By Jeffrey Newholm
We’ve all been there: after the excitement of a championship, the next big sport quickly steals our attention. Hence the paucity of attention to baseball after the Red Sox’s last out. The NFL is a bit smarter, hosting the combine and draft in spring. But honestly, unless you’re fan of UConn or Notre Dame, you’ve probably forgotten about women’s basketball. But the WNBA grabbed headlines by announcing the 2019 schedule Tuesday. In an unprecedented era of parity and excitement, it promises to provide a much needed injection of hoops hype into an otherwise boring summer.
The season tips off on May 24th with Dallas flying to Atlanta and Indiana challenging New York at awful Westchester. But the marquee matchup of opening weekend is definitely Phoenix battling Seattle in Everett, Washington. (Unfortunately Key Arena is being replaced with years of demolition and building). This ABC matchup is duplicated by network airings of L.A. in Minnesota June 8th and Seattle in Connecticut June 16th.
Thirteen other games will play on ESPN networks, including two new games on ESPN. They are Washington at Atlanta June 23rd and Connecticut at Washington June 29th. Three new coaching staffs will quickly improve their teams in May. Former L.A. coach Brian Agler joins Dallas for the league opener on the 24th. James Wade brings experience to the Chicago Sky, who battle in Minnesota the following night. And Laker playoff hero Derek Fisher join’s Magic’s mob as coach of L.A., who open in Las Vegas May 26th.
Two areas of concern require attention. First, many fans upset about subpar ESPN coverage demanded a new network. Granted, having a playoff game bumped for Prairie View-NC Central Football was very upsetting. But like it or not ESPN has a virtual monopoly on cable sports streaming. With all other games available for $20 on League Pass, ESPN plays only a minor role for super-fans. On the other hand, 25% more games on cable provides a much wider audience for a now much better product. Finally, the increased media attention is rightly celebrated. True, Brittney Griner’s angst over the ubiquitous “look how far we’ve come!” masks genuine issues. But the WNBA is making legitimate progress and experienced exponential growth this year. It’s perfectly acceptable to feel excitement over the 2019 season, and that excitement will compound fan interest and game quality into the next decade.