 

For the WNBA to use the NCAA tournament – an entity that is seeing rising attendance and rising ratings – as a massive marketing tool for upcoming drafts and seasons would be a massive boon for the league. 

Granted, it must be said that the fact that a women’s tournament is seeing these rising ratings and attendance is probably much to the chagrin of the 1980s fetishists in Indianapolis. If the NCAA were not so committed to protecting the “good ol’ days,” it would have hired a Black or Brown woman to be its new president instead of former Massachusetts Republican governor Charlie Baker. 

The use of the tourney as a tool to plug an upcoming WNBA draft and season is especially critical in terms of the next two seasons. Boston is, of course, the generational talent that will be selected No. 1 overall by the Indiana Fever in this year’s draft. 

It was in 2018 where the last time a cellar-dwelling WNBA franchise selected a transcendent talent from South Carolina first overall. That talent, of course, was A’ja Wilson – who recently made a cameo appearance back in the Palmetto State when her high school alma mater Heathwood Hall recently won its first state championship since – 2014 (Wilson’s senior season before joining the Gamecocks). 

It took a few years, but the Las Vegas Aces completed its rags to riches story last season by virtue of a championship. Lin Dunn and the Fever are hoping the same will ring true when they draft Boston. 

Indiana’s first game this season will be at home vs. the Connecticut Sun. That game will likely draw plenty of interest among not only Hoosier State but also Palmetto State media to see how Boston performs in her Fever debut – and that she is reuniting with another former Gamecock in Destanni Henderson. 

While she is the shining name on the marquee for this season’s draft, there may be six or seven shining marquee names as deep as the 2024 WNBA draft is. 

Caitlin Clark. 

Paige Bueckers. 

Angel Reese. 

Hailey Van Lith. 

Deja Kelly. 

Cameron Brink. 

Aaliyah Edwards. 

Diamond Johnson. 

Not to mention a Kamilla Cardoso who is a big name simply because of the college team she currently hoops for. Cardoso is projected to be a second-round pick in 2024.

That is a rookie team that can beat an assembling of 2023 sophomores in a Rookies vs. Sophomores game. 

For many casual fans, many of the names that they see during March Madness will be their introduction to those players. Why not use the platform of the tournament to drive those fans toward the WNBA? 

In addition, casual fans know who Candace Parker and Breanna Stewart are. Parker is with a new team in the Las Vegas Aces and Stewie is with a new team in her native New York Liberty. Plus, the heartwarming comeback story of Brittney Griner will also be an element to the 2023 season that will draw first-time fans to the W. 

There are so many storylines (40-game season) that the WNBA can use to not only keep the diehards hooked, but also bring in new fans that are getting their introduction to the women’s game. 

It makes a lot of sense for the WNBA to the plug its upcoming draft and season by shining a light on many of the stars that will make up the W’s future. This is actually an advantage its big brother league – the NBA – does not have because it is still in season during March Madness and its draft does not take place until the summer.

Plus on the NBA side of the ledger, its draft does not have the same luster as it used to because of so many one-and-dones. Nowadays, we are hearing more about the top high school boys prospects as future Association stars moreseo than via college and its tournament. 

And we have seen time and time again of how top prospects get a boost in draft stock simply because of the tournament. A perfect example of this is Aari McDonald when she was with Arizona.

In the 2020-21 tournament that was sequestered to central Texas on account of the pandemic, McDonald led the Wildcats to the national championship game against Stanford. Arizona lost by one point…54-53…and she scored 22 points in that contest. 

That result may not have been what McDonald wanted, but it greatly boosted her draft stock. She was selected third overall by the Atlanta Dream. 

It is another reason why having the tournament as a big time marketing tool for the upcoming WNBA draft and season should not take much guesswork. There could be someone who emerges from the tournament with an outstanding performance and perhaps ups her draft stock from mid- or late-third round into becoming a lottery pick ala McDonald. 

As much as we lament how the WNBA constantly gets the short end of the stick, having the tournament as a tool to plug the draft and season seems like almost a no-brainer. And to not use that platform to plug the upcoming draft and season is simply…well….madness.