Women’s basketball – and women’s sports as a whole – continue to show itself to be the new wave.
Whether it was the national championship game between LSU and Iowa or the WNBA Canada Game between the Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx that drew nearly 20,000 to Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, women’s hoops is where it is at.
While the WNBA has been roundly criticized (deservedly so) for the deeper than usual roster cuts prior to the season, its turnout for opening weekend proved that there is still palpable momentum around the women’s game.
As of the first “WNBA Monday” of the regular season, nine of our 12 teams have staged home games. The only three that have yet to do so are the Sky, the Atlanta Dream and the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.
This Friday (also the first-ever WNBA on Ion Friday), Chicago will play its home opener in a Commissioner’s Cup contest against a Washington Mystics team that thrashed the New York Liberty in its home opener than lost a close contest on the road at the Connecticut Sun.
The day afterwards, the defending champion Aces take to their Michelob Ultra Arena court for the first time of the 2023 campaign. The Los Angeles Sparks, who had an impressive home showing in its opener vs. the Phoenix Mercury, will be Sin City’s first home opponent.
As for the Dream, it nearly pulled off a come-from-behind victory on the road at the Dallas Wings in its opening tilt of the season. Atlanta’s first home game will take place on Sunday as the Indiana Fever make the trip to College Park. With all of the South Carolina Gamecocks talent that will be featured (Allisha Gray, Laeticia Amihere for the Dream, Aliyah Boston and Victaria Saxton for the Fever), expect plenty of garnet and black Fams to make the drive westbound on I-20 to Gateway Center Arena.
In fact, this weekend continued to show that the WNBA remains in higher demand – and that demand is only getting higher.
Let us dive into these numbers.
The Fever drew over 7,000 for its home opener against the Sun. Remember – this is an Indiana team that may or may not be coming out of a rebuild and is looking to Aliyah Boston to potentially be its franchise player for the next 10-15 years. She has had 15-point performances against the Sun and Liberty and was one rebound shy of a double-double in what was a near-come-from-behind-effort vs. Connecticut.
The Mystics drew a sellout 4,200 in its home opener against the Liberty – one that was practically all Washington from the second quarter on. Imagine what that number would have been if the ‘Stics were playing in a larger venue such as…Capital One Arena where their Monumental Sports partners in hoops crime – the Wizards – call home.
The Sparks drew over 10,000 fans for its opener vs. the Mercury. Los Angeles has consistently been one of the higher drawing WNBA teams and the matchup being Brittney Griner’s first game back since the 2021 Finals was also going to draw fannies to the seats at Crypto.com Arena. Purple, gold and teal aficionados were treated to a stellar Sparks performance that included rookie Zia Cooke (speaking of Gamecocks) tallying 14 points.
The Lynx drew over 8,000 fans for its opener against the Sky in what was a rematch of the Canada Game. This Minnesota team is not exactly the dynasty teams of the 2010s, but it has shown in the past that the Land of 10,000 Lakes will show up and show out at “Our House.”
The College Park Center in Arlington only has a capacity of 7,000. Round the 5,588 fans that packed the park for the Wings’ home opener against the Dream and that is nearly 6,000 fans that were ready to Volt Up in Latricia Trammell’s debut at the helm in Dallas.
Despite a ferocious Atlanta comeback bid, the Wings held off the Dream with the final score being 85-78. A big reason for the season opening win for Dallas was Atlanta having no answers for Arike Ogunbowale.
As for the Seattle Storm’s home opener at Climate Pledge Arena, this is not exactly last season’s Storm squad. After all, Sue Bird (who was in attendance for the home opener) is enjoying retirement and Breanna Stewart is enjoying life back in her native New York (more on Stewie in a bit). And a rebuilding Seattle still drew over 11,000 Storm Crazies to the Greenhouse against a Las Vegas Aces superteam that did what superteams do in their home opener.
Speaking of superteams, the Liberty looked like anything but a superteam on the road in the District. New York throughout its history has been used to playing in front of packed arenas – whether it was at Madison Square Garden or even in the dark days of Westchester (we know – a four letter word among Lib Loyals).
The Liberty drew a sellout of 8,578 to Barclays Center for its home opener against the Indiana Fever (sidenote: do the Lib have a handshake agreement with the Fever that Indy is its first home opponent every season?)
Those 8.578 were treated to Stewie setting a new single-game Liberty record for points as she dropped 45 on Indiana (in only three quarters). She could have easily topped Liz Cambage’s single-game record of 53 that she set in 2018 in a matchup, ironically, against the seafoam and black, when Lizzie was a Dallas Wing. With all the buzz around this Liberty team, that upper deck at Atlantic and Flatbush needs to be opened. The Liberty could be averaging 10,000-plus fans per game with ease.
The Mercury said hold my Casamigos because the X-Factor was in full effect for BG’s first game back in a Merc uniform. Phoenix has had a reputation for having, arguably, the W’s best fans and more 14,000 of those aficionados were there for what was an emotional scene seeing Griner back on the court at Footprint Center.
Phoenix may not have come away with the victory against the Sky, but BG is doing everything she can to get the Merc back in the win column.
Last, but not least, is the Sun who opened the season against the Mystics. Connecticut is a women’s basketball hotbed, but Mohegan Sun Arena is one of the more difficult venues to get to given its location. Over 7,000 fans were at Mohegan Sun Arena for Stephanie White’s debut as Connecticut’s coach.
The Sun lived up to its Forged By Fire 2023 season slogan as they outlasted the Mystics by a final of 80-74. One was guessing what Connecticut team would show up thus far in the 2023 season. Two games are in the books and there are still 38 to go, but the Sun looked as if they have not skipped a beat despite losing Jonquel Jones to New York and Jasmine Thomas to Los Angeles.
It is a stone cold lead pipe sinch that Michelob Ultra Arena will be packed to the rafters for the Aces home opener. It is also a stone cold lead pipe sinch that there will be a full house at Gateway Center Arena for the Dream’s home opener. As for Chicago, one may have wondered what the Sky’s attendance may have looked like for its coming up, but a 2-0 start to the season when many (including us) had Chicago looking like a rebuild may be what reinvigorates Skytown.
The bottom line is the trope of “nobody caring about women’s sports” is going the way of defense in the NBA. Women’s sports are continuing to ride a wave of momentum. This is not only limited to the W.
Nebraska volleyball, the NCAA softball tournament and the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup are all examples of how society has progressed to realize women (including transgender women) can play sports every bit as good (and even better) as their male counterparts (and why the excuses are gone for mainstream media outlets in terms of lack of hiring full-time women’s sports personalities).
Women’s sports are no longer a charity. They are here to stay. And the women’s sports ecosystem is looking more and more like the juggernaut we all knew it would be.